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01.11.2022

In memory of Rolf Kühn 

In memory of Rolf Kühn by Steffen Pohle
In memory of Rolf Kühn by Steffen Pohle

The clarinetist and composer Rolf Kühn, who grew up in Leipzig, has played a major role in shaping the development of German jazz and its international reputation, and has even come to embody it.  

As an instrumentalist, he developed his own artistic aesthetic, not only oriented to artistic playing, between internalized warm tone, radiantly imaginative outburst and consummate maturity. Partnership, respectful generosity and natural humanity characterized his encounters, also in his closeness to the audience. 

His early musical talent was led after 1945 by the pianist Jutta Hipp, who studied at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst and was later to impress the New York scene of the 1950s, to jazz, which fascinated him, by the Gewandhaus musician Hans Berninger. After the restrictions of the Nazi regime on his family of Jewish origin, this was at the same time a liberating escape from familiar structures. He quickly became one of the protagonists of the blossoming jazz life in Leipzig: swinging in the Römisches Haus on Peterssteinweg, jamming in the Lime City Swing Club with guitarist Thomas Buhé and Henri Passage on tenor, first recordings on acetate records. Then start as a professional musician with Kurt Henkels in what was probably one of the leading European bands at the time, before threatening paternalism made him leave for the West. Saxophonist in the Rias dance orchestra, first clarinetist with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, recordings with Oscar Pettiford,... 

For Leipzig, Rolf's acclaimed return in 1965 with Michal Urbaniak (sax), Klaus Koch (b) and Czesław Bartkowski (dr) remains unforgettable, when he also called brother Joachim to the big stage for the first time. This was followed by the sensational Amiga LP "Solarius" and Joachim's final departure, ingeniously and subtly initiated by him via the Friedrich Gulda Competition in Vienna, which set in motion his world career that began in New Port in 1967.  

His appearances at the local Jazz Days after the Leipzig Autumn of 1989 were all festival highlights: in 1992 the summit meeting in Joachim's favorite formation with Jean-François Jenny-Clark (b) and Daniel Humair (dr) as well as Konrad Bauer (tb), in 2014 the brotherly duo with Joachim in the Michaelis Church as well as in 2016 for the fortieth when the anniversary band "Home Again" united the European elite in the Congress Hall. Just as memorable was how he, at the age of eighty, joined the formation TRI-O with youthful verve at the Leipzig Bach Festival in 2009 and animated one of the first winners of the Leipzig Jazz Young Talent Award, Ronny Graupe, to virtuoso guitar flights of fancy. 

Already in his 93rd year, Rolf Kühn still took up his beloved instrument every day full of zest for action. Unfortunately, his centenary performance, which many had hoped for, will now no longer be possible. However, a tribute to the incomparable, standard remaining sympathetic bearer of German jazz by a jubilee concert of former comrades-in-arms would be a worthy project! 

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