Jazz in der Kammer (1965-1990)

On 1 November 1965, the trio of pianist Joachim Kühn with Klaus Koch (bass) and Reinhard Schwarz (drums) played in the Kammerspiele of the Deutsches Theater in East Berlin. The concert was also the beginning of the concert series "Jazz in der Kammer", which until 10 November 1990 presented 163 concerts with more than 600 musicians, mainly from the contemporary jazz scene from Eastern and Western Europe, but also from the USA or Japan.  In the program booklet for the first concert, the organizers explained that they wanted to "fulfill more specific wishes, especially [of] young visitors, and at the same time interest new groups of visitors in the work of the Deutsches Theater".

Jazz in der Kammer No 1 (1 November 1965) as pdf-Download

In the GDR of the 1950s, jazz was viewed rather suspiciously by official authorities as an expression of "capitalist decadence" and "music of the class enemy". With the building of the Wall in 1961, this attitude of the state changed, as Karlheinz Drechsel remembers, and suddenly many things seemed possible that had previously been forbidden. "The state concert and guest performance agencies operating in the GDR were encouraged," he recounts, "to organize special jazz concerts for young people" (Karlheinz & Ulf Drechsel: Zwischen den Strömungen. Mein Leben mit dem Jazz, Rudolstadt 2011: 91). It is against this background that the playbill for the 1965 Kühn concert should be read, stating that "'Jazz in der Kammer' is intended to serve the promotion and popularization of modern jazz in our republic and to exclude any kind of commercial dance music, any pseudo jazz and unqualified amateur music."

On 24 November 1969, there was a first anniversary to celebrate: 4 years and 25 concerts of "Jazz in der Kammer". In the playbill, the organizers list 102 musicians and 3 female musicians who had already performed in the series, with few exceptions (a concert with the Leo Wright All-Stars in October 1966) all from the GDR or Eastern European brother states. They retell the story of the format, which sprang from an idea of two actors and a landscape architect. And they quote from reviews of past concerts, for example with the Berlin-Leipzig All-Stars, with the Kurylewicz-Nahorny Quintet from Poland, with the Zellula Combo from Prague or with the American singer Rosita Thomas.

While the review emphasizes the internationality of the series, the anniversary concert itself celebrates the contemporary scene at home. The Friedhelm Schönfeld Trio with Klaus Koch and Baby Sommer can be heard in two pieces, the Günter Fischer Quartet in one, Manfred Schulze's wind quintet (plus percussion) plays his composition "Hymne", Ernst Ludwig Petrowsky emphasizes the American tradition in his quartet ("Oleo") and with the Studio 4 Ensemble also the European one (the chorale "Es sungen drei Engel", a piece that Albert Mangelsdorff had also recorded in the West a few years ago). At the end, the musicians met for a jam session, and one would just love to have been there.

Jazz in der Kammer No 25 (24 November 1969) as pdf-Download

At the Jazzinstitut, we have many of the playbills for "Jazz in der Kammer" (133 of 163), in the original form but also as digitized files for research purposes. The final concert in November 1990 was once again a small festival; in addition to many names that had been part of the series since the 1960s, it also included some younger musicians, and the organizers summed up: "After 25 years, during which the country's jazz scene has changed decisively, the initiators of the series, who have also grown older, see their task as fulfilled and say goodbye to their loyal audience with today's family party, which once again unites faithful, long-time comrades-in-arms of the KAMMER."

Jazz in der Kammer No 163 (10 November 1990) as pdf-Download

The playbills for "Jazz in der Kammer" are only part of the documents available at the Jazzinstitut about the jazz history of the GDR. In addition, there are similar program sheets for the Jazzwerkstatt Peitz, the Jazzbühne Berlin, press clippings about the Dixieland Festival in Dresden or the Leipzig Jazz Days and clippings about individual concerts throughout the country from 1965 until the fall of the Wall.

Wolfram Knauer (April 2023)