May 27, 2024

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Snow, wine and Jazz Legends in the living room: Video

In 1990 Polydor Germany was looking for a product manager for jazz. After the job had been advertised for six months and no one had applied for it, I was struck by the then Polydor Progressive Music department head Tim Renner and the Polydor CEO Götz Kiso to take over the job. The task: a modernization of the jazz brands Verve and ECM.

Of course, as a jazz product manager from day one at Polygram, I was an outsider. The job promised no hits, no artists in “Wetten, dass …?”, No golden records. Instead: dry discussions about long jazz solos with know-it-all columnists or angry jazz fans who had left their wife at home, if they had any at all. For hours you had to talk to sales and ignorant record dealers in the mouth fuzzy, so they took at least one record in the hand. Ok, sometimes understandable, because many jazz releases sold as many albums in their lifecycle as a summer hit in five minutes in a single store WOM. That’s why the focus at Polygram was on hits. Quantities! The former Phonogram boss Louis Spillmann brought the corporate philosophy to the point: Down with the level – into the charts!

My boss Tim Renner was an expert in punk, new wave, pop and electronics. Maximum songlength: 3 minutes. Without solos. He just held jazz titles for 30 seconds. He was itching for a cool marketing of jazz in order not to be a traitor in his circle of friends. Jazz was anything but hip in times of disco, punk, new wave and the beginning of techno. Incidentally, Renner also wanted to score points with the French world champion: Alain Levy. Coincidentally, Jazz experienced a boom in France in the late 1980s. “That must work in Germany, too!” Levy cooed to the then German boss Wolf-Dieter Gramatke. Ay ay, sir! Renner and Kellersmann, take over! Ay ay, sir!

Right at the beginning of my career, I discovered the multitude of jazz labels that had accumulated over the decades through constant acquisitions or mergers at the Polygram Group. My label name knowledge was rather low at the time – my familiar labels were TDK SA90 and Maxwell XL II 90. Self-compiled music cassettes were my thing. The “Credits” on the “covers” were reduced to artist and title names. Now I found many of these artists on Polygram labels such as Mercury, A & M, Emarcy, Horizon, Philips, King Records, Amadeo, Sonnet, Barclay, Fontana, East Wind, MGM, Delite Records, Motown, Chess, Elenco, Brunswick, Decca. JMT, Polydor, Verve and MPS again. A treasure trove!

In addition to these acquisitions of labels, almost every national company had signed a local jazz record over the decades. This was done from a sense of duty (we do something for our local culture), to maintaining friendships (the bridge friend of the boss’s wife has a brother who is a jazz pianist) or jazz was really trendy (in the early 70s). In one case, an A & R manager had a secret passion for jazz and profiled it alongside his pop business (Siggi Loch).

So my former employer Polygram had a huge reservoir of jazz labels and artists. However, since it seemed commercially worthless, there was no archive maintenance. Targeted information could only be given to a few old employees who scrapped somewhere in the processing of their days to pension.

MPS was one of the labels I found in 1990. It was bought in 1983 by the former Polygram boss Rudi Gassner. Gassner had a weakness for jazz. However, shortly after the MPS acquisition, he left Polygram and the MPS tapes joined the dust collectors of other jazz labels in the archive.

This annoyed of course the founder and seller of MPS Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer (short: HGBS). Over 20 years ago, HGBS initiated, funded and published more than 500 partly style – defining productions for its MPS label. Shortly after his sale, he feared that his life’s work might be forgotten.

HGBS was a passionate music lover and techie. Born in 1927 in Villingen in the Black Forest, he was introduced to music early on by his father Fritz Brunner, a studied violinist, pianist and conductor. His father moved to the marriage of the Villinger Industriefamil Schwer to the electronics industry. His grandfather was the founder of the company SABA (Schwarzwälder Apparate Bau Anstalt), which later became known worldwide for the production of TV and radio sets. After the war, HGBS worked first at the International Film Union and then at Siemens. In 1957 he joined SABA, where he became technical director in 1960. His brother Hermann headed the commercial area.

HGBS got to know jazz during the war. Rather accidentally, he discovered it through English and American channels, the u.a. Glenn Miller played. A life-threatening undertaking, because at the hearing of “enemy stations” was the death penalty in the worst case. HGBS also loved the German dance and entertainment music, which was recorded on behalf of the German Propaganda Ministry, even if this music was musically and rhythmically defused. In addition, his musical passions of pop music, classical music and folk music were considered. A musical all-rounder. His credo: “The musical statement must be honest!”

His production started in the 50s. Among others with Horst Jankowski, Hans Koller or Albert Mangelsdorff. In 1963 he started house concerts in the living room of his private villa in Villingen. The simple concept: an artist, a world star, solo or with a band. In addition, a small circle of friends, musicians, business partners and journalists. While his guests were served with sandwiches, wine and live music, HGBS retired to the control room, where he controlled the recording at his mixing desk.

The inauguration of the house concerts was Oscar Peterson, who was at the peak of his career at this time. Peterson was on a world tour and was chauffeured for the normal Abendgage to house concert from Zurich to Villingen. Immediately Peterson and HGBS became friends, who now made a detour into the Black Forest more often. Alongside Peterson, Bill Evans, Duke Ellington, George Duke, Monty Alexander, Friedrich Gulda and many other world-famous artists have appeared in Brunner-Schwer’s living room over the years.

From 1963 HGBS published its first productions on the SABA label founded by him. In 1968, the Brunner-Schwer brothers sold SABA. Hans Georg was now able to devote himself to his exclusive passions: the collection of Maybach automobiles, studio technology and music. He founded the MPS label (MusikProduktion Schwarzwald), which became Germany’s first address in terms of jazz. In addition to HGBS, Joachim-Ernst Berendt became the label’s most important producer. While HGBS was more into mainstream jazz, Berendt focused on more experimental productions (see chapter “With sincere greetings”). Another important producer was Gigi Campi. He worked in Cologne and was mastermind of the Clarke Boland Big Band. Between 1968 and 1983 appeared on the MPS label recordings, among others, the “Singers Unlimited”, Sun Ra, George Shearing, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Archie Shepp, Rolf Kühn, Joachim Kühn, Jean-Luc Ponty, Michael Naura, Art van Damme, Joanne Grauer, Mark Murphy, Monty Alexander, Ernest Ranglin, Baden Powell and the aforementioned artists.

After HGBS sold the label to Polygram in 1983, there were only very sporadic releases until 1992. Since 1990 I was the new MPS boss. At first I was not aware of that. My thoughts revolved around the label Verve, ECM and Talkin ‘Loud. However, the calls, faxes, or letters piled up by frustrated artists inquiring about the availability of their albums. Once, even drummer Charly Antolini stood unannounced in my office, vociferously indignant that we were boycotting the sale of his albums. Drummers are very emotional people!

In the summer of 1991, I first received mail from Villingen-Schwenningen. “Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer – manufacturer” was on the letterhead. He visited his son in Hamburg and wanted to get to know me on this occasion. MPS was for me at this time still a book with seven seals. That should change now.

We arranged to meet on a Sunday afternoon at the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten. Hamburg’s best address. It was the hottest day of the year.

Of course, I wanted to appear punctually and freshly showered in my new suit. Hamburger Product Manager meets Black Forest manufacturers. But it came differently than planned. The day before, I played with Andreas Dorau in Rostock. A local NDW fan had a dream to engage Dorau and The Plan for a guest performance. In the audience were nearly 50 spectators who had never heard of both bands. Very disillusioned by this short-term reversal euphoria, we set off after the gig to explore the exotic Rostock. In the early morning the excessive evening ended at the last open snack bar in Rostock. Beer according to the German Purity Law and sausage to the GDR recipe.

Slightly sobered we made our way to Hamburg for lunch. We had not taken into account the desolate roads of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Maximum speed maximum 60kmh. With over one hour delay we reached Hamburg. Sweaty and hungover, with two saxophones under my arms, I drove directly to the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten. HGBS waited rumblingly in the lobby. No good omen for our first meeting.

We went to a nearby restaurant. German cuisine. First a double double grain and a freshly tapped beer. It was still unusually hot. Another double grain and another fresh tapped. Now followed by a two-hour monologue, which was interrupted only by the waiter, who gave us further refreshments. For years, HGBS left behind pent-up steam. His catalog can no longer be found! All important MPS albums are deleted! His life’s work is filing in the Polygram-Bandarchiv! He regrets the sale of MPS! I could not contradict him. He was right on all counts.

After two hours, the mood relaxed. The booze, the heat and the fumed steam were effective. Now even my downtrodden condition was an advantage. HGBS had a heart for musicians and for people who were interested in music. Two saxophones under my arm dressed better than my new suit!

He offered his support for the evaluation of the catalog. Without financial expectations. Only one condition he set: the remastering of the old recordings run under his sovereignty. The Most Perfect Sound by HGBS.

We started with Oscar Peterson. Under the original title “Exclusively For My Friends” the house concerts appeared at the end of the 60s. Earlier on six original LPs, now in a 4-CD set. It was the time when the record collectors gave away their vinyl collection, or at best sold it out in the cold and rebuilt everything on CD for expensive money. Sound much better, of course!

The search for the original artwork developed problematically. In a purge of the band and cover archive in Hannover-Langenhagen, we found that all photos and films, which of course were not digital at that time, were destroyed. There was probably room for current hits to be created. Spring cleaning in the Polygram archive! So we had to laboriously procure the materials of collectors for these and all later publications.

The Peterson release exceeded all expectations. A small hint in the “mirror” was enough to be sold out after only a few days in Germany alone with 5000 boxes. 3 weeks before Christmas. Delivery time for the next edition was four weeks. GAU! (For the controllers among us: the box had a retail selling price of DM 80. – 4x highprice, 4 x 5000 = 20.000 “normal” CDs = DM 400.000.- sales in Germany alone). Not so bad for an unplanned jazz re-release that cost almost nothing. In addition, there were international sales, especially in the USA, Canada, France and Japan. Even the pop colleagues were astonished.

MPS was now the main focus! Brunner-Schwer had “carte blanche”. His next dream: a double CD with his favorite piano recordings from 20 years of recording. The “MPS Piano Highlights”.

With the “MPS Piano Highlights” everything should become even more elaborate, chic and exclusive. For the first time, I traveled to Villingen in the Black Forest with the responsible graphic artist Dirk Rudolph and the author of the liner notes Jörg Eipasch to discuss the publication. HGBS and his wife Marlies received us like kings. With hearty dinner, non-stop kirsch and listening to the “MPS Piano Highlights” at maximum volume in the old original living room, we felt the passion and hospitality that Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington and all the other world stars have experienced before us.

Of course, HGBS was pleased that we paid all our attention to his “MPS Piano Highlights”. The booklet was equipped with special colors, English and German detailed liner notes and a representative slipcase. Graphic designer Dirk Rudolph has already made a name for himself with the CFO (Chief Financial Controller). His work has been presented on internal training courses as an example of how CD packaging should not be. So he made a Philip Boa double LP so exclusive that the printing costs exceeded the retail selling price. Loss on every sold record. But the “MPS Piano Highlights” was about culture and prestige. Always think about the buyer! Therefore, we also increased the first edition many times over for safety’s sake. Because we did not want to be without goods again before Christmas.

But when the box appeared, nobody wanted it.

Flops are quickly replaced. But six months after the release, the Polydor chief controller was dissolved in my office. “Mr. Kellersmann (you were still defending yourself at this time, Note Kelly), do you know the box” MPS Piano Highlights “? “Yes, great box, Mr. Seibt, right?” He had to take a deep breath. In his hand he held the folder “Flat fee penalties for excessive packaging”. The new controller guidelines from the headquarters in Holland. The optimal CD consisted of Dutch controller view from cheap plastic cover and two sides booklet. Of course, every artist and product manager wanted the most beautiful equipment. A CD for eternity. An heirloom.

The new guidelines clearly specified the scope and equipment for each publication. Violations were punished with penalties, which were punished with 8000.- guilders for every “excess”. The head office counted at the “MPS Piano Highlights” eight excesses. So 64,000 guilders. The CDs were still stacked in the warehouse. We wanted to remain deliverable! But this also caused additional costs, as each stored CD was charged with high inventory costs …

With slightly restrained optimism, we continued the catalog releases. HGBS remastered the complete recordings of “The Singers Unlimited”, which appeared in a 7-CD edition. Gilles Peterson compiled the series “Talkin Jazz” with DJ and MPS expert Rainer Trüby; The MPS collector Stephan Steigleder presented CDs from pioneering productions by u.a. Rolf and Joachim Kühn or Wolfgang Dauner together and my colleague Matthias Künnecke provided his Easy Listening friends all over the world with such beautiful CDs as “Snowflakes”.

In 2004, the collaboration with HGBS was suddenly stopped. He died in a car accident in Villingen at the age of 77 (music producers with 77 years should be particularly careful on the road.) In addition to HGBS still Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Monti Lüftner were caught in the same age by a car and died). HGBS was in the process of sifting through unpublished house concerts. Among other things, a recording by Bill Evans. He also gave me an unmastered CD of this house concert. However, something was holding him back. In 2016, I was surprised by the news that this recording was released on Resonance Records. The heir of the MPS archive had made this recording available for publication.

In 2013 Universal Music sold MPS. The reason: Universal acquired EMI. However, the purchase had to be approved by the EU antitrust authority in Brussels. Universal has been the market leader in many markets. The danger of a monopoly position existed. Therefore, Universal offered the Brussels authority to part with some labels. MPS was one of them. The Beatles vs. Oscar Peterson, Joachim & Rolf Kühn and the MPS Piano Highlights.

In a bidding process, the company “Wolfgang Vaults” received the bid from eight offers. Among other things, Wolfgang Vaults evaluated the legacy of concert promoter Bill Graham, who died in 1991 (birth name: Wolfgang Grajonca). Graham was the owner of the legendary concert halls Fillmore West in San Francisco and Fillmore East in New York. He had recorded all the concerts in his locations and was famous for the style-defining psychedelic artwork that impressed me as a teenager and which was now commercially evaluated via “Wolfgang Vaults”.

I had just left Universal when the responsible sales agent came to me. He was grateful to have found someone who was familiar with the history of the label MPS. The potential buyer did not seem to be. I gave him contacts to the Brunner-Schwer family as well as to collectors and other experts of the label. There was even a future cooperation in the room. I found that a very attractive prospect of listening to Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane archival footage all day long somewhere in California between old hippies and reevaluating the MPS catalog. But after all details had been negotiated, the “Wolfgang Vaults” owner withdrew his offer one day before signing the contract. I still do not know why. The MPS file was put aside at Universal Music.

A few months later, the founder and owner of Edel AG, Michael Haentjes, contacted me during my sabbatical in Rio de Janeiro. Since I had not heard any news about the MPS sale for months, I gave him the tip to ask Universal. There they pulled the folder out of the drawer and saw that the deadline set by Brussels had almost expired. MPS had to be sold soon! Haentjes struck. Edel AG was now the new home for MPS. Shortly afterwards I started working for Edel.

We reactivated MPS. In 2015, after 32 years, a new release was released for the first time with the trio KhalifeSchumacherTristano. Other new productions include Rolf Kühn, Hamilton de Holanda, Django Deluxe with the NDR Big Band, Lisa Bassenge with the Larry Klein production “Canyon Songs”, the first release of the last Baden Powell live recording from the year 2000, Malakoff Kowalski, Mari Boine, Malia, Barbara Dennerlein and China Moses. The response was overwhelming: echoing jazz wins, prizes from German record critics, and of course the positive feedback from passionate jazz fans. In addition to the new productions, selected re-releases appeared on CD and LP. Including Oscar Peterson’s “Exclusively for my Friends” – 6-LP vinyl box (on CD with unpublished material), the 7-LP box with complete George Duke MPS recordings, the wonderful double LP by Gilles Peterson “Magic Peterson Sunshine” as well as the entire catalog as download and streaming.

In the jubilee year we continue the new releases: Rolf Kühn with the album “Yellow & Blue”, Nicola Conte with “Let Your Light Shine”, Malia with “Ripples (Echoes of Dreams)”, Malakoff Kowalski with “My First Piano” and the young singer Erik Leuthäuser, whose album “Wünschen” was produced by Greg Cohen and sets a new benchmark in terms of German-speaking vocals. In addition, Till Brönner, Götz Alsmann, Ed Motta and Gilles Peterson will each present their favorite album from the MPS catalog as fall season’s MPS ambassadors. There will also be an MPS festival in Villingen from September 7th to 9th. Rolf and Joachim Kühn are already confirmed as top acts.

The jubilee year is clouded by conflicts between the Förderverein MPS-Studio Villingen e.V. and the son of HGBS, Mathias Brunner-Schwer. This Black Forest thriller can be followed in the local press. But let’s not spoil the party! In this sense: Happy Birthday MPS!

Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer and Oscar Peterson on a small jaunt through the Black Forest. Here with a second car – the Maybach stayed in the garage this time. (Photo: from the book “Jazzin the Black Forest” – Monitorpop).

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