Klaus Thunemann’s Foray into Jazz

Michael Naura - Vanessa

The vast major­ity of peo­ple who have recorded bas­soon in jazz con­texts have been dou­blers who pri­mar­ily play sax­o­phone, such as Illi­nois Jacquet, Frankie Trum­bauer, and Ben Wen­del. A very small num­ber of play­ers (Paul Han­son and Michael Rabi­nowitz are the best known) truly spe­cial­ize in play­ing jazz on the bas­soon. But there is a third cat­e­gory as well: orches­tral bas­soon­ists who have occa­sion­ally ven­tured into jazz contexts.

In 1935, Sol Schoen­bach recorded four tunes by British jazz pianist Regi­nald Foresythe in a small group that also included Benny Good­man and Gene Krupa. Ken­neth Pas­man­ick, long­time prin­ci­pal bas­soon­ist of the National Sym­phony Orches­tra, played on two albums by gui­tarist Char­lie Byrd. And Manuel Ziegler, prin­ci­pal bas­soon­ist of the New York Phil­har­monic from 1957 to 1981, recorded a num­ber of albums in the late 1950s with Gun­ther Schuller, the Mod­ern Jazz Soci­ety, and the Mod­ern Jazz Quar­tet.

But one of the most sur­pris­ing (to me, at least) and impres­sive jazz out­ings by an orches­tral bas­soon­ist is Klaus Thune­mann’s appear­ance on Ger­man pianist Michael Naura’s 1975 album Vanessa (ECM 1053). Naura and Thune­mann are joined by Wolf­gang Schlüter on marimba, Eber­hard Weber on bass, and Joe Nay on drums. Schlüter and Naura worked together exten­sively, and Weber and Nay col­lab­o­rated with them on a num­ber of albums. But this is Thunemann’s only record­ing with the group, and as far as I can tell, his only jazz record­ing period. On the back cover of the album, Naura writes:

…we team up with Klaus Thune­mann, who is solo bas­soon­ist in the ‘North­ern Ger­man Radio Sym­phony Orches­tra’ (NDR), pro­fes­sor at the Han­nover Col­lege of Music, and who plays Schön­berg under Pierre Boulez equally as com­pellingly as he does Vivaldi with the ‘I Musici di Roma.’ I believe it was pre­cisely this dis­tance from which Thune­mann has for many years and with inter­est viewed jazz, that pro­vided the stim­u­lus which inspired us when we made this recording.

Thune­mann fig­ures promi­nently in three of the album’s six tracks. “Sal­va­tore” opens the album, and at 11:38, is by far the longest tune on the record. It fea­tures a soar­ing, lyri­cal bas­soon melody fol­lowed by two and a half min­utes of impro­vi­sa­tion by Thune­mann. Schlüter takes his turn, then the whole group engages in some very open-ended impro­vi­sa­tion, includ­ing some bas­soon mul­ti­phon­ics. The bas­soon melody returns at the end. “Baboon” begins and ends as a dirty, funky tune in which Thune­mann explores a rough and even some­times growl­ing tone. The mid­dle is a blaz­ingly fast group impro­vi­sa­tion that does not include bas­soon. Thune­mann gets a co-writing credit on the album’s last tune, “Black Pigeon”. It opens with almost two min­utes of bas­soon impro­vi­sa­tion — much of it com­pletely solo. About two min­utes in, it launches into a mid-tempo groove, with bas­soon melody and a long marimba solo from Schlüter. Thune­mann takes another solo turn before return­ing to the melody at the end.

All in all, this album con­tains the most exten­sive and impres­sive impro­vi­sa­tion I’ve heard from some­one we think of as a one of the giants of the “legit” bas­soon world. Thune­mann sounds at ease in the ensem­ble, and uses his con­sid­er­able tech­nique to great advan­tage, run­ning all over the horn and engag­ing in extended tech­niques such as mul­ti­phon­ics, growl­ing, and pitch bends. He even, much to my delight, explores realms of tone very dif­fer­ent from what you hear on, say, his well-known record­ing of the Weber Con­certo. You can read a more gen­eral review of the album on the between sound and space blog.

I learned of the exis­tence of this album while work­ing on my dis­ser­ta­tion on the bas­soon in jazz, and included it my discog­ra­phy. But at the time I wasn’t able to actu­ally get my hands on a copy — it hasn’t ever been rere­leased on CD. The first time I heard any of it was when Jolene Masone posted one track last year as part of the “Best Bas­soon Week Ever!” series on her blog. That one tune blew me away, and I renewed my search for the album, finally snag­ging a copy on eBay.

At this point in the post, I would typ­i­cally include one track trans­ferred from the album. But this time I can do one bet­ter — I man­aged to dig up and post video footage of Thune­mann with the Michael Naura Quin­tet play­ing “Sal­va­tore” at the Kon­gresshalle in Frank­furt am Main, Sep­tem­ber 27, 1974:


Be sure to check out the free impro­vi­sa­tion (includ­ing bas­soon mul­ti­phon­ics), which starts around the 10-minute mark in this live ver­sion. And if that’s not your thing, the band returns to the form around 12:25.

  • Jolene Masone

    October 8th, 2013

    Reply

    That’s amaz­ing! I can’t believe you found this! This is fur­ther evi­dence that we should all be encour­aged to par­tic­i­pate in improv and “other gen­res” besides clas­si­cal music. Incred­i­ble. This is totally going on the blog for this week!

    • David A. Wells

      October 8th, 2013

      Reply

      Amen! Get­ting com­fort­able impro­vis­ing in front of peo­ple has done more for my play­ing than any other sin­gle thing I can think of. I’m still work­ing out how to really include it in my teach­ing, though. It was def­i­nitely some­thing I sought out on the side — not a main part of my own for­mal education.

  • Carol Perrin

    October 26th, 2013

    Reply

    I am a fan of Klaus Thunemann’s clas­si­cal record­ings. Had never heard him play any­thing besides clas­si­cal and found the above piece interesting.

Leave a Comment

* are Required fields