Young but multifaceted: jazz pianist Johanna Summer is one of the great hopes of German jazz. Munich is a good place for her, in 2018 she won the “Young Munich Jazz Award”, now she resides in the artist house of the city “Villa Waldberta” for two months.
Jazz pianist Johanna Summer is a scholarship holder at “Villa Waldberta”, works there on new ideas – and presents her amazing, current album
They are out of luck with the weather. When pianist Johanna Summer and singer Atrin Madani arrived at Villa Waldberta last Wednesday, it was about to topple. Since then, the “Künstlerhaus der Landeshauptstadt München” in Feldafing, towering over Lake Starnberg, has been lying almost continuously in clouds and rain. Nevertheless Summer and Madani were captivated by the magic of the place, by the splendor of the early years, by the castle romance including the park and the tower, from which you can overlook the entire lake. Musicians are usually travelers, now in times of corona isolation they were happy to get out of Berlin again. Johanna Summer from Plauen, who only lives in the unloved capital anyway because it has so many professional advantages, just like the real Berlin-born Atrin Madani from Schöneberg with Iranian roots.
Since 1982 artists have been living in the five apartments for months, this one, built in 1902 by a Dutch publisher as “Felsenheim”, taken over in 1925 by the German-born New York doctor Franz Koempel and, after interim war and post-war use, given to the city of Munich by the city of Munich as a foundation Dream castle. Since 2005 within the framework of scholarships that are tied to urban projects or cooperation with a Munich cultural institution. “This connection to urban facilities narrowed the view a bit and limited the selection, sometimes the stay has become a hotel alternative, where the artists were in the city during the day but nothing happened here,” stated Martin Rohmer from the cultural department before took over the management for over a year. In order for the genius loci of the Villa Waldberta to find more expression in artistic projects, he wants to switch to a tender model. Before the Corona crisis, he paved the way for this via the culture committee and city council.
Anyway, Summer and Madani’s stay is an experimental balloon. “Musicians were previously underrepresented here,” says Rohmer, which the visitor can already see from the rather moderate and heartily out of tune piano – one of the first actions after Summer’s arrival was to get a piano tuner. To change that, he turned to Christiane Böhnke-Geisse, who, as a kind of curator, is supposed to find suitable candidates for Villa Waldberta. Until 2014, Böhnke-Geisse was instrumental in making the Unterfahrt one of the best European jazz clubs for more than 20 years. For two years she has been directing the “Schwere Reiter” in the Kreativquartier, a venue with a focus on new music, and she sits in various music juries – all of which led to Johanna Summer as the first proposal.
In 2018, Summer won the Young Munich Jazz Prize, and in such an impressive way that from then on it wasn’t just on Böhnke-Geisse’s list. For 40 minutes she improvised non-stop and medley-like over various standards without losing tension or her own expression. A high art, at which the best jazz pianists failed, which is why SZ critic Ralf Dombrowski also spoke of a “great winner and a small sensation”. All the more remarkable because the then 23-year-old is actually a late starter. Talent, like having fun with the music, was recognizable early on, but Summer had many interests and would also like to have become a soccer player. It wasn’t until 16 that it became clear that “playing the piano is what I do best and what catches me the most,” as she remembers. Growing up with pop and classical music, followed the corresponding basic training at the music school and at “Jugend musiziert”. She only started improvising while studying at the Dresden University of Music, the legendary free jazz drummer Günter “Baby” Sommer was a decisive initiator. Her trio, founded in 2016 with Tobias Fröhlich on bass and Jan-Einar Groh on drums, quickly attracted attention, and the first album “Juvenile” was released in 2017.
Winning the Soloist Award of the Young German Jazz Award 2019 finally called Siggi Loch, the head of the Munich jazz label Act. Johanna Summer was right in two of his program focuses: on the numerous recordings with outstanding jazz pianists such as the “Young German Jazz” series, which started with Michael Wollny, who is now probably the most prominent German jazz pianist. Something is reminiscent of Summer, for example the close connection to classic romanticism. So Summers act debut published at the end of April is also called “Schumann Kaleidoskop”, and it is not jazz standards that are the basis for her solo improvisations, but works by Robert Schumann. So something that has accompanied her since childhood, the “children’s scenes” and the “album for the youth” were among her earliest impressions as music listeners and piano students – especially since the Zwickauer Schumann is also a child and hero of her home region.
It has become an amazing album, virtuoso, exciting, full of life of its own and with clever dramaturgy, starting with the fact that Summer always put together two pieces that were actually opposite. Even if the planned release tour has now failed, the scene has been listening. And Summer is pleased about the noticeable attention, which also includes the invitation to the Villa Waldberta. She will stay in Feldafing for two months and has brought Atrin Madani with her for one month, one of the first to work with after moving to Berlin. Since 2018, the two have also been sitting together in the Federal Jazz Orchestra (Bujazzo), the cadre of German jazz youth, in which each member can take part in a two-year term. “We had an incredible time,” says Summer, “compared to the previous years, we were traveling a lot, twice in the USA, in Canada, in Israel. We were very lucky.”
For their time in Feldafing, the two agreed on the first day to develop a “West Side Story” program. Perhaps already a template for the next act album, Siggi Loch is a proven friend of concepts that rework the familiar and popular in a new and personal way. Summer will, of course, be alone in the concert for the Villa Waldberta stay with her Schumann program on Friday, July 3, from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in the Schwere Reiter. Live and as a stream. In this combination, an appearance in the underpass is planned, on Saturday, June 25, 8:30 p.m. with her trio – “that sounds completely different than a year ago,” as she says with shining eyes.