Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

back to overview

October 1999

Jazz It Up

Classical Jazz comes to Munich.

Ask any of those young, lean, unshaven, black-clad saxophonists or drummers you sometimes meet in the artists’ quarters of Haidhausen about Munich’s jazz scene and almost immediately he will complain about how tough it is to find good jazz in the Bavarian capital. Within the first few seconds of the conversation, he is bound to tell you that only recently another club has been closed down. The public, so he snorts, does not seem to be interested in his music genre anymore, while hip hop, house and techno are what draw the crowds. To top it off, a government policy of spending millions of marks on theater, opera, classical music and the visual arts has left jazz artists out in the cold. No wonder, he utters with some bitterness, that Munich jazz has no future. What a shame, you can’t help reflecting after having bidden the guy a solemn farewell. But, some 15 minutes later, you run into an old friend whose eyes are gleaming with excitement as he hurries toward Marienplatz. “Sorry old man, no time to talk,” he shouts, “Branford Marsalis is in town. By the way, I missed you at the B.B. King gig last week — great show.” And there you have, in a nutshell, the two faces of the Munich jazz scene — while admittedly hopeless for most of the local talent, it nevertheless offers a rich variety of sounds, from the down home blues of the Mississippi delta to the seductive, classically fused program of one Jan Garbarek — the saxman who, along with the Hilliard Ensemble, will perform in the St. Lukas church at Mariannenplatz on November 5). Big names from the international jazz circuit play the Munich concert halls and clubs, while up-and-coming groups from the United States, the British Isles and German jazz centers, like Berlin, Cologne or Hamburg, also give regular performances. If you were to follow old Louis Jordan’s battle cry “Let The Good Times Roll” and bought tickets for all the shows a season has to offer, then your next holiday budget would probably be in serious danger. However, of this there can be no doubt: the traditional Munich jazz club has experienced a noticeable decline. All nostalgia and sympathy for the starving musicians aside, one hesitates to mourn this as a real loss. Do jazz lovers really miss the joints where the audience’s reaction to the show resembled a deeply serious thinker nodding approval after each well-delivered solo. Dimly lit stages, where the artist seemed to consider it frivolous to display the slightest trace of having fun, have fallen out of fashion. The clubs at Kunstpark Ost have plenty of red light and blue notes for the younger crowd. While the Unterfahrt (profiled in Munich Found Dec. 98) has expanded and flourishes as a jazz venue. For those who prefer a sophisticated, if not elegant, club atmosphere, there is the night club in Munich’s Bayerischer Hof. Star ensembles, the world over play in the basement of this grand hotel. You’ll meet all types of fans there — from young business travelers to the happy bohème-crowd from Schwabing getting high on the cool sound of one Lester Bowie. I know of no hotel jazz club in the world that compares to this swinging place, which opens at 10 in the evening. “It’s one of the most wonderful spots I’ve ever worked in,” famed American trumpeter Roy Hargrove once told me over a gin and tonic. Innegrit Volkhardt, daughter of the proprietor of the Bayerischer Hof and a jazz addict if ever there was one — she plays a little tenor sax herself — opened the club half a decade ago. Since then, it has become a well-known address in the business. Most nights you can see Volkhardt casting an approving gaze upon the bandstand, as was the case last spring when a bassist by the name of Kyle Eastwood (yes, the son of Clint) plugged his instrument with much fervor. One can’t finish this little piece without mentioning Jenny Evans, who not only holds and deserves the title “Munich’s First Lady of Jazz” but is also a stunning counterpart to the mirthless musicians that populate the city. This good-humored, London-born singer, is blessed with a voice that brings new life to such standards as “Shiny Stockings” or “All Of Me” (both to be found on her recent CD). Evans and her trio, of which a stout Bavarian named Rudi Martini is the leader, drummer and her husband in one person, are a regular highlight on Munich stages. When asked why she never tried to make it in London, the long-time Munich resident replied, “I’d rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond surrounded by sharks. And I love Bavaria.” <<< Night Club in the Bayerischer Hof, Promenadeplatz 2-6, Tel. (089) 212 09 94.

tell a friend