Helmut Brandt

Much loved composer, arranger and baritone saxophonist, closely connected with the RIAS (Radio in the American Sector) Big Band in Berlin.

† 7.1.1931 - 26.7.2001


Helmut played tenor saxophone and clarinet as the leader of an amateur dixieland group, entertaining American troops after World War II. He won enormous popularity in the American jazz clubs, made many recordings, appeared as an honoured guest at jazz festivals and played with many international jazz stars, amongst them Miles Davis, Lester Young and Albert Mangelsdorff.

His Helmut Brandt-Combo was the leading source of jazz in Germany in the 1950s. Then he joined the RIAS Bigband as musician and chief arranger.

In 1974 he started his Mainstream Orchestra, that eventually became an institution of the Berliner jazz scene. His compositions and arrangements —specifically Mainstream and Cool Jazz in character, and his unusual line-up of baritone saxophone, 2 flügelhorns, trombone, guitar, bass und drums made every appearance of this excellent jazz group a big attraction.

The high spot of Helmut's activities was his Symphonic Poem for Big Band and Symphony Orchestra, first performed in 1998. This large symphonic work blends classical music with popular music and represents a milestone in the German musical culture of this century.

One of the jazz legends of Germany, in 2000 he received the Bundesverdienstkreuz (German Service Medal) for his life's work.

Helmut Brandt died unexpectedly of a heart attack in Stuttgart on the 26th of July, 2001 aged 70.

Other compositions include: Introduction, Theme, Improvisation and Fugato for Jazz Ensemble, Concert for Jazz Combo, La Samba Coloreada, Paraphrase for Jazz Players, Prague Impressions, 1TE-7TE Composition for saxophone Quintet.

Writes Ron Simmonds:

I knew Helmut well in the 1960s and '70s when we played together in the RIAS Big Band (Radio in the American Sector). As well as being a brilliant musician in every sense of the word he was also my chess partner. This was in the period when Werner Müller was leading this great band, and Åke Persson was on first trombone. The band made many trips to Japan under the name of Ricardo Sanchez (Müller reckoned that a German name might not go down too well in the after-war years).

One of the pieces Helmut arranged for these trips was the lovely ballad Lullaby of Itsuki. On it he played the most amazing cadenza as an introduction—indeed, such an incredible performance on the baritone saxophone, of all instruments, that I am reproducing it here. Needless to say, it delighted everyone, without exception. The mere thought of that cadenza today can still bring a tear to my eyes.

Bless you, Helmut.

Helmut's cadenza

Photo: Der BIT-Musikverlag