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Albert Mangelsdorff: 1928-2005
Albert Mangelsdorff

Born: September 5, 1928 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Died: July 25, 2005 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

German trombone innovator

by Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2006 Todd S. Jenkins

Trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, one of the key figures in European improvised music for the past four decades, died on Monday, July 25th, 2005 in his hometown of Frankfurt am Main, Germany. He was 76 years old.

Albert and his elder brother, saxophonist Emil, were raised with an early love of music. Albert studied violin in his youth and later taught himself guitar, which was his first professional instrument. He switched to the trombone at twenty – trading some cigarettes for a used horn – and it remained his primary axe from then on. In the 1950s he did much big-band work in Germany, gigging with Joe Klimm, Hans Koller, Frankfurt’s Hessischer Rundfunk Orkester and the Frankfurt All-Stars. With tenorman Joki Freund he formed a respected hard-bop combo in the mid-1950s, and in 1958 Mangelsdorff served as musical director of Der Jazz-Ensemble des Hessischen Rundfunks. That same year he participated as the German representative in Marshall Brown's International Youth Band, playing at the Newport Jazz Festival.

From the late 50s Mangelsdorff’s career took many interesting turns. The cool jazz of American artists like Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano had a huge impact on the trombonist during that era, as did Miles Davis’ modal investigations. In 1961 he founded a quintet with saxophonist Heinz Sauer which soon became one of Europe’s most popular jazz ensembles. That group persisted through several personnel changes and tours through 1976, with Mangelsdorff and Sauer at the core. In 1962 he played on American pianist John Lewis’ Animal Dance (Atlantic). When the Goethe Institute assembled a tour of Asia in 1964, the trombonist was right on board. It was on that sojourn that he gained a lifelong respect for the deep intricacies and exoticism of Asian music. His album New Jazz Ramwong (a.k.a. Now, Jazz Ramwong!, 1964, L&R) was inspired by the traditional dance music of Thailand. A few years later, when free jazz got its first tentative grips on the European imagination, Mangelsdorff was right on board. Among other things, he was an early member of Alex von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra (Globe Unity 67 & 70, Atavistic/Unheard Music, 2001). Don Cherry’s Eternal Rhythm (1968, Saba) placed Mangelsdorff in a solid ensemble of improvisers exploring both free and ethnic areas.

The early-1970s edition of the Mangelsdorff/Sauer Quintet featured reedman Gerd Dudek, bassist Buschi Niebergall and drummer Peter Giger, all forward-looking musicians who moved further into notions of free improvisation. One of Mangelsdorff’s chief innovations as a trombonist was the application of multiphonics, playing two or more notes at once by humming and altering embouchure. This technique can be heard to good effect on Trombirds (MPS, 1972) and many other records from the 1970s onward.

He began experimenting with solo performance in 1972 at the Munich Olympics, leading to a long run of solo shows and recordings. He also loved duo settings, partnering with such artists as pianist Wolfgang Dauner and Lee Konitz (Art of the Duo, 1983, Enja). Mangelsdorff crossed all the boundaries of jazz in the 1970s: work with ex-Coltrane drummer Elvin Jones (The Wide Point with bassist Palle Danielsson, Pausa, 1975; A Jazz Tune, I Hope with Dauner and bassist Eddie Gomez); a trio with Weather Report electric bassist Jaco Pastorius and funk-jazz drummer Alphonze Mouzon (Trilogue, MPS, 1976); with the super British triad of reedman John Surman, bassist Barre Phillips and drummer Stu Martin; the NDR Big Band; the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band; trumpeter Manfred Schoof’s group Old Friends; and the Union Deutscher Jazzmusiker. He leaned towards jazz-rock fusion in groups like Free Sound & Super Brass and Dauner’s supergroup, United Jazz & Rock Ensemble. With J.F. Jenny-Clark he co-led the German-French Jazz Ensemble.

Mangelsdorff kept active well into his seventies. Room 1220 (Konnex, 1993), co-led by John Surman, presents some of his finest late-period work. In 1994 the Union Deutscher Jazzmusiker established the Albert-Mangelsdorff-Preis, an annual award for jazz excellence. 2003 was marked by a 75th-birthday celebration at Frankfurt’s Die Alte Oper. His last recording was Shake, Shuttle and Blow (Enja), released in November 2005.

Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.


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