The German Youth Jazz Orchestra
Directed by Peter Herbolzheimer

The Young Lions
by Ron Simmonds
First published in May 1996

Gallery  • Young Lions • Trombone Workshop • Return of the Young Lions

I’ve observed, with pride, many former BuJazzO students becoming orchestra members in the major Radio Houses of Germany within the past few years. And with much satisfaction, I’ve noticed the improved sound quality of those radio orchestras as a direct result of the musical offerings contributed by these young musicians.  Walter Norris

Oh, Peter, these young musicians are great! I mean, you can’t play any better than that. They have it all, great intonation, beautiful sound on their instruments, playing great, and swinging. You should be proud. And they are lucky to have you, you’ve brought out their best.If I hadn’t been told this was a Youth orchestra, I would have thought it was a professional band, a very good one at that.Bravo to the German government for taking an interest and promot­ing such an endeavour as this. Charlie Mariano

An enterprising journalist in the Daily Telegraph recently referred to Ronnie Scott as a jazz wrinkly. Now Ronnie is an Aquarian, and he’s enigmatic. You can never tell by his expression what he thinks but he has always suffered fools gladly, and I dare say he passed it off with a shrug. On the other hand I began to boil when I read it. I was standing on the doorstep at the time and while I was deciding what to do about the insult our jolly Mr. Magoo type postman came up and shoved a package into my open mouth. It contained a double CD with the word Jazz written all over the front. On the back cover it said National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Germany. Why me? I’m up to here in youth orchestras and Glenn Miller Reunion Bands and still they send their stuff to me. How do they find me?

Winging the disks contemptuously into the player I punched the ten–second scan button, sat down with a sneer and pulled on the earphones carefully, not wanting to muss up my marvellous hairdo. The sleeve said the record had been re­corded live on tour in the Baltic States and Russia. Live from Riga! Well, I know a bit about Riga, and all the other places, too. I did a tour of them in the 1970’s and we were plagued with bad food, bad service, bad acoustics and bad weather.

Produced in collaboration with the German Ministry for Women and Young People, it said. Oh yes? My sneer deepened. Hey! Give the kids a chance. Who said that? I looked around but there was nobody else in the room.

It started. There was a roar of applause, and then WHAM! ZOWEE! KERSPLAMM! I stood up so sharply that the earphones ripped off my head, tear­ing away my glasses and part of my nose and frightening the life out of my cat, Igor, who was having a kip on the back of the chair.

My CD player is one of those hi–tech state of the art towers, all in black for maximum user–friendly convenience. To be able to make any sense out of the three hundred and fifty buttons on it you have to kneel down with searchlight and magni­fying glass to manipulate the thing. By the time I’d done all that and given the cat some mouth–to–mouth I’d heard snatches of about ten titles and was now able to begin again. This time I was ready for it. Oh Wow! I punched the button for con­tinuous play and made a note to buy some mouth wash for Igor.

First number Groove Merchant, arranged by Thad Jones. Second number Anthropology. Ah! I remember that one. Back in the 1960’s Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Ross and I went over to do a Jazz Workshop in Recklinghausen. Friedrich Gulda was the bandleader and he wanted me to play French Horn on the gig. I’d never even held one in my hands before, but he insisted on it so I toured the London symphony orchestras, trying to borrow one. This caused some consternation amongst the horn players, who thought I was trying to bust in on their session work, but I told them I wasn’t otherwise interested in the damn thing, so Jim Brown loaned me his Bb and F.

You have to play them left–handed, right? And with the big end pointing to the rear. First number up on the stand was Anthropology and because I was new on the horn they very kindly took it faster than usual. I had a solo in the middle of it, so on the concert I stood up, turned around and ripped out a passable imitation of Ernie Royal’s trumpet solo in Woody’s The Keeper of the Flame which cleared the first ten rows of the stalls. Up in the extreme high register of the horn you can get practically any note you want with the first valve, and that’s what I did. There was none of that shoving my hand up into the bell to damp it down, either. Nat Peck, who was sitting right beside me, had bells ringing in his ears for days after. Gulda, a world renowned classical pianist was playing baritone sax on the concert, and he conducted us with his left foot. He did this admirably, but that is all I can remember about that particular jazz workshop, except that I shared a room with Rolf Ericson, who told me, over the seven days we were together, about practically everything that had happened to him in Duke Ellington’s band. Later on I did other workshops, where I was booked on trumpet. No one ever asked me to play horn again.

By now I was feeling a little dazed, because the kids in this youth band were beginning to frighten me. Now I had my glasses back on I could see that my old boss Peter Herbolzheimer was running the band. I played for ten years in his regular band not so long ago, and that was a real bunch of wrinklies. We played to packed houses and jazz clubs throughout Europe, including one week at Ronnie Scott’s with my buddy Kenny Clare on drums. Good old Johnny Griffin, Herb Geller, Niels Henning Ørsted Pederson and Art Farmer were regulars, and good old Nat Adderley, Slide Hampton, Gerry Mulligan, Frank Rosolino, Gary Burton, Benny Bailey, Dusko Goykovic and Stan Getz came in as guest geriatrics from time to time. Pardon me for wrinkly–dropping.

One of the titles we used to play way back was Filibuster, also on this rec­ord, so I was able to compare the two versions. Now I don’t understand this. First of all: after working for thirty years in Germany I thought I knew all the good players around. I have never heard of a single one of the guys on this record. The young Germans I met in the old days couldn’t seem to get the grasp of jazz phras­ing; now here was a bunch of teenagers all playing great jazz, and forming up a precision power unit with an eleven piece brass section fit to blast off the top of your head. They were not only phrasing correctly, but behaving as if they had in­vented it.

Secondly: what was all this recorded live in Riga, Leningrad, Wilna busi­ness? Like uh—Vilnius, Lithuania? Come on, man! You can’t make live record­ings of this quality in places like that. It’s the best sound I ever heard in my life. This was surely a studio recording with some good old German applause mixed in. I mean—you can’t tell the difference between a Russian handclap and a German, right? Now get this. They had borrowed all the electronic gear from various places and lugged it around with them through the wilds of Estonia right over to Russia, getting bogged down on country roads, arguing with thick–headed border guards, fighting with the electric supply and constantly trying to prevent cretins from stealing the stuff from right under their noses.

‘No,’ said Peter, on the phone. ‘This is all live, taken from concerts.’ It was Peter who had sent me the record. Well then, not only has the standard of playing improved, but the equipment and the engineering, too. The sound is absolutely su­perb. If any one of the guys playing had been a hair out of place you’d be able to hear it, everything is as clear as a bell. There is a supreme togetherness. They also sound as if they are having a good time, but when playing Peter’s arrangements you always have a good time. I’ve played in a few good line–ups over the years, but I reckon I had the best time of my life in that band.

Some of the titles on the record were composed by members of the band, and some by people outside. I can hear Peter’s influence and encouragement on every one of them. The number Morgennebel is so startling that I’ve been playing it repeatedly ever since I first heard it. Written by the fluegelhorn soloist Jan–Peter Klöpfel it is an absolute masterpiece. I have recently been fighting my way through an adventure for the PC called Myst, which is a really sensational piece of com­puter programming. Morgennebel is like Myst. Once in it you are embraced, en­folded, shrouded in the swirling mists of another strange world.

In one of Peter’s arrangements, Springtime, he does something for which I have always loved him. He has a unique way of writing unisons. The whole band plays, but every now and then one of the sections will hang on to an important note while the others carry on, then join in again only to hold another note over later on. The effect is ethereal. Sometimes this leads into some fugue or counterpoint be­tween sections, and more often than not to a crashing tutti climax that lifts you right off your feet. Peter always knows exactly where to put that climax, where others have tried and failed. I used to ask him about that, because people always clapped after one of his stunning brass passages, but not usually after an equally stunning phrase written by somebody else. ‘You have to know where to put those things,’ he said dryly, but he wouldn’t let me in on the secret. Peter was born of German parents in Romania, educated in Detroit and speaks about a hundred and fifty different languages fluently. He is a musical genius. I once gave him a book on serial composition by Reginald Smith Brindle, dedicated to Luigi Dallapiccola, but he told me afterwards that he knew all that stuff already.

Many of the arrangements are incredibly complicated. Piece for My Latino Friends, written by vibraphonist Wolf Kerschek, is one of those multi time signa­ture things that are hell to read, rather like some of the old Don Ellis things. There is a bit of rhythm behind the brass in there that defies analysis.

Peter is not a wrinkly, by the way, not yet, but he has another outstanding characteristic which caused an AFN disk jockey, the late Clay Sherman, to nick­name him Old Kugelbauch¸ which translates, not very well, into Old Globe–Belly. Indeed, on one of our jazz galas he was supposed to stand behind Toots Thielemans as a gag, and reach around and strum the guitar while Toots fingered the chords. Peter couldn’t get up close enough behind Toots to get his arm around and reach the guitar so they went into a hilarious bit of arm wrestling on stage there.

The alto player Ignaz Dinné starts off My Foolish Heart on the second disc. The engineer has managed to record this with such presence that if you are listen­ing with earphones, as I was, you feel as if you have been suddenly relocated half­way up inside the pipe. There is no letup, no time to catch your breath. Each num­ber is uniquely amazing, startling, sensational. I love this record. There is a five man vocal group singing a Capella near the end. They get a beautifully clear haunting sound on ‘Round Midnight which is greatly reminiscent of the pre–re­corded, overdubbed and electronically enhanced recordings the Singers Unlimited used to make in the Villingen studios. These guys did it on a live performance in the auditorium of St. Petersburg, which, I can tell you from experience, is not usually the best place to record things like this.

The Bundes Jazz Orchestra has already made a tour of the USA and Portugal, and were featured in the Expo and Olympic Games in Spain in 1992. There is a picture inside the album of the greatest wrinkly of them all, Clark Terry, who guested with the band on the American tour. OK, I’ve milked the wrinkly business dry now. I just didn’t want that journalist to think we were going to pass over something like that without comment.

A little booklet enclosed with the CD gives a list of the band sponsors. The aforementioned ministry, plus the German Foreign Office, Daimler–Benz AG, the Foundation Deutsches Musikleben, the WDR radio station, Cologne, the Munich branch of Mercedes–Benz, and the Pro Musica Viva Foundation were all involved. All kinds of other organisations helped with equipment and transport during the Baltic tour.

To help coach the players Peter called on the services of Chuck Findley and Bobby Shew for the trumpets, Heinz von Hermann for the saxophones, Bart van Lier, trombone, Walter Norris, piano, Jörg Reiter, keyboards, Mads Vinding, bass, and Bruno Casstellucci, drums. Most of these men played for many years in Peter’s regular band, the Rhythm Combination & Brass.

I have in my possession a photograph of the youth band grouped around a beaming Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who first had the idea of forming a national youth orchestra, and followed it all the way through. Peter has already been honoured with the Bundesverdienstkreuz, the Bundes Service Cross, for his contribution to the music of the German Olympic Games of 1972, which was performed by the Kurt Edelhagen band.

This record was made in November 1993. Peter says there is now hardly anyone from that line-up still in the band. There is a waiting list of fresh young tal­ent coming out of the German high schools, just as there was in America with the Buddy Rich and Woody Herman bands. He now has a trombone player who plays and sounds like Jiggs Whigham. Well, if he can do that he can’t be all bad.

I’m sorry I called them kids up there. These are dedicated young men, and they know where they are going. Watch out for them.

Copyright ©2001 Jazz Professional. All Rights Reserved.

Write to the address below for this CD if it isn’t available in the High Street. If you love it madly you can also buy photocopies of the scores from Peter himself. I’ve already shown you some bits and pieces of The Duke in one of my technical articles. It’s on the record too. Here are the addresses:

For the scores:

Peter Herbolzheimer, Türnicher Str.3, D-50969 Köln, Germany. Tel: +49 (0)221-360 5494 Fax: +49 (0)221 5431

For the record:

BuJazzO Vol.3, Ars Musici AM 1095-2, Freiburger Musik Forum, D-79104 Freiburg, Germany - or look for other vendors on the Internet.