Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Coco Schumann

Today I like to focus on one of the few still active Jazz musicians in Germany, who had his first musical experiences in the 1930s, the guitar player Coco Schumann.
Heinz Jakob Schumann was born in Berlin 1924 and as half Jewish he had to learn growing up really quick. The political situation in Germany during the 1930s dominated by Nazi restrictions against Jews made it almost impossible to survive. However, Schumann survived through his love for music. He heard the swing music played by Teddy Stauffer's popular orchestra in 1936, and soon he was hired as the band's guitar player for some time. This was followed by a period of hidden and forbidden appearances in bars and basements in Berlin, and finally by denunciation, arrest and kidnapping to the concentration camps Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Dachau. He only survived with the help of his music, weather as part of the 'Ghettoswingers' in Theresienstadt, or when he was forced to play the song 'La Paloma' for the twentieth time in Auschwitz.
After the war Coco Schumann reconnected with the Jazz-Scene, he played with Helmut Zacharias, became the first German musician with an electrical guitar, finally immigrated to Australia and then came back after a few years. Coco Schumann never categorized his music strictly and also had no problems with more common forms of music.

The shown 2 cd set is a career portrait of Coco Schumann's 50 years in jazz and popular music, issued 1997 by the German Trikont label. The material on these two cds is a mixed bag, from a jazz perspective less than half of the 37 tracks is jazz in the ordinary way. However, there are some interesting and important recordings from a historical point of view, among them the radio transcriptions of the first aired be bop performance on German radio by the Helmut Zacharias' quartet from 1949 featuring Coco Schumann on electric guitar and the leader on violin. The second disc also has some later recordings by a jazz quartet lead by Coco Schumann playing both standards and compositions by the leader. However, a significant amount of the material found here is from Schumann's exotica years. Strange instrumentation, amplified vibraphones, lots of reverb on both guitar and percussion, choirs of mysterious voices, etc. Unfortunately, this material makes up over half of the tracks. - You may listen to sound clips from the cd set by clicking here

This 1999 live date from Coco Schumann stays far away from the exotica excesses and plays straight jazz. Schumann's guitar is backed by the tenor playing of Karl Heinz Böhm, who also plays flute; Hans Schätzke on bass and Sven Kalis on drums. The material on the cd is well known jazz standards like Duke's "Take the A-Train," Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia on My Mind," Jobim's "One-Note Samba" and "Girl From Impanema," George Shearing's "Lullaby of Birdland," Johnny Mercer's "Autumn Leaves," and Lester Young's "Lester Leaps In" among them. Further a version of Coco's tune "Stipper Blues". - The live performance by the quartet is flawless and intimate, the audience is appreciative - this is a humble set by a jazz guitar master who has nothing left to prove except to himself, and he's obviously enjoying the music-making on this set. - Listen to sound clips from the cd by clicking here



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