Till Bronner, Germany's most famous contemporary jazz musician, is a trumpet and flugelhorn player, singer, arranger, composer, producer and radio personality. Equally at home with hard bop, funky hip-hop fusion, bossa nova, pop ballads and classical music, he has already sold more records than any German Jazz musician in history. He's also a sought after session player, known for a warm tone that combines technical mastery with a soul stirring musicality, enabling him to add subtle emotion to any situation. He's collaborated with Pat Metheny, Ray Brown, Bootsy Collins, Natalie Cole, Hildegard Knef, Chaka Khan, Dee Dee Bridgewater, the twelve cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic and German/Turkish DJ, producer and re-mixer Mousse T.
On Oceana - Bronner's ninth album as a leader - he gets back to basics with an album of tranquil beauty and subtle improvisation, delivered with the understated intensity that has become his trademark. This small combo recording benefits from the excellent bass work of David Piltch, Dean Parks on guitar, Jay Bellerose on drums and the powerfully restrained piano and organ stylings of Larry Goldings. Guest vocalists include former supermodel and French chanteuse Carla Bruni ("In My Secret Life"), Madeleine Peyroux ("I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry") and Brazilian jazz singer Luciana Souza ("Pra Dizer Adeus"). Till delivers Nick Drake's "River Man" and the Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune "This Guy's In Love With You" in his smooth, Chet Baker influenced drawl. Other standout tracks include Wes Montgomery's "Bumpin,'" a mellow late night blues, featuring Brönner's insouciant melodic digressions and Goldings' spectral organ work; "Tarde" a delicate Latin meets R&B conversation between Bonner's horn and Goldings' piano and an imaginative reinvention of the Miles Davis take on Rodgers and Hart's "It Never Entered My Mind." Bonner does the almost impossible, making the tune his own with his reserved muted trumpet work. Oceana was produced by Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Peter Gabriel). It's another perfect blending of classical pop and jazz, a moody masterpiece marked by Bronner's tasteful excursions and fine attention to detail.
Till Bronner was born in Viersen, Germany in 1971 and raised in Rome. His parents were both musicians and introduced him to Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker at an early age. "Hearing Charlie Parker and bebop for the first time set the whole thing off for me," Bonner recalls. "I was 13 years old and it was almost an erotic sensation. I thought, at the time, it was indecent. The music was like a woman having a go at me."
Brönner studied classical trumpet, then majored in jazz trumpet at Cologne's Music Academy where he developed an inimitable style influenced by bebop, fusion, modern pop music, American country music, hip hop, R&B, old German movie soundtracks and German carnival songs. He was a member of Peter Herbolzheimer's Rhythm Combination & Brass while he was still in school. When he was 20, he auditioned for Horst Jankowski and Jiggs Whigham to become a member of Berlin's RIAS-Tanzorchester, one of the country's most venerable jazz/dance bands.
In 1993, he cut his first album as a leader, Generations of Jazz with Ray Brown, Jeff Hamilton, Frank Chastenier and Gregoire Peters. Brönner and his young cohorts had no trouble holding their own against the hard bop vets and the set included several impressive originals, most notably "Ku' Damm 1:30 A.M.", which used the chord sequence of Jelly Roll Morton's "King Porter Stomp." The record won several awards, including the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik and Preis der Deutschen Plattenindustrie.
For Bronner's second album, My Secret Love, he selected a distinctively German oeuvre - Carnival Music. His third album, German Songs, a collection of old German film songs arranged for strings and jazz quartet made him a sensation at home and boosted his international profile as well.
In 1997, Bronner tried his had at fusion with Midnight, enlisting the aid of the legendary drummer Dennis Chambers and Michael Brecker on sax. It brought international attention to his music and led to work with Dave Brubeck, James Moody, Monty Alexander, Aki Takase, Joachim Kühn, Tony Bennett, Johnny Griffin, Ernie Watts, Klaus Doldinger, Nils Landgren, Al Foster, Madelene Peyroux and many others.
Bronner's versatility was showcased on 1999's Love, his first international release. It was called "an elegant record" by German critics and featured the trumpet player's urbane vocals for the first time. Chattin' with Chet, a tribute to one of Bronner's heroes. With the magic of digital technology, Bronner was able to play duets with Baker, acknowledging his debt to the American cool jazz legend.
After creating the soundtrack for the 2001 feature Jazz Seen, a documentary about the master photographer of jazz legends William Claxton, Brönner returned with Blue Eyed Soul, a collaboration with Japanese DJ Samon Kawamura and soul vocalist Mark Murphy, one of the more successful fusions of electronica, soul, hip hop and jazz. "As soon as we were noodling around too much, Samon rolled his eyes," Bronner recalls. "And whenever he came up with some real hip hop, I brought out my jazz chords. I've been listening to soul and hip-hop artists for a long time. We worked hard until the music sounded like what I was hearing in my head."
That Summer, released in June 2004, entered the German charts at number 17, an impressive feat for a jazz album. Recorded during an extended stay in a blockhouse in Ontario, Canada, the set is melancholic and elegiac, demanding and subtle, full of emotional resonance and nostalgia. Bronner's original compositions, with lyrics by his longtime musical collaborator Rob Hoare, lend the album the feel of an urgent personal communication. The tunes have the sound and feel of classic American salon songs, bluesy and smoky, accented by a touch of Brazilian swing. Bronner's singing, and his work on trumpet and flugelhorn, is excellent throughout, with strong backing by a band that includes guitarist Chuck Loeb, Roberto Di Gioia on keyboards, Timothy Lefebvre, bass and drummer Wolfgang Haffner. It's successful foray into the world of classic pop music, proving once again that Bronner's creativity acknowledges no limitations.
"There's no need for me to revolutionize music," Bronner says. "It's all been done before. Jazz boils down the freedom to jump in any direction you choose in any minute, any second. When I'm on tour, we play a different concert every evening. Each song sounds radically different every night. The solos are different; the DJ uses his turntables a different way every time. Improvisation is important to me, no matter if it's jazz, pop, hip-hop or classical."