Moers International New Jazz Festival : 12-15 May 1978
latter part of the 1970s, the premier new music festival in the world
was presented at Moers, Germany. Their lineup was a litany of nearly
every major musician playing in the style pioneered in the 1960s by
Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane. These fathers of
freedom passed on the baton to a second, angrier generation of creative
artists who were not content with stairstep integration, passive resistance,
or status quo. They wanted it immediately, and the music reflected
this attitude. European musicians adopted this intensity and between
them, the music of the day was an exciting and dynamic portrayal of
the unsettling time.
In 1978, I
was living in Nassau, Bahama Islands and decided to make the trek
to Germany after reading the Coda review of the 1977 event. Armed
with a ticket on Icelandic Airlines and a burning desire to see and
hear improvised music after a two-year diet of Caribbean island rhythms,
I arrived in Moers to find a campsite and musical event that was
the equivalent of Woodstock. A field of sleeping bags, tents, and
army fatigue-clad aging hippies with ponytails greeted me as I made
a pre-festival tour of the venue. I must have been the only one of
the huge throng of fans who had a hotel room. People came from all
over Europe to see these artists, and it truly was the equivalent
of rock's Woodstock. The event lasted from Friday night through Monday
night. In between were concerts that started at 10:30 in the morning
and went well past midnight when the planned timing each day went
awry. It rained for most of the open-air event, although no one lost
his or her enthusiasm. Amid a sea of mud was a crowd totally enamored
with the artists and their creativity. We sat on the soggy ground
for four days living on a diet of German beer and bratwurst and never
complained. Interspersed in this article are pages from the festival
program. The text is naturally in German, but the list of musicians
is a tantalizing mix that still amazes me when I look through it
and see the wealth of artists who today are easily recognizable by
any improvised music fan.
was a four-concert evening and included the prime reason I made the
trip. Cecil Taylor was on the bill. The program opened with the Willem
Breuker Kollektief in all its humorous glory and included musicians
who today are still a part of that illustrious group. Leroy Jenkins
Trio featuring Anthony Davis and Andrew Cyrille followed in a demonstrative
display of intense artistry.
The hard driving European Jazz Quintet with Alan Skidmore and Gerd
Dudek were next and warmed up the shivering crowd that was anxiously
anticipating the Cecil Taylor Sextet. Taylor presided over his session
in all his iconic glory. He was remarkable, and his sextet was a legendary
mix of amazing artists. Ronald Shannon Jackson is actually the drummer,
although he is listed in the program as Ron Johnson.
What a start! Not only was I exposed to some of the top improvising
artists in Europe, I had the extremely rare chance to see and hear
Cecil Taylor. The next morning, I encountered Taylor in my hotel lobby
and had the equally exciting experience of talking about the music
with him. He was en route to the Black Forest of Germany to practice
and then record. I was naively surprised that a master of his level
needed to practice. The outcome was the MPS gem Cecil Taylor Live
in the Black Forest recorded June 3, 1978. I even was offered
an invitation to lunch with him if I ever visited New York. I suppose
the offer is still open. While in Germany, Taylor also recorded One
Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye on June 14, 1978 at Stuttgart
with the same group.
the first full day of events, starting with the percussively serene
Double Image as the morning show and followed by the wildly boisterous
Trio Manus, a local group that played vigorously in the freest form
The talent-laden Phillip Wilson Quartet with Olu Dara and Frank Lowe
were next up in a set that was subsequently issued on the Moers label
as Live at Moers Festival.
Following them was the microtonal experimentation of the Günter
Christmann / Detlef Schönenberg Duo with electronics added by
Hard bop proponent Terumasa Hino led his quartet through a fairly
straightforward session, followed by the Guido Mazzon Precarious Orchestra
that featured Radu Malfatti and that identifiable Italian style that
combines free playing with melodic folksong structure.
The feature of the evening was the Art Ensemble of Chicago, giving
a masterful performance of Great Black Music to captivate the soul.
I still have the AEC T-shirt I purchased from Roscoe Mitchell.
It was getting
harder to make the early morning session, but the thought of seeing
George Lewis in duet with Douglas Ewart forced me out of bed and to
the festival grounds on Sunday morning. Lewis's electronics-infused
music was new to me and not as accessible as it would be today. It
was still raining when the noon act of Theo Jörgensmann Quartet
took the stage.
To match the storm, the Peter Brötzmann Septet took charge at
two o'clock. Europe's premier players graced the stage—Derek
Bailey, Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink, a return of Willem Breuker—it
was a dream group and included the unlisted trombonist Paul Rutherford.
Bass clarinets dominated the wild and wooly scene. The most ambitious
project of the festival followed. Anthony Braxton amassed a huge array
of talent for his Creative Music Orchestra. Amid a driving rainstorm,
the 23 musicians (a veritable who's who in jazz) created a gale of
their own with a spectacular display of interactive response to Braxton's
In 1999, I was in Antwerp, Belgium and heard Vinny Golia and his tribute
to John Carter. During the intermission, I talked with Vinny. We reminisced
about this 1978 Moers Festival and his part in the Braxton orchestra,
but the most dominant memory for Vinny was the horrible weather. The
band, of course, was under cover, but he was amazed at the tenacity
of the crowd that sat spellbound through the Creative Music Orchestra
performance during that rainstorm.
What seemed to be an out-of-place booking followed. Although I had
loved Art Blakey's music since I first heard the 1958 gem Moanin',
the hard-driving drummer's style was not an easy fit with the atonal
and freely played sounds that dominated the festival. Charles Bobo
Shaw followed with his Human Arts Ensemble. With Joseph Bowie on trombone,
the band took off in rhythmic fashion to the delight of the crowd.
The closing act on Sunday night was a stellar quartet of Kenny Wheeler,
Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton, who put on an incredible
display of collective and spontaneous improvising.
The last day of the festival again started bright and early. It was
Whit-Monday, the Pentecostal holiday in Germany and the logic behind
the timing of the festival. Wadada Leo Smith's trio with Bobby Naughton
and Dwight Andrews provided the wake-up call of serene vibes and trumpet
meshed with ambitious reeds. Blasverbot, a solid quartet led by Teddy
Biesterfeld, succeeded them.
led a trio playing quietly exciting and ethereal music. They preceeded
the much-anticipated return of Anthony Braxton, this time with his
quartet featuring Ray Anderson and the dynamic percussion of Thurman
Barker. Their totally improvised set was non-stop, continuous interaction
with a high degree of communication developed among the musicians.
One of the standout performances of the festival was given by Fred
Anderson and his quintet showcasing George Lewis. It resulted in the
LP Another Place, also issued on the Moers label. Equally exciting
was the duo of John Surman and Albert Mangelsdorff in a crowd-pleasing
set that would not end without a forced encore.
Closing the festival was the Lester Bowie Sextet, a group of big-name
all-stars who combined improvised music with a bit of gospel and a
bit of theater that made for a delightful ending concert. Arthur Blythe
was commanding on tenor, and the interplay between the brothers Bowie
was stimulating. It was a fun-filled program and a fitting ending
to this staggering event.
Moers' place in the sun was not long-lived. New music festivals began
to proliferate in Europe to compete with the success Moers enjoyed.
Moers also contributed to its decline as a forerunner by altering
its very successful new music formula through introduction of more
electrified and fusion-based versions of the art form. Ah, but in
the 1970s, this festival was unique and enjoyed the reputation of
being king of the hill. My memories of that 1978 event are still vivid
in my mind, and it remains one of my most cherished festivals.