Click here to [close]

Monday, July 10, 2023

Ernst-Ludwig (“Luten“) Petrowsky (1933 – 2023)

Ernst-Ludwig (“Luten“) Petrowsky. Photo by Herbert Weisrock.

By Martin Schray

When the legendary saxophonist, flutist and clarinetist Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky had to undergo several surgeries in 2017, his fans were afraid that he wouldn’t be able to play anymore. Although he was recovering according to his wife, singer Uschi Brüning, he was not in good shape. For many years he was having problems with his hip, which is why he had to use a walking stick, during concerts he even had to sit. Now, after long illness, the doyen of East German free jazz has sadly passed away.

Ernst-Ludwig (“Luten“) Petrowsky was one of the founding fathers of free jazz in the former German Democratic Republic, the one with the longest history. Since 1957 he worked as a musician in different formations although - in contrast to most of the GDR musicians - Petrowsky was self-taught (in order to get a permission to play gigs in the GDR one usually had to graduate from a music school). He made his first excursions into free jazz in the 1960s with his band Studio IV, and in the Seventies he co-founded Synopsis (with Ulrich Gumpert on piano, Günter “Baby“ Sommer on drums and Conny Bauer on trombone) and recorded Auf der Elbe schwimmt ein rosa Krokodil (FMP/Intakt), one of the standout East-German free jazz albums. In general, the collaboration with Western German musicians and the FMP label were excellent which resulted in the release of seminal albums like Selbdritt and Selbviert (with bassist Klaus Koch and trumpeter Heinz Becker, the latter also with Günter Sommer on drums). In addition, he was a long-standing member of Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra. After the fall of the wall, Petrowsky worked in various formations, with Uschi Brüning (their duos Das Neue Usel and Features of Usel are also outstanding), with drummer Michael Griener, as part of the group Ruf Der Heimat and many others.

What made Petrowsky so special was the fact that he couldn’t be pigeon-holed, the integration of various elements was typical of his style: He could breathe fire like Peter Brötzmann but he could also “sing“ and swing, with phrasing and timbre that could change radically, as circumstances require. Ornette Coleman and Charlie Parker were obvious influences, as well as German folk songs: he always considered himself a traditionalist. The German author Ekkehard Jost described his playing as “unique, although his sound cannot be categorized easily, his flexibility being his most important parameter“. “Selb-Dritt“ on Selbviertmight be considered a typical Petrowsky piece, as well as “Usel’s Bird“ on Features of Usel.

At the end of his career he reached new heights with the help of musicians that could be his sons and grandsons. The New Old Luten Quintet, a super group instigated by pianist Oliver Schwerdt, including two bassists (John Edwards and Robert Landfermann) and drummer Christian Lillinger, was a prime example of collective improvisations, rhythmic and harmonic variety, the assimilation of traditional elements, and Petrowsky’s solos as the icing on the cake. Robert Landfermann once told me that - after an awesome gig - Petrowsky stated with a mischievous smile: “We have played some decent music, haven’t we?“ As if they had played a polka on a local fair.

I saw Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky twice, once with the famous Zentralquartett (actually Synopsis, but after the first two albums they changed their name) in Stuttgart in 2012 and as a member of the Globe Unity Orchestra in Hamburg in 2014. His solos were the highlights of both gigs, it was breathtaking to see a man who was obviously not in the best health condition playing such exciting music. It’s just sad to know that he’s not around anymore. Our deepest sympathies go out to his wife and his family.

If you want to get an impression what a great musician “Luten" Petrowsky was check out Selbviert and Selbdritt on the destination:out store website.

Watch him with Ruf der Heimat at a concert in Berlin 2015:


joe.po said...

Martin, unfortunately there were some bad news you had to give us last weeks (thanks anyway or just for that) ... but it is the nature of things, we all have to go some day and to get 90 is great. Thank you Ernst-Ludwig for your work, and similarly to Brötzmann and others, we will not forget you. R.I.P!

Martin Schray said...

Indeed, Joe. No one likes to write these texts. I keep Luten and especially Brötzmann in best memory. Their music has given me so much and changed my ways of listening. Possibly the best free jazz saxophone players Germany (East and West) has ever had.

Ernst Grgo Nebhuth said...

Thank you Martin for the farewell to ELP. And the description in your comment about the two giants is quite apt IMHO.
Another great feature of Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky was his humour. An example is available on the Carbon release "Radiospecial um zwei Trios" as a kind of intro before the music starts. The track is titled "Episode Über Einen Sandsack Zuviel" (episode about one punching bag too many). And the "Sandsack" was a nark from the Stasi (former DDR secret service) who was accompanying the group to concerts in West-Germany.

Martin Schray said...

I absolutely agree, Ernst. To a friend he said the following: "I know only one of us who practices, that is Conny Bauer. And that makes him suspicious." A great loss.