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Joachim Kühn's 80th birthday

Urgency and truthfulness

As he approaches his 80th birthday on 15 March 2024, the piano artistry of Joachim Kühn, Germany’s pre-eminent jazz pianist, is in its prime. His exceptional position is underlined by the Federal Cross of Merit, which German President Frank Walter Steinmeier will award him on 14 April. 
Whereas he is able to draw on a vast wealth of experience from a life fully lived, his powers to concentrate entirely on the present and to live in the moment - things he has done all his life - are undimmed. Kühn’s 80th birthday is also a good moment to reflect on the extent to which the pianist has broken through internationally, and now has his place among the greats in a way that no other jazz pianist from Germany has achieved. He can look back on decades of creative work in which he has not just witnessed jazz history and adapted miraculously to it, but has also taken a role in shaping it and carrying it forward.

Joachim Kühn has had a 50-year association with ACT founder Siggi Loch, stretching back to 1972 and the album "Springfever", released on Atlantic Records. Their partnership has prospered on ACT since 1992 and found a fruitful continuation in the current decade under Andreas Brandis. Kühn's 19 albums on ACT show a musician with a kaleidoscopic range. At the larger end of the scale is the jazz symphony "Europeana", other highlights include the Kühn / Bekkas / Lopez trio, which links North Africa with Europe, the Joachim Kühn New Trio, his fruitful cross-generational duo with Michael Wollny, and several solo recordings.

In his playing, Joachim Kühn combines an irrepressible striving for artistic freedom with an unerring sense of musical quality in a way that is always truly compelling. Another hallmark is the way in which his playful lightness is always tinged with such strong and deep emotion. Each of Joachim Kühn's concerts or recordings is a special event. His beguiling improvisations unfold and develop in such fascinating ways, they seem to be happening of their own accord. And this is true not just of his solo performances, but equally in both his work in the New Trio with bassist Chris Jennings and drummer Eric Schaefer and his duo with Michael Wollny, - thirty-five years younger than him - which has been documented on two ACT albums, most recently "DUO", released in early 2024. Kühn and Wollny are kindred spirits in the depth of their musical sensibilities, in their exuberant imagination, their determination never to compromise artistically, and in their endeavours to transcend musical boundaries. Alongside echoes of the great classical and romantic piano tradition, Joachim Kühn - particularly in the trio- reveals how strongly and how fully he has assimilated the essence of jazz. Shadows and resonances of the past are transformed alchemically into an innovatively orientated sound language which is wholly his own.

Joachim Kühn's career is remarkable in the way it embraces different eras, countries and continents, and yet, despite the musical and political upheavals of the pianist’s eight decades, there is a constant: the pursuit of freedom. Born in Leipzig in 1944, he has had a homing instinct for the greats of the music since his earliest youth: John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Bach. His older brother, clarinettist Rolf Kühn, became his role model and later his musical partner. He had a long, intense and significant collaboration with his early idol Ornette Coleman. And his admiration for Johann Sebastian Bach became a powerful memory in his joint music-making with the choir from Bach’s own church, the Leipzig Thomanerchor.

Joachim Kühn's career in music has been so many-faceted, a brief summary will never do it justice: free jazz in the cauldron of the sixties in Paris, fusion music in California, modern jazz in New York, solos, duos, trios, countless records, and finally the decision to settle in Ibiza, which is the base from which the pianist travels the world. For someone like Joachim Kühn, who lives one hundred per cent through his immersion in music, there is no standing still. He is driven by a force within which leads him to continue to develop all the time. It would be understandable if he were just to stand back and take pride in all that he has achieved - but he won't. He has played with the elite of jazz, with musicians such as Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders and Joe Henderson. He recorded "Impressions Of New York" with his brother Rolf and Coltrane's bassist Jimmy Garrison. His trio with Daniel Humair and Jean-François Jenny-Clark became an integral part of European jazz history. And  together with Majid Bekkas / Ramón López and Rabih Abou-Khalil, he succeeded in opening up jazz to the cultures of the world.

But for this pianist, the search is never-ending. He threw off all constraints and limits from the perspective of technique long ago. What matters to him, he says, is pure music. And to make it with the greatest urgency and truthfulness.

Joachim Kühn's 80th Birthday Concerts

7. Mai 2024, Theaterhaus Stuttgart
Joachim Kühn & Michael Wollny Duo
Joachim Kühn New Trio with Chris Jennings, Eric Schaefer

10. Mai 2024, Berliner Philharmonie
Joachim Kühn & Michael Wollny Duo

15. Mai 2024, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg
Joachim Kühn & Michael Wollny Duo
Joachim Kühn New Trio with Chris Jennings, Eric Schaefer

Joachim Kühn on ACT

"Twin House" Larry Coryell / Philip Catherine / Joachim Kühn (1993)
"Europeana" Joachim Kühn / Michael Gibbs / Radio Philharmonie Hannover (1995)
"Piano Works I: Allegro Vivace" Joachim Kühn Piano Solo (2005)
"Kalimba" Joachim Kühn / Majid Bekkas / Ramón López (2007)
"Piano Works IX: Live at Schloss Elmau" Joachim Kühn & Michael Wollny (2008)
"Out of the Desert" Joachim Kühn / Majid Bekkas / Ramón López (2009)
Heinz Sauer, Joachim Kühn & Michael Wollny (2010)
"Chalaba" Joachim Kühn / Majid Bekkas / Ramón López (2011)
"Out of the desert live in Berlin" Joachim Kühn & HR Bigband (2011)
"Voodoo Sense" Joachim Kühn Trio inviting Archie Shepp (2013)
"In Moscow"
Joachim Kühn & Alexey Kruglov (2014)
"Beauty & Truth" Joachim Kühn New Trio (2016)
"Love & Peace" Joachim Kühn New Trio (2018)
"Piano Works XIII: Melodic Ornette Coleman" Joachim Kühn Piano Solo (2019)
"Playing Probability" Joachim Kühn & Trummerschlunk (2020)
"Speaking Sound" Joachim Kühn & Mateusz Smoczyński (2020)
"Touch the Light" Joachim Kühn Piano Solo (2021)
"Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic XIV - KOMEDA" with Atom String Quartet (2023)
"DUO" Michael Wollny & Joachim Kühn (2024)