Rolf Kühn

Music journalist, author and sound artist Michael Rüsenberg invites jazz greats to an interesting exchange at "Speak Like A Child." The title of the series goes back to the title track of the legendary Herbie Hancock album from 1968 and is a reference to the musical primary color of the Stadtgarten. Now the popular interview series is also available as a podcast, to be heard here on this website, Spotify and iTunes.

Rolf Kühn, 92, is the most worldly musician of German jazz. Even more, he embodies the history of this genre like probably no one else, not even in America. For - please note - who could claim to have played with both Benny Goodman and Ornette Coleman as well as with Michael Brecker and Christian Lillinger? Who could tell such grandiose anecdotes of having rung the doorbell after losing the house key - a neighbor named Billie Holiday - than Rolf Kühn?

He lived in New York City from 1956 to 1962. He was born in Cologne on September 29, 1929. He produced most of his recordings for the legendary MPS label in the cathedral city. But he is not a Cologne boy, he grew up in Leipzig. It was there that a woman introduced him to jazz in 1947, the pianist Jutta Hipp (1925-2003). His main partner was and is his younger brother, the pianist Joachim Kühn, who is 14 years younger than Rolf. These days Rolf is recording a new CD with his current quartet, on double bass: Lisa Wulf.

He still practices his instrument, the clarinet, two hours a day, "at least". In a unique way, he has thus asserted himself both in the jazz tradition and in the avant-garde. Excursions into "functional music" (he has composed for "Tatort" and "Derrick" and adapted the musical "Hair") have not harmed his reputation.

He is on first-name terms with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Nevertheless, in contrast to Manfred Schoof, Klaus Doldinger, the brothers Albert and Emil Mangelsdorff, he has not (yet) been awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany; apart from the cultural prize of a local Berlin newspaper, he has surprisingly not received any award worth mentioning.

So, he is the most urgent nominee for the Albert Mangelsdorff Prize 2023 than Rolf Kühn.

The interview with him took place on December 5 in his apartment in Berlin-Charlottenburg.

text: Michael Rüsenberg

Photo Credits: Rolf Kühn © Gregor Fischer, picture alliance

„Billie Holiday wohnte im Parterre und ich im dritten Stock, eine tolle Gemeinschaft“ - Nr. 26 W 87th Street., die Jahre in New York City 1956-1962: die Chancen, der Rassismus (00:00)
„Note für Note habe ich von der Platte gestohlen“ - „Hallelujah“ von Benny Goodman, ein Schlüsselerlebnis in Leipzig, 1947 (00:00)
„Jeden Morgen, wenn ich zur Schule musste, lief im Radio Albert Vossen, eine kölsche Jung“ - über die Klarinette (00:00)
„Dieses Stück Holz hat soviel Eigenwillen, den man in gewisser Form brechen muss“ - zwei Stunden üben täglich, mindestens! (00:00)
„Es ist ein anderes Gemeinschaftsgefühl hier. In New York geht es mehr um das Geschäftliche“ - über Jutta Hipp, Lisa Wulf, Christian Lillinger, die Arbeit in Bands mit verschiedenen Generationen (00:00)
„Der Vorspann sollte dreieinhalb Sekunden lang sein - meiner war knapp vier…“ - Komponieren für „Tatort“, „Derrick“ usw. (00:00)
„Wir haben uns keine restrictions auferlegt….“ - die Zusammenarbeit mit Joachim Kühn (00:00)
„Ich vermisse Buddy de Franco und Walter Quintus…“ - das Alter, die Freiheit des Jazzmusikers (00:00)