Edelhagen cover web

Album: 100 - The Unreleased WDR Jazz Recordings
Label: Jazzline
Vertrieb: Broken Silence
VÖ: 26. März 2021

KURT EDELHAGEN war einer Top Big Band Band Leader der 50er und 60er Jahre. Den meisten Zuhörern ist Edelhagen durch seine „kommerziellen“ Aufnahme mit Caterina Valente oder seine Arbeit für die Eröffnungsfeier der olympischen Spiele in München 1972 bekannt. 


Dass Kurt Edelhagen ein großartiger Jazz Big Band Leiter war, beweisen die vorliegenden Aufnahmen aus dem Archiv des WDR. Bisher unveröffentlicht, zeigt diese 3 CD Box, restauriert und neu gemastert mit 205 Minuten hervorragende Musik, das Beste von Edelhagen und seiner Band in der Zeit zwischen 1957 und 1974. Mit dabei sind: Maynard Ferguson, Philly Joe Jones, Mark Murphy, Toots Thielemans, Jiggs Whigham, Kenny Wheeler, Karl Drewo und viele andere. 

With Discipline and Precision 

About ten metres below the stage of the large broadcasting hall, or “Großer Sendesaal“, in the catacombs of the Cologne broadcasting centre a treasure of jazz music was hidden for decades, which I am delighted to be able to present to you now on three CDs.


In April 1957 the new jazz orchestra of Kurt Edelhagen started to practise in the above mentioned wood-panelled broadcasting hall. Since then this stage was rehearsal room, recording studio and venue for the orchestra to meet with renowned European and American improvisers. The results of these studio and concert recordings were then stored as analogue documents – hidden deep down – in the archives of the West German Broadcasting Corporation (WDR). More than three thousand individual tracks and concert recordings offer a fascinating glimpse on the history of the Kurt Edelhagen Orchestra. With increasing fame and the numerous tours the name of the ensemble was changed to: The Kurt Edelhagen All Star Band. 


Over the years a huge archive of recordings built up in the cellar. The chronological numbering of the analogue tapes allows us even today to sort the Edelhagen tracks – recorded upstairs on stage – by year. They are the supporting documents to the contract for work and services concluded between the orchestra and the WDR. All recordings, from the start to the dissolution of the contract, are labelled consistently: Kurt Edelhagen and his orchestra. Innumerable WDR radio programmes produced from 1957 to 1974 were based on this inexhaustible “material from the cellar”.  


This Edelhagen-compilation strives to portray the development of the Edelhagen Big Band at the WDR Cologne and its reactions to the changes in the world of jazz over time - from cool jazz and hardbop to free jazz. This portrait of the Edelhagen Orchestra is also something else: A history of the predominantly European jazz musicians who have composed and arranged for the ensemble. It is thanks to Jimmy Deuchar, Derek Humble, Stuff Combe, Rokovic and other members of the orchestra that the early Edelhagen repertoire in Cologne developed into music for larger ensembles, breaking away from the traditional US-American Big Band sound. Leading European arrangers, such as the Dutch trumpeter Rob Pronk or the Belgian pianist Francis Boland, cooperated with the Edelhagen band. They all played their role in shaping and re-shaping this orchestra over the years. At the same time the projects with Edelhagen also played an important role in their own development. Boland for instance continued the ideas initially developed for Edelhagen in his own Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big-Band. 


Large Orchestras and intimate Line-Ups

The large orchestras and intimate line-ups on this Edelhagen sampler, ranging from quartet to nonet, convey the impression of a buoyant European jazz-life in Cologne. Moreover, Edelhagen’s exemplary work as a teacher at the local academy of music also happened during these early years. His “Introductory Course Jazz” (Coppieters) quickly professionalised the involvement of improvisation in jazz. Also several other members of the orchestra taught jazz at the academy of music and other locations. The Edelhagen Orchestra, as it was recorded for a WDR-television special in 1957, had the following line-up: 


Kurt Edelhagen & his Orchestra (1957):

Trumpets: Jimmy Deuchar, Milo Pavlovic, Fritz Weichbrodt, Dusko Goykovich; 

Trombones: Helmut Hauk (b-tb), Christians Kellens, Ken Wray, Manfred Gätjens; 

Saxophones: Kurt Aderhold, Jean-Louis Chautemps, Derek Humble, Franz von Klenck, Eddie Busnello;

Rhythm Section: Francis Coppieters (p), Johnny Fischer (b), Stuff Combe (dr). 


During the early 1960s the regional activities of the orchestra took centre stage. Several recordings for radio broadcasts were made in various cities of North Rhine-Westphalia. These events were called “Concerts for Young People” (“Konzerte für die Jugend”) and introduced numerous American jazz stars and established the international fame of this big band from Cologne. Musicians from the US, such as the trumpeters Shake Kean and Rick Kiefer, saxophonist Wilton Gaynair and trombonist Jiggs Whigham brought change to the Edelhagen All Star Band. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the band’s cooperation with the WDR in 1967, the broadcaster produced a television special entitled: “Kurt Edelhagen on Kurt Edelhagen”:


Kurt Edelhagen & his Orchestra (1967):

Trumpets: Hanne Wilfert, Shake Keane, Rick Kiefer, Horst Fischer;

Trombones: Jiggs Whigham, Manfred Gätjens, Otto Bredl, Nick Hauck;

Saxophones: Derek Humble, Heinz Kretzschmar, Wilton Gaynair, Karl Drewo, Kurt Aderhold;

Rhythm Section: Bora Rokovic (p), Peter Trunk (b), Dai Bowen (dr).


These two line-ups (1957 and 1967) illustrate the change that took place at the orchestra during those years. As the bandleader, who concluded agreements with the WDR each year and which specified the repertoire as well as the number of concerts in North Rhine-Westphalia, could decide independently on the orchestration himself, the actual line-up of the recorded tracks – apart from the soloists – remains uncertain.

The Jazz-“Kapellmeister”

The Herne-born bandleader was among the few in West Germany, who provided important impulses to the young national jazz scene already during the early 1950s – starting with his big-band work for AFN Frankfurt, as of 1949 for the broadcasting station Sender Nürnberg and since 1952 for the Südwestfunk Baden-Baden. The quality of the formation became apparent at several international festivals (e.g. Salon du Jazz in Paris) and induced the renowned German magazine “Der Spiegel” to publish a lead story: “Eisgekühlter Hot. Bis die Lippen bluten: Jazz-Kapellmeister Edelhagen“. The article illustrated the work of the bandleader oscillating between big band repertoire and dance music. Also the premiere of the “Concerto for Jazz Band and Symphonic Orchestra“ by composer Rolf Liebermann and the performance of Stravinsky’s “Ebony Concerto“ reflect Edelhagen’s eagerness to compel respect for improvised music by his serious hard work. 


Broadly-speaking, his work for the WDR was a continuation of what his band had already done at - what was then called - Südwestfunk (1952-1957). Joachim E. Berendt, an editor of this broadcaster, often presented the Edelhagen Orchestra in his television series “Jazz – Gehört und Gesehen”. In Cologne the workload increased significantly, encompassing music for ARD television shows, dance music recordings and soundtracks for movies. As a jazz orchestra the band worked predominantly for the WDR radio programmes or was sent to international festivals as a sort of “jazz ambassador” - for instance, by the German Foreign Office. Well received trips to the USSR and the Near East established the orchestra’s reputation as a leading big band on an international level. One of the last highlights in the band’s history was its performance during the parade of the nations at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. 

“Discipline” and “precision” distinguished the work of this versatile bandleader, who passed away in Cologne in 1982. Ten years later members of his big band remembered their time with Edelhagen at the WDR studios in my WDR radio show. 

Bernd Hoffmann


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