Dr Hans Koller
Research, Scholarship and Creative PracticeOther ActivitiesResearch CV
Other Scholarly outputs
- Other Creative Practice:
Over the last 20 years I have created a substantial body of over 70 original compositions, recorded in fourteen critically acclaimed albums. My works have been performed, interpreted and/or documented in collaboration with many of the leading lights of contemporary jazz such Bill Frisell, and Steve Swallow, with the pioneers of the early Avant-garde such as Steve Lacy, Alexander von Schlippenbach and Evan Parker, and with the genre-defining, ground-breaking composers/improvisers Bob Brookmeyer, and Kenny Wheeler.
I was described by Chris Parker as “simply one of the UK’s most individual voices, both as a composer and pianist”. My début big band album New Memories from 2002 was hailed by John Fordham in the Guardian as “the most expansive, expressive and exciting new jazz orchestral sound to have emerged in this country since the late-lamented Loose Tubes” while my 2011 record with Bill Frisell was named an “instant classic” by John Eyles, giving it five stars. My recent triple vinyl release received five stars in Jazz Journal, as well as from Mike Gates (UK Vibe) who described the recordings as “an incredible achievement [which] have to be rated as one of the most important and musically rewarding releases of 2016.” Matt Miller, writing in New York City Jazz Record, described me as “an artist steeped in tradition but with a distinct voice of his own”, while Dave Gelly, writing in the Observer, went as far as saying that “like his piano playing, Koller’s writing for large ensemble is difficult to describe because it doesn’t sound remotely like anyone else’s.” Michael Tucker noted that my “approach to the interplay of the historical and the contemporary is as open-minded as it is creative”. Ian Carr, in his entry on me in the Rough Guide to Jazz (4th edition), remarked: “Koller is an exuberant talent, his music full of surprises”. And John Fordham, who has written on my work regularly since the early 2000s commented in 2016: “Koller solves the perpetual jazz conundrum of making music for the mind and the body […] with an intelligence and vivacity that brings him ever closer to the stature of George Russell, Gil Evans, Mike Gibbs, and that long procession of his famous elders”.
Conceptually, the body of work that I have created is important through the way in which it challenges prevailing, orthodox ideas about innovation and tradition in jazz. I have always looked at the history of jazz as a history of continuous renewal and re-invention. My rapport and collaborations with Steve Lacy (saxophonist with Thelonious Monk in 1960), with Dave Liebman (saxophonist with Miles Davis 1970-74), and with Bob Brookmeyer (trombonist with Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan 1954-1957) has helped positioning my works in the context of jazz history, yet I have always viewed tradition and innovation as two sides of the same coin, in much the same way as I approach composition and improvisation as essentially complementary. The development of jazz language is, in my mind, an on-going process, occurring cumulatively, i.e. innovations build on one another without the need to eschew previously valid ideas. I consider jazz as an attitude to music making, rather than a circumscribed style. In addition, intrinsic to jazz language is the idea of cross-genre. From its local beginnings to its global present jazz is essentially a musical fusion. I continue to be inspired from within but at the same time I regard as crucial work with musicians from outside jazz, and also to adopt and adapt methodologies, concepts, ideas and traditions from outside jazz.
Rejecting the common categories and dichotomies within jazz - for example straight-ahead/mainstream versus avant-garde/free improv; classicist versus contemporary; big band versus small band; European versus American or British jazz versus continental; composers versus improvisers; intellectual versus instinctive – I believe I have over the years developed an all-embracing, personal and unique compositional and improvisational aesthetic which has not only received significant national and international recognition but has facilitated the evolution of our distinct Conservatoire style in Jazz Studies, and driving our growing global reputation as a centre of excellence, knowledge and innovation.
In addition to leading my own small bands and large-scale ensembles, I have worked with many existing jazz orchestras, conducting my work with the world-famous radio jazz orchestras in Germany, notably the WDR big band in Cologne, the HR big band in Frankfurt, and the SNO in Nürnberg. I have also led the BBC big band, working with Phil Woods in a Charlie Parker project, and I enjoy a special relationship with the NDR big band in Hamburg, playing regular concerts, radio broadcasts, and having released two albums written especially for this orchestra.
As a pianist I have collaborated most notably with the legendary composer Mike Gibbs, working with him regularly since 2000, at the Cheltenham Jazz and London Jazz Festivals, and during an ACE funded national tour in 2007, broadcasting with him for the BBC and recording with him for Whirlwind Records in 2012. An integral part of the internationally important local jazz scene in London since the mid 1990s, and the strongly developing creative scene in Birmingham since the 2000s I have played with most of the important players and many significant groups in this country for example Martin Speake, Stan Sulzmann, Chris Batchelor, the London Jazz Orchestra and Acoustic Ladyland, as well as with visiting artists from further afield, for example, Gerd Dudek, Mark Feldman, Anders Christiansen, Marc Ducret and Steve Argüelles. In addition, I have developed strong musical partnerships with contemporary classical musicians such as Adrian Adlam (LSO), Jim Rattigan (RPO), Helen Tunstall, (London Sinfonietta) and Melinda Maxwell (BCMG).
While I continue to enjoy the hands-on commitment to local projects, now increasingly with the younger generation, I have developed numerous international creative partnerships over the years. This has led me to travel and work in China, Europe and the US, with significant relationships with musicians based particularly in New York, Copenhagen, Odense, Paris, Hamburg, Berlin and Cologne.