Nils Landgren is doubtlessly one of Europe’s most successful jazz musicians. Fans and observers of the 61-year-old Swede are already wondering whether his days might have more than 24 hours. Critics have nominated him as the hardest working man in show business. When “Mr. Redhorn,” the man with the red trombone, is not touring with his legendary band Funk Unit or other projects bearing his name, he works as a producer and talent scout or is found passing his know-how on to his students. In the German capital, he has made a name for himself as the artistic director of the JazzFest Berlin. It is not least his versatility which is admired in this musician, who began playing drums at the age of six and discovered the trombone for himself at 13: apart from hardcore jazz, he is devoted to Swedish folk music – or he might record romantic and idiosyncratic Christmas songs, as he did on his album Christmas With My Friends. In cooperation with Doctors without Borders, Nils Landgren’s Funk Unit supports a music education project for children and teenagers in one of the largest slums of Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi. After leading the successful “Classic meets Jazz” projects at Young Euro Classic for four years running, Nils Landgren returns in 2018 for its fourth edition.
The name of the American vocalist Janis Siegel is intimately connected with the group Manhattan Transfer, whose member she has been since 1972. Over all these decades, she was “the voice” of such world hits as “Twilight Zone”, “The Boy from New York City” and “Chanson d’Amour”. In 1985 she founded the vocal quartet “Sing, Sing, Sing” together with Dianne Reeves, Bobby McFerrin and Jon Hendricks. In addition, Janis Siegel also pursued her solo career: her first album, Experiment in White, came out in 1981. She also began a close collaboration with the pianist Fred Hersch; even their first joint album, Short Stories, was nominated for a Grammy Award. Siegel’s album Friday Night Session (2003) explored soul jazz and blues; in Sketches of Broadway, the singer dedicated herself to lesser-known Broadway tunes. In 2016 Janis Siegel and Nils Landgren released the album Some Other Time.
Jan Lundgren, born in Kristianstad in 1966, is considered Sweden’s best jazz pianist and one of the best in Europe as well. He began his training in classical music, but even in the late 1980s turned to the modern jazz style of Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. In 1994 Lundgren released his first album, Conclusion, and one year later he founded the Jan Lundgren Trio, with which he released seven successful albums until 2003. Tours took him all over the world, including Japan and Australia. His innumerable performances in the USA were crowned by a concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall entitled “Swedish Jazz Salutes the USA”. In 2007 the pianist recorded the album Mare Nostrum with Richard Galliano and Paolo Fresu for the label ACT, a release that resonated widely in Germany as well. Lundgren’s style is marked by a combination of Scandinavian folk tradition with modern jazz at classical and contemporary music.
Originally from Wunsiedel in Franconia, the percussionist Wolfgang Haffner has worked with all the great names in jazz. At the early age of 18, he became a member of Albert Mangelsdorff’s band, subsequently also playing in the big bands of Peter Herbolzheimer and Klaus Doldinger’s Passport. On the long list of important artists whom he has worked with, names such as Al Jarreau, Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek and Till Brönner stand out, just like Konstantin Wecker, Hildegard Knef, Die Fantastischen Vier and Xavier Naidoo. He has performed regularly with Nils Landgren for many years. The 52-year-old can be heard on more than 400 albums and has toured more than 100 countries ranging from Japan to the USA, from South Africa to Brazil. His most recent albums are Kind of Cool (2015) and Kind of Spain (2017). Haffner has also made a name for himself as a producer, for example for the Icelandic band Mezzoforte and the singer Max Mutzke.
This past year, Lisa Wulff, born in Hamburg in 1990, began playing electric bass at the age of 9, completed her studies in music education in jazz and jazz-related music in Bremen, during which she majored in E-bass and acoustic double bass, and began studying for a performance degree at the Hamburg Music Academy in 2013. Lisa Wulff is not only active as a sideman, but also as a studio musician and composer, touring with her own bands, e.g. the Lisa Wulff Quartet and takadoon. Concerts beyond the German borders have taken her all over Europe and to China. She has shared the stage with artists such as Bob Mintzer, the NDR Bigband, Trilok Gurtu, Nils Landgren, Curtis Stigers, Robbie Smith, Semino Rossi and Love Newkirk. In 2016 she received the Jazz Baltica Encouragement Award for her debut CD Encounters.
Wieland Welzel’s profound musical soul reaches beyond the realms of any musical genre. Born in Lübeck (*1972), he became principal timpanist of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1997 and has since then grown to be one of today’s internationally most sought after teachers in this field. Nevertheless he sees himself first and foremost as a musician, no matter the genre or instrument. Since the age seven Wieland dreamed of being a big band drummer from his very first drumset from pots and pans to when he received his first formal drum lesson at age nine. As it was, fate lead him to become a big band drummer of a different sort as the timpanist of a classical orchestra. His life path turned directions after winning first prize at the national music competition “Jugend musiziert“ and becoming a member of renowned youth orchestras such as the “Bundesjugendorchester” and the “European Union Youth Orchestra“. Playing music with most great conductors and soloists of our time throughout his tenure as principial timpanist of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra , or being part of projects with jazz musicians like e.g. Nils Landgren and Wolfgang Haffner, or playing vibraphone in his duo “Reunion” with pianist Jacques Ammon – to be able to share inspired and soulful music making with young and old all over the world make for the elixir that keeps him ever curious and creative.
The American Vince Mendoza is a composer, arranger and conductor, all in one person. In these fields, the 57-year-old has been among the most renowned representatives of his field. As an arranger, he has worked for stars such as Sting, Elvis Costello and Björk, all the way to John Scofield, Charlie Haden and Robbie Williams. His compositions have been recorded by the saxophone player Joe Lovano, the guitarist John Abercrombie, the percussionist Peter Erskine and the jazz pianist Joey Calderazzo. Mendoza has been nominated for a Grammy no less than 25 times, winning it six times, including in 2004 for his song “Woodstock”. In Germany he has worked mainly with the WDR Big Band; he has composed for the Berlin Philharmonic and for the London Symphony Orchestra. He draws upon a broad range of musical experiences ranging from Bach to Henry Mancini, from Miles Davis to Igor Stravinsky.
The junge norddeutsche philharmonie (jnp) was founded in 2010 by former members of the State Youth Orchestra of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (LJO) who wanted to continue the joy that symphonic literature had given them with a higher standard, with fellow students at the university level, thereby creating an educational platform accompanying young musicians on their way to professional careers. Today, the “young philharmonic of northern germany” is a professional network bringing together young music students from Northern Germany and young talents from that region for different projects. The musicians are supported by docents from renowned orchestras, such as the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic. After a project focusing on Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 in August 2017, the orchestra’s concerts in March 2018 focused on Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps in combination with live electronics.
The STEGREIF.orchester, headquartered in Berlin, is a pool of 24 musicians from various genres who are equally interested in the heritage of classical compositions and in free improvisation. The orchestra considers classical symphonies as a mere point of departure for new sound experiences. As a matter of principle, the musicians play everything by heart and forego a conductor. Complemented by choreographic elements, this concert form oscillates between re-composition and improvisation. The STEGREIF.orchester consciously leaves behind the concept of the “ideal” and “perfect” interpretation of a work, in favour of reacting to and shaping the current atmosphere in the concert hall. After explorations of Beethoven and Schubert, this spring the project #freebrahms – a re-examination of his Symphony No. 3 – followed. Apart from Berlin, it is also performed in Hamburg, Stuttgart and at the Festival Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
“Life without music is unthinkable”
This year, Nils Landgren once again pays homage to Leonard Bernstein’s words:
Together with renowned jazz musicians and members of the junge norddeutsche philharmonie and the STEGREIF.orchester, he examines Bernstein’s musical role models, including Gustav Mahler and Kurt Weill.