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Artist Profiles

Albert Mangelsdorff: A Legend at 75

By Published: October 28, 2003
Returning to Germany, Mangelsdorff began prolifically recording, in groups with his brother, on an album with Modern Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis (Animal Dance, Atlantic, 1962), and with a newly formed quintet that would record half a dozen albums over the next decade. The '60s also found Mangelsdorff becoming involved in the burgeoning free jazz movement, a shift mirrored by American peer soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. Despite coming from a traditional background, the shift seemed natural: "Free jazz was actually a logical result of what jazz had been so far - the very primitive improvising on a melody - then the changes got more and more complex. It was logical to me that it [free improvising] would come, even though I thought it had to come out of my own development."

During the intervening years, Mangelsdorff would continue to perform and record regularly with such musicians as Don Cherry, John Surman, Slide Hampton, Wolfgang Dauner, John Scofield, Gunter Hampel, Chico Freeman and many others. His unique approach to the trombone has made him an integral member of many ensembles over the years but he may be well known for sewing an uncommon thread into the quilt of jazz history: solo trombone. To understand this innovation, it is necessary to discuss the evolution of multiphonics - the simultaneous blowing and singing of notes into a horn. "Before I came up with this multiphonics, I was already a very good trombone player," Mangelsdorff quips. "But multiphonics was just a new dimension to be found for the trombone. I didn't invent it'it was there. Nobody made out of it what I did and when I got it, I started practicing it every day, and I was very much surprised what possibilities there were. After discovering these new dimensions, being able to play harmonies, to play chords, opened up the possibility to play solo."

To perform such a physically demanding task on a challenging instrument, particularly at age 75 requires work. "In the beginning, for me anyway, the sung note was never loud to get a balance or to get out those overtones clearly," Mangelsdorff explains. "So I had to find practicing techniques; I practice my voice every day on a piano, singing through the mouthpiece, because I found that when I did this the balance would be there." Backstage, before his birthday concert, Mangelsdorff was audible in his dressing room, practicing his singing with a piano.

Commitment to music is what has made Mangelsdorff able to celebrate his 75th birthday still playing at a high level. The performance featured two groups he has been involved with some time. Old Friends, with Manfred Schoof (who put the band together for his 50th birthday), Klaus Doldinger, Wolfgang Dauner, Eberhard Weber and Ralf H'bner; and the United Jazz and Rock Ensemble, founded and led by Dauner originally as a group for a TV show, and featuring such European luminaries as Barbara Thompson, Kenny Wheeler and Jon Hiseman. It speaks volumes about Mangelsdorff's lack of pretension that a celebration for him he would see as an opportunity to present groups he does not lead. Such affability was in abundant evidence during the day preceding the concert. Whether it be in a friendly chat with Wolfgang Dauner, exchanging greetings with Kenny Wheeler, or in the riding in an elevator with Eberhard Weber, it is was clear that the musicians who came to participate in this event did so out of profound respect and love for Albert.

"It's special because Albert is a venerated musician, one of the most important in the last century," commented Barbara Thompson. "And a nice person."

Ralf H'bner, drummer with Mangelsdorff's long-standing group of the '60s, feels indebted to Mangelsdorff. "For me, he gave me a chance'[he was] the musician who gave me the idea for my own music, my own identity."

The audience of the Alte Oper was equally as gracious, filling the hall with thunderous applause worthy of such a momentous occasion. Mangelsdorff, though thankful, feels slightly uncomfortable with the accolades. "I never cared for all these adjectives, to be called #1 or whatever, because'everyone has his own taste and I would never even think about that I am the #1 trombonist. And anyway, I was never trying to become #1; it was my intention to make music. I wanted to make music. I wanted to fulfill certain things that I heard in my imagination and that has nothing to do with becoming rich or becoming famous or anything, It's just the music that counts."

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