Posts Tagged ‘video’

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.

TuBassoon at U-Nite

TuBassoon at U-Nite

TuBassoon with modern dancers during a U-Nite promo shoot for Good Day Sacramento. (Craig Koscho, Sac State Public Affairs)

On the evening of April 11th, I performed as part of the second annual U-Nite, a mini-festival of the arts at Sacramento's Crocker Art Museum. The event featured faculty and students from the various parts of Sacramento State's College of Arts and Letters. Performers and exhibitors were stationed around the museum, presenting short programs of music, dance, film, theater, visual arts, and the written word. My colleague Julian Dixon and I played in one of the galleries as the duo TuBassoon.

Surrounded by gorgeous California landscape paintings, we played 25-30 minutes of music drawn from numerous sources. We had previously played P.D.Q. Bach's "Dutch" Suite for bassoon and tuba, so that was an easy choice. Although there are at least a couple of other works written specifically for bassoon and tuba, we ended up adapting the rest of our repertoire from other sources. We played the first movement of Mozart's gorgeous Sonata, K. 292 (for bassoon and cello), one movement of a Telemann canonic sonata, and a suite of short tuba duets by Walter Sear.

The morning of U-Nite, Julian and I were part of a live segment on the morning show Good Day Sacramento. We're playing P.D.Q. Bach's "Panther Dance" in the background while reporter Courtney Dempsey interviews U-Nite's organizers:

Incidentally, if TuBassoon continues, we might just have to make Courtney's description our motto. Tubassoon: A lil' tuba, a lil' bassoon.

After our evening performance, I was able to catch Citywater's performance of a new piece by Stephen Blumberg, which was great. But unfortunately, between grabbing a bite to eat from the museum café, getting set up, and talking to audience members after our performance, that was all I was able to take in. But this video collage from Sac State's Office of Public Affairs provides an excellent overview of what I missed, and shows off the excellent range and diversity of the event:

New Wave Bassoon

Mo 45rpm Single  Cover

In my ongo­ing quest to find bas­soons in unex­pect­ed places, I’ve uncov­ered a new gem. The Mo (or some­times sim­ply “Mo”) was a Dutch New Wave band formed in 1979 by broth­ers Clemens and Huub de Lange. The band had a cou­ple of incar­na­tions, but its ini­tial line­up includ­ed singer Heili Helder, drum­mer Harm Bieger, Clemens de Lange on key­boards, and Huub de Lange on key boards and — you guessed it — bas­soon. Huub de Lange appears to be known most­ly as a choral com­poser now; here’s his Choral­Wiki page. I wrote to him ask­ing some ques­tions about the band, but got no respon­se.

A num­ber of the songs on The Mo’s epony­mous 1980 album include bas­soon. But one song in par­tic­u­lar stands out. “Band With Bas­soon” not only includes Huub de Lange’s bas­soon play­ing, but is also self-referentially about a band that uses a bas­soon! “Band With Bas­soon” also appears on a 45rpm sin­gle from the album (the cov­er of the sin­gle can be seen above). Here it is:

Listen to The Mo - Band With Bassoon

I’ve done my best to tran­scribe the lyrics, but there’s a line of two in the third verse that I just can’t quite make out. If you can fig­ure out what she’s singing there, please let me know.

So, guess what we found on the moon
Down in the crater lake
Don’t think our sto­ry is fake
A band with bas­soon

So, can you imag­ine our joy
They cap­tured us with their sound
Know­ing they couldn’t go wrong
The band with bas­soon

Boy, […play­ing a…]
Just a [lit­tle child]
So he said: “Bas­soon band,
You’ll be the star in our land”

Then, we got into the ship
Tak­in’ ‘em back to the earth
And we sang “Bas­soon band,
You’ll be the star in our land”

So, they’re rock­ing the world with their tune
Young kids, they shout for more
They nev­er seen that before
A band with bas­soon

YouTube, that great repos­i­to­ry of for­got­ten cul­ture, has two videos of The Mo in action. Both seem to be tak­en from about twelfth-generation tape copies of TV broad­casts, but they’re still watch­able. The first is a song called “Nan­cy” that fea­tures Huub de Lange rock­ing out front and cen­ter on bas­soon in a shiny bright blue 80s out­fit:

 

There’s no bas­soon play­ing in “Fred Astaire,” but de Lange has his horn at the ready in a stand next to his key­board:

Promo Video

A few weeks ago, Sac State’s Pub­lic Affairs office inter­viewed me and shot some footage of me play­ing. The fin­ished video was post­ed last week, right before my recital (more on this soon). I was a lit­tle busy at the the time, so I’m just get­ting around to post­ing it now: