In the history of free jazz, a form of jazz from the mid-20th century that reacted to increasingly standardized jazz styles, few musicians are as renowned around the world as Peter Brötzmann. In his career spanning 50 years, Brötzmann has been at the forefront of the European jazz movement to radicalize the concept of prescribed structure, both musically and otherwise.
Born in Germany in the 1940s, Brötzmann began as a painter before mastering the saxophone, clarinet and Hungarian tárogató. He released his second album, Machine Gun, in 1968 amid civic protests in Europe and abroad. The record was a form of protest in its own right. Reissued twice since 2007, Machine Gun is considered one of the most notable free jazz albums to date.
Since then, Brötzmann has released more than 50 albums as bandleader and has performed on dozens upon dozens more albums as a player with groups like the Instant Composers Pool, Berlin's Global Unity Orchestra and his own Chicago Tentet. "I'm not a young man anymore," he says. "I've worked quite a lot for what I'm doing." In 2011, filmmaker Bernard Josse made him the subject of the doc Soldier of the Road, showing Brötzmann's influence and dynamism. He works with his peers and artists farther afield like Japanese rock act Fushitsusha.
"I've been doing this for such a long time," says Brötzmann. "And I think with this, and with all kinds of art, a big part of it is the handcraft, you know, a solid basis of knowing the instrument and what you want from it. But there is no recipe for it, except to play as good as possible."
For the OBEY Convention, Brötzmann will perform a rare solo concert, bringing along his clarinet and tenor sax, explaining that each instrument builds up a unique musical aspect. And unlike conventional jazz musicians, Brötzmann's free jazz comes without a set repertoire.
"For a solo concert, I usually don't have a kind of program," he says. "I get a feeling for the room I'm playing and then I start with what comes in my mind. I always try to surprise myself. A solo concert is always quite an adventure, too. I don't know where it'll end or what I'll do."
Improvised music is a risk, he says, "But you have to give 100 or more percent to playing. Even if people have no idea about jazz and improv, if you're doing your best, you can reach them."