Celebrating the Bundesjazzorchester at 25 (1)

The Bundesjazzorchester in concert.
Schloss Rheinsberg, 17th August 2012 

In this first of two articles celebrating the Bundesjazzorchester as it starts its 25th year, we describe a band which deserves to be better known outside Germany.

Meet the band. The German equivalent of NYJO is entering its 25th year. BuJazzO (pronounced Boo-Yats-Oh, and short for Bundesjazzorchester) was founded in 1988 by the late Peter Herbolzheimer (1935-2010) who ran it for nearly twenty years until 2006. Students enter the band from age of 18. There is an upper age limit of 24. Members  can only remain for two years, or for a total of four twice-yearly, week-long courses (known by the utilitarian word  Arbeitsphasen – workphases). The winter course normally takes place in Trossingen in Southern Germany. The summer course – such as the orchestra’s 50th course since inception, which I witnessed –  in the former East.

In the Herbolzheimer era, the band played a lot of the Rumanian-born bandleader’s charts. Every year fresh faces would come along and learn a limited repertoire. Those muscular Herbolzheimer charts, littered with punchy brass stab chords are still in the band’s pad, but BuJazzO now plays in many more idioms, and works under different directors. Artistic Director – installed this year, but with a history of working with and inspiring the band – is Jiggs Whigham. The Cleveland-born trombonist and bandleader, at the forefront of the music has made his home in Germany, and in the Cologne/Bonn area where the band is based, since the mid-1960’s. He speaks perfect Rhineland German, and the young members of BuJazzO clearly enjoy his lively and sympathetic leadership.

The band also has a Music Director, saxophonist/ composer Niels Klein, and on this course a Guest Director, Maria Baptist from Berlin, has also been directing the band in her own vivid compositions.

The office of the band is in Bonn, in the offices of the main funder, the Musikrat. The full-time administrative staff of three had been led since inception by Peter Ortmann. The summer the band’s management has been taken on by Dominik Seidler. The 50th course which I witnessed marked the handover, Ortmann’s major contribution right from the start being rightly celebrated.

The Bundesjazzorchester trombone section in rehearsal

The course I witnessed had thirty-eight members: a big band with alternates playing in all sections, plus a vocal jazz ensemble of eleven. These players are the top of the tree, with up to three thousand players eligible to apply as they emerge from the school-age bands in each of the Laender in Germany which fee their alumni into BuJazzO. At its foundation just before the fall of theBerlin wall – the band could only draw on the West German Laender. The band I saw had about a dozen fine young players whose jazz education has prospered in completely new entities during their lifetimes in the former East Germany. These players and  youth jazz in East Germany are, in fact,  more or less the same age.

I will review last night’s Schloss Rheinsberg concert  in the second piece -meanwhile the band is off to play two more concerts in the East of Germany, one in Rostock, another in Werder an der Havel.

Contact details for BuJazzO are here. We have further information – just get in touch.

Categories: miscellaneous

5 replies »

  1. With the best will in the world are LondonJazz readers, with the emphasis on 'London', really that interested in not one but two pieces about a rather obscure German youth orchestra? Obscure German youth orchestra playing in London, yes of course… but surely this sort of coverage could be seen as a little odd. I know London is a big place, but the green belt hardly stretches to Germany!

  2. Thanks, anonymous.

    Here's why: I find that learning about the ways in which other countries' jazz scenes work allow useful comparisons, and is instructive for our own scene.

    Youth orchestras up and down the country probably don't know the German system. But fair cop, I take your point.

    Anonymous, please let us know what you'd like to read MORE about, and we'll endeavour to keep you as happy as possible!

  3. As Chair of NYJO, I found it very useful to understand the differences as well as the similarities between the 2 organisations, because NYJO is occasionally challenged to justify its own approach. We both have an upper age limit of 24 – good ! But NYJO rehearses every Saturday 52 weeks of the year as well as performing live at around 40 concerts annually – I think that's a better contribution to a nation's artistic life than just doing it twice a year for a week, but I recognise that there are downsides to NYJO's approach as well, & we are working to improve it. Knowing what others do is a help.

  4. BuJazzO works on a wholly different approach to NYJO, more like the National Youth Orchestra partly because of the size of the country.The distance to Rheinsberg, where the rehearsal was, from Stuttgart, for example, is nearly 500 miles!
    Meanwhile, to get round the problem of these distances, I understand that there is a strong network of big bands in each region, usually of musicians a bit younger than in BuJazzO. They therefore act as feeders.
    The big band is truly recognised as an important institution. For example, there is talk of it going for a month to West Africa next year with major support from the Goethe Institut (the German equivalent of the British Council).
    NYJO indeed achieves an incredible quality on a shoestring. I just wonder how much better it could be with the level and stability of support that is made available in Germany.

  5. Thank you Nigel and Oliver for comments.

    The strong unifying role of the government-empowered and -funded Deutscher Musikrat in running the various continuing/ permanent national projects such as the Bundesjazzorchester does lead to a more unified structure. It's far harder to deconstruct and to unpick than more pluralist models like ours.

    And it has proved that it can also be rolled out: I was so impressed that the youngsters from the Eastern Laender are roughly the same age as, or possbily slightly older than, the structures which have brought them in touch with jazz.

    And in response to “surely this sort of coverage could be seen as a little odd” from anonymous above, I'll gleefully counter with the curious fact that the two pieces about BuJazzO have been the most-read pieces on the LondonJazz site in this past week.

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