Friday, July 26, 2013

Orchester Kurt Edelhagen

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The stationing of US Armed Forces in various parts of Europe at the close of World War II helped give tremendous impetus to the formation of a number of big bands and jazz combos in various countries.

Yet, many of the factors and personalities that shaped the advent of Jazz orchestra and groups were indigenous and unique, as well.

In combination, the circumstances that brought the music of the Orchester Kurt Edelhagen into existence in Germany are very different than the ones that influenced the formation of the Ted Heath Band in Great Britain or those that created the resident orchestras in Holland such as The Metropole Orkest or the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw.

It would appear that the incubators for much of the development of big band Jazz in Germany in the second half of the 20th century were the regional radio [later television and concert] orchestras.

These public radio stations play a special role in the German musical/orchestral landscape. They operate a total of 13 orchestras, including the large radio symphony orchestras [in Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, Leipzing, Frankfurt, Baden-Baden/Freiburg, Saarbrücken, and Munich] and several smaller radio orchestras.

JazzHaus and its affiliates ArtHaus Musik and SWR Music [the “SW” refers to southwestern Germany] recently released another CD in its “Big Band Live” series, this one entitled Orchester Kurt Edelhagen Featuring Mary Lou Williams and Caterina Valente [101718].

The most basic of research led me to understand that Kurt Edelhagen, who was trained as a clarinetist and pianist in Essen, Germany, discovered Jazz during the Second World War, and after the war, along with his long-time associate, drummer Bobby Schmidt, formed a big band that originally played in the clubs of the occupying Allied Armed Forces and subsequently performed before German audiences.

Edelhagen patterned his music after the big bands of Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie and, the man who was to become his idol, Stan Kenton.

"Stan Kenton," said Joachim Ernst Berendt [the leading German authority on Jazz], "at that time was the last word in big band jazz and Kurt Edelhagen appeared to us from the beginning as the German response to the American challenge posed by Kenton."

It seems that Edelhagen’s big break came in March 1954 when he took his band on the weekly television series "Jazz Time Baden-Baden" which was produced and hosted by Joachim-Ernst Berendt. His appearance of the series made ​​the band known far beyond the southwest of Germany. Edelhagen performed along with numerous stars of the international jazz scene including Lionel Hampton, Mary Lou Williams and Chet Baker, among many others. Looking for a singer for his big band Edelhagen discovered Caterina Valente who joined his orchestra in 1953.

Herein lies the context for the JazzHaus Orchester Kurt Edelhagen Featuring Mary Lou Williams and Caterina Valente as it is made-up of November 29, 1954 concert performances by Mary Lou Williams, December 16, 1954 concerts featuring Caterina Valente and July 16/17 and December 20, 1954 baden-Baden studio recordings by the orchestra.

Ulli Pfau wrote these insert notes for the CD:

First Prussian, then Kenton

1954. Germany, a nation under Allied occupation and still bearing the scars of its Nazi past tunes its radios to witness the "Miracle of Bern" and world cup victory just nine years after being at war. At the same time in Baden-Baden a perfectionist bandleader with horn-rimmed spectacles and a baton was recording Tuxedo Junction and You Go To My Head. Kurt Edelhagen, dubbed "Prussian" for his legendary rehearsal discipline and severity with players, harbored a single-minded desire to match the great Stan Kenton. Südwestfunk had already been broadcasting jazz for six years by the time Joachim-Ernst Berendt, an editor with horn-rimmed spectacles and a mission, began organizing a concert series of his own in March 1954: "Jazztime Baden-Baden".

Then came the encounter between the Grande Dame of stride piano Mary Lou Williams, "Colonel" Edelhagen and his rhythm group. In November the orchestra headed to Switzerland to perform the "Miracle of Basel": with the big band and All-stars unfettered, the orchestra at last achieved that Kenton feel. Discipline and free thought combined, a rhythm section in full swing mode. Tuxedo Junction featured a Mulliganesque Helmut Reinhardt; clear and sweet, Franz von Klenck's solo in You Go To My Head. Yes, indeed: Lester Leaps In. And Basel succumbed to a frauleinwunder only the previous year Edelhagen had turned Caterina Valente into a household name - and here she was now being showered with admiration like Pennies From Heaven. One encore - a showpiece that ended up as a suite: Alpha Jazz by Roland Kovac. Roll on 1955!

You can listen to Franz von Klenck’s beautiful alto sax solo on this audio-only version of You Go To My Head:

And, with the help of the ace graphics team at CerraJazz LTD and the production facilities at StudioCerra, here’s a video montage of rare Orchester Kurt Edelhagen LP covers set to the very Kenton-esque 3X2 which was composed and arranged by Roland Kovac. Don’t be surprised if the tune You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To plays in your subconscious while you listen to this arrangement.


  1. My favourite Kurt Edelhagen Album was one that I acquired more years ago than I care to admit. It was on the Polydor Label " Kurt Edelhagen Presents" featuring a band made up of of international players (before Clarke Boland) including Derek Humble, Jimmy Deuchar & Ken Wray. One LP issue actually came out as by Specs Powell. Very Strange
    John Pinder

  2. I have the "Specs Powell" version of that LP. Its absolutely wonderful. The only European band that really rival Ted Heath's in its power and precision (telling that Jimmy Deuchar was one of the very few players to repeatedly turn down an offer from Ted to join the band). The 1950's and early -mid 60's were the jazziest in the career of Kurt's very fine band, but the recordings are very thin on the ground. Here's hoping the German radio networks make some of them available online.

  3. Yes, Stephen, Edelhagen's band was superb both technically and musically. It also tended to get far better compositions and arrangements to work with than did Ted Heath. Also, although the UK band had some great soloists I think it fair to say that none equalled Franz von Klenck on Alto Sax for lyricism and technique, yet nothing is said of this wondrous player who died in 1958 I believe. Why?


Please leave your comments here. Thank you.