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Berlin Is One Of The Best Places In Europe To Hear Live Jazz Music

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Jazz Guitar Today guest contributor Joe Barth and team check out the jazz guitar scene in Berlin, Germany.

History-rich Berlin has many must-see places. Inspired by the Acropolis entrance in Athens, The Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall are the most photographed sites in Berlin.  Because of its significance in World War II, the Topography of Terror sits on the site of the Gestapo and SS Police’s former headquarters.  From a lighter perspective, the five museums and Baroque-style cathedrals and gardens are clustered on a tiny island in the River Spree.  Berlin also has an active nightlife and is one of the best places in Europe to hear live jazz music.

Germany’s capital has an assortment in the 1920s warmly received this music from America called jazz.  

Jazz was imported to Germany at the end of World War I when it already had a footing in England and France.   From 1920 through 1923 there was a period of economic turbulence and inflation in Germany, but in 1924 the market stabilized, and money was invested in entertainment.  When Josephine Baker visited Berlin in 1925 she found the city dazzling and the people felt the same way about the music she brought with her.  Germany embraced the modernism that swept through Europe and was crazy about jazz.  University jazz studies were begun in Frankfurt in 1928 even though American universities would not formally study jazz until after World War II.  In 1926 German radio stations began to broadcast jazz music and the people were drawn to American black musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Sadly, in 1933 the Nazis ordered an end to jazz education and the Nazis prohibited jazz music on the radio until they were defeated in the mid-1940s.  After World War II jazz in Germany grew with American musicians like Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and later Miles Davis performing regularly.

German jazz musicians such as saxophonist Klaus Doldinger and bassist Eberhard Weber developed their careers there in the 1960s and 70s.  Today saxophonist Silke Eberhard and trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff are active on the concert scene.

Kurt Rosenwinkel 

Kurt Rosenwinkel was born in 1970 and attended Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts before going on to study at Berklee College.  Before Kurt graduated from Berklee, he toured with Berklee’s dean, vibraphonist Gary Burton. Kurt moved to Brooklyn and played with Paul Motion, Joe Henderson, and Brian Blade.  In 2003 he moved to East Berlin, Germany to teach at the Jazz Institute Berlin from which he recently retired.

In 2016 Kurt formed his independent record label Heartcore Records and started producing, as well as performing.  An accomplished pianist as well, Kurt keeps himself busy performing, recording, and producing as a leader and as a sideman.

Arne Braun was born in 1995 in Finland and currently lives in Berlin and maintains an active performance schedule across Europe performing regularly with 1000 Gram and James Banner’s USINE.  He has performed at the Reykjavik Jazz Festival, Umbria Jazz Festival, Maerz Musik and Pori Jazz Festival.  

Born in Argentina in 1982, Ignacio Cacace went on to graduate with a degree in jazz guitar from the Emu School of Music in Argentina.  Ignacio lived for four years in New York City and then three years in Barcelona, Spain before settling in Berlin. His first release in 2014 was New Concepts of Pop Music with the KKC Group,  and his more recent release is Next to Normal (2018) as a bandleader/composer and on guitar.

Hugo Fernandez was born in 1971 in Mexico City and as a young man worked with Mexican pop music artists.  At age twenty-three he moved to Boston to study at Berklee returning to Mexico City to teach at the Academia de Musicia Fermatta. In 2003, Hugo earned a master’s degree, under Steve Masakowski at the University of New Orleans.  In 2006 he moved to Madrid, Spain for twelve years, then on to Berlin to form the group “New Grounds.”  His latest release ‘Ozean’ in 2022 is his sixth disc.

Heiner Franz

Heiner Franz is one of Germany’s most renowned jazz guitarists since he came on the scene in the 1980s. In college, he studied theology and served as a religion teacher and parish priest until he retired from the ministry at age thirty-four to devote his life to music. In addition to his performances, in 1988, he founded the Jardis Record label which specializes in jazz guitar music. 

Uli Hoffmeier started with the guitar, banjo, and violin in his family’s band in Berlin and later studied at the Munich Guitar Institute. Continuing to be active as a performer in 1996 he joined the Palace Orchestra and its singer Max Raabe. Uli is also active in a seven-string guitar duet “Gitarresque.”  He plays approximately 100 concerts a year including the Carnegie Hall in New York, Disney Hall in Los Angeles, the Caree Theater in Amsterdam, the Salle Pleyel in Paris and the Kremlin Theater in Moscow.  He is the author of the book Stompin’ Guitar, Fundamentals of Rhythm Guitar in Big Band, Combo, and Orchestra (Acoustic Music Verlag).

Tina Jackel – photo marcus_c_hurek

Tina Jackel was born in Munich and studied guitar in Wurzburg, Amsterdam (Hogeschool voor de Kunsten), and Paris (Conservatoire Nationale Superieure de la Musique).  After living in Hamburg for a while she moved to Berlin in 2011 and has kept an active performance and teaching career there.  

Klima Kalima on guitar

Kalle Kalima was born in Helsinki, Finland in 1973 and later moved to Germany.  From 2000 to 2019 Kalle toured mostly in Europe, but also in Africa, North and South America as well as Asia. He is also a prolific composer writing music for everything from string trios to big bands and even opera.

Ronny Graupe has been an active player since the mid-1990s.  It has been said that Ronny has developed his own language on the guitar as well as a composer. His new record label is called Out of the Shed. In 2021 he was awarded the German Jazz Prize.

Marty Grosz at the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua

Marty Grosz was born in Berlin in 1930, and as a child, grew up in New York when his family moved to the United States.  He started on the ukulele at age eight and switched to the guitar when he heard guitarist Bernard Addison playing rhythm behind trumpeter Roy Eldridge. From 1955 to 1975 Marty was an active guitarist in the Chicago area before returning to New York in 1975.  Today, Marty is considered one of the foremost jazz rhythm guitarists and chord soloist.   

Johann Leijonhufvud

Johann Leijonhufvud was born and raised in Sweden but currently lives and works in both Berlin and Skane, Sweden.  Johann has a playing style of jazz that is very approachable and connects well with his audiences. He started on piano at age nine and switched to guitar at age eleven.  He records on Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Heartcore Records label.

Frank Moebus has been living in Germany since 1992.  Frank is also an important composer and conductor.  He is an extremely active musician in Berlin, appearing on more than sixty recordings.

Paulo Morello

Born in 1970, Cornelius Paul Schmidkunz is now known as Paulo Morello. He studied jazz guitar at the Meistersinger Conservatory in Nuremberg as well as the Mannheim University of Music before going to New York to study with Jim Hall and Peter Leitch at the New School of Music.  In 2001 he and saxophonist Kim Barth traveled to Rio de Janeiro where they immersed themselves in Brazilian music.  He has also worked with Larry Coryell, Phil Catherine, Helmut Kagerer, and Andreas Dombert in their “Night of Guitars” project.  Morello also performs regularly with the Brazilian quartet “Sambop.” 

John Schroder was born in 1964 in Frankfurt, studied music in Frankfurt in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and relocated to Berlin in 1994. In addition to the guitar, he is an active performer on piano, percussion, composing, arranging, and as a bandleader.  

Leni Stern

Leni Stern, the wife of legendary guitarist Mike Stern, lived in Berlin and worked as an actress until she moved to Boston in 1977 to study at Berklee College of Music.  As a student, she was good friends with fellow student Bill Frisell who introduced her to his friend Mike Stern.  Leni and Mike have been married for over 40 years.  In addition to her skills as a guitarist, Leni is an outstanding vocalist and proponent of World Music.  Mike and Leni have made New York City their home since the 1980s.

Luthier Frank Deimel is located in the greater Berlin area. He builds primarily solid-body electric guitars but his Bluestar model, chambered body with F-holes, has been popular with many jazz players including Kalle Kalima.           

Stefan Sonntag archtop guitar

Stefan Sonntag has been building great archtops in Augsburg near Berlin since the early 1990s.  He has studied instrument making both as an undergraduate as well as in graduate school.  After working for a while with Hofner Guitars and studying at the prestigious Stromer Workshop he opened his own shop in Augsburg in 1993.  He has built guitars for some of the finest jazz guitarists worldwide.


Performance Venues and Clubs

Housed on the site of a former supermarket since 1992, The A Trane on the corner of Pestalozzistra, is noteworthy for its stunning acoustics and is revered by music lovers and musicians alike. The best German jazz musicians and European artists perform regularly there, and also at The B Flat on Dircksenstra. The B Flat was started in 1995 by two musicians where modern and classic jazz is performed in a dimly lit, brick-walled atmosphere. 

The B Flat

Badenscher Hof with the green Front Garden on Badensche street is a great place for freshly prepared meals and great jazz music. 

Donau 115 on Donaustra street features jazz, blues, and the occasional marching band.

Peppi Guggenheim on Weichselstra street is great for modern and traditional jazz.

“The Hat” – Jazz Bar Berlin

Hat Bar Jazz Club is a sweet haven of hot jazz brimming with an atmosphere nestled in the heart of West Berlin.

Jazzkeller 69 on Hasselwerderstra can feature some of the most forward-thinking jazz in Germany.

The Quasimodo

The Quasimodo is a music venue in the basement of the Delphi Palace in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin. In the late 1920s under its previous name, it was the “Mecca of Swing.”  Officially opening as Quartier Quasimodo in 1967 it soon became a location where looser forms of jazz could be performed. From 1975 on many American jazz musicians regularly performed there as it was noted for its excellent acoustics. 

The Schlot on Invalidenstra street is another great place for live jazz.

The Sowieso on Weisestra street is an artist-run venue for experimental music and sonic explorations.

The Yorckschlossschen

The Yorckschlossschen in the Kreuzberg neighborhood is a hip beer garden with live jazz and blues.  In its 120-year history, it was especially an artist “watering hole” in the mid-1970s.

The Zig Zag Jazz Club

The Zig Zag Jazz Club in southwest Berlin is a special place with a cozy atmosphere and world-renowned live jazz music.  Artists like Kenny Garrett, Kurt Elling, Billy Hart, Pete Bernstein, and others can be regularly seen there.

The Berlin Jazz Festival in early November continues to be Europe’s most renowned music festival since 1964. 

University Jazz Programs 

The Jazz Institute of Berlin has a fine jazz guitar program with Paulo Morello overseeing it.  In 2003 Kurt Rosenwinkel moved to Berlin to teach there but retired from teaching about a year ago to focus on his playing career. Kalle Kalima also teaches there.

In the area, Kalle Kalima is also a professor of jazz guitar at the University of Lucerne, Switzerland since 2017.  In 2011 Ronne Graupe was appointed lecturer for jazz guitar at the University of the Arts in Bern, Switzerland.

(This article was written with research assistance from Ronny Graupe, Tina Jackel, Kalle Kalima, and Kathy Parker.)


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