As we continue our tour of the bandstand, I submit to you trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff (September 5, 1928-July 25, 2005). “Mangels who,” you ask. Let us briefly delve into how Mr. Mangelsdorff’s journey led him to the world of jazz.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Albert let it be known early in life that he wanted to become a musician. He studied violin and general music theory with his uncle and was introduced to jazz by his brother, alto saxophonist Emil Mangelsdorff, at age 12. While he was required to learn classical music, Mangelsdorff heart was attracted to jazz. Here’s Albert’s take.
“In the evening when my uncle and my aunt went out to the theater, I listened to the so called ‘enemy station’, which was officially illegal. They had a lot of jazz playing, lots of Glenn Miller of course, but also Count Basie and Duke Ellington, which I was interested in much more. At the time, I was already influenced by my brother and his friends, who were closer to the puristic jazz.”
After WWI, Albert started playing guitar and was eventually hired as a professional rhythm guitarist in the Otto-Laufner Big Band, which mainly played in US Army clubs. Mangelsdorff is still undecided between violin, guitar or his newest instrument that he picked up in 1947, trombone. Regarding his latest inclination,
“It was probably at the end of ’47 when a colleague, Kurt Dori, who later played with the Heinz Demmer Band, organized a cheap trombone for me. After weeks of fooling around I looked for a teacher, since everybody told me if starting with the trombone, I should take lessons right away…In Fritz Stahr, the solo trombonist for the Frankfurter Oper, I found a teacher who cared very much for me. He gave me lessons once a week, but out of one hour he made two or three since he noticed that I was diligent and always well prepared. Even so I lost courage from time to time. The trombone is a very difficult instrument and progress is only slow.”
Albert made the switch to trombone in 1948 and never looked back! He would go on to play in various bands and eventually formed the Mangelsdorff Quintet in 1961, which played at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965 after winning first place in the Downbeat Poll for “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition” and return in 1967 and 1969. Mr. Mangelsdorff was an internationally recognized musician. Saxophone great Joe Henderson said, “He plays besides J.J. Johnson the most exciting trombone.” What soon followed was a who’s who of artists that he would play and record with including Lee Konitz, Elvin Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Don Cherry, Jimmy Smith, Jaco Pastorius and Alphonse Mouzon.
My introduction to Albert Mangelsdorff was by accident. One of my favorite activities back in the day was to peruse the aisles of the jazz section in Tower Records just to see what I could find. One night, I happened to spot a record (yes, I’m that old) with the familiar names of Jaco Pastorius (bass) and Alphonse Mouzon (drums), both of Weather Report fame. The third name was totally unfamiliar to me. “Albert Mangelsdorff-who the heck is that,?” I said to myself. Also, I had never heard of a trio composed of bass, drums and trombone. I decided that it was worth the gamble, give up my hard earned cash and added this LP to my collection-I am so glad that I did!
Here are some clips of this extraordinary trio, all of whom are virtuosos on their instruments.
(Somehow, Albert plays chords on a trombone!!!)
(I am still amazed at how Mangelsdorff makes playing the trombone look easy. I guess you have to be a trombonist to understand, because I don’t!)
Here is a clip featuring Mr. Mangelsdorff and the great Bill Watrous in a trombone duo:
Finally, here are some clips featuring the man himself:
There is no doubt in my mind that Albert Mangelsdorff is one of the greatest and arguably the most original trombonist ever. The jazz world was very fortunate that this amazingly gifted musician put down the violin and picked up the trombone and I am very fortunate to have discovered him by happenstance. Thank you, Albert Mangelsdorff, for sharing your talent and passion for music with the world.