Michael Wollny, born in 1978 in Schweinfurt, internationally successful jazz pianist, music inventor, unconventional thinker, popular figure. Nobody plays piano like him. His trademark: the unpredictable, the quest for the never-before-heard, the courage to devote himself to the moment, to make the unforeseen sound self-evident. His desire to keep reinventing himself, both in terms of sound and composition; that is what makes him a "consummate piano maestro" (FAZ). Ever since his ACT debut in 2005 "call it [em]", Michael Wollny has been causing a furore in the widest range of projects:
With his contribution to the ACT series Piano Works, Michael Wollny proves that he is one of the most noteworthy pianists in the world: For his solo debut he withdrew to the Island of Gotland for a month in the summer of 2006 and listened to a lot of Schubert, Steve Reich, Björk and Joachim Kühn. Then he performed alone on the grand piano at the JazzBaltica for the first time, alongside colleagues like Brad Mehldau, Marcin Wasilewski and Kenny Barron – and at the end of February 2007 he brought out Hexentanz. The critics all agreed in rare unison: "Wollny is the great hope of intelligent piano jazz from Germany." (WELT) For this work Wollny was also awarded the Disque d'emoi 2007 by the French Jazz Magazine.
The "grand master of the saxophone" (DIE ZEIT) Heinz Sauer discovered Michael Wollny for the first time at the hr Jazz Ensemble. The two performed for the first time as a duet in Darmstadt's Literaturhaus, more or less by chance. Without time to discuss the performance in advance, they had to revert to free improvisation. The evening was a rousing success and had consequences. "One of the great saxophone individualists and the greatest German piano talent develop fascinating dialogues full of unsentimental warmth, with often surprising punch lines. You want to keep listening to them forever," wrote the Munich newspaper TZ, when in early 2005 their first joint album came out: Melancholia. DIE ZEIT discovered
fundamental qualities in the genuine expressiveness of this generation-crossing duo, and exalted: "Jazz comes back to life here". The WELT am Sonntag paper counted it among "the best that German jazz has to offer". "Give up the control and see what happens" is how Wollny describes the credo of playing together with Sauer, the credo that provides the foundation for their improvisations created out of ease and serenity, just as much as for the explorations of their own compositions that they present to each other - or the paths they take through classics by Thelonious Monk and Billie Holiday. And in doing so they extended their radius at breakneck speed: On Certain Beauty the base camps of their expeditions bear names like Gershwin, Gil Evans, Björk and Prince. The album caused quite a stir, also outside of Germany. In France, the renowned magazine Jazzman called it the jazz CD of 2006, awarding it the CHOC. The highly concentrated dialogues don't waste any words; the melancholy attitude comes from profound experience of life. If (Blue) Then (Blue) is the name of the follow-up album, which showcases Heinz Sauer in two duets: alternating between the pianists Michael Wollny and Joachim Kühn. "Quite simply a master stroke!" is how the magazine Stereoplay described it. The duo's fourth album Don't Explain came out on Sauer's 80th birthday – recorded live in Darmstadt. It is a musical tight-rope act without a net, that the French Jazz Magazine crowned its Album of the Year. The German jazz critics acknowledged the recording with the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik award.
In September 2008, Wollny joined forces in a duet concert with Joachim Kühn at the ACT festival "Jazz and Friendship" at Elmau Castle. The result of this intense, pinnacle piano moment is captured on the CD Piano Works IX: Joachim Kühn und Michael Wollny live at Schloss Elmau, which came out in March 2009.
Michael Wollny's Wunderkammer in a duet with harpsichordist Tamar Halperin was the launching pad into a new era of Michael Wollny's career in late 2009. On it, together with harpsichordist Tamar Halperin, Wollny seeks out the never-before-heard and embarks on a magical sound trip. The pianist, who repeatedly manages to surprise his listeners and himself with his music, was subsequently raised to the peak of European jazz, being awarded the coveted ECHO Jazz for the best German pianist. The newspaper die Welt spoke of "Germany's most exciting jazz pianist," the Frankfurter Rundschau attested Wollny a "big step forward in a totally new direction", and since then the Hamburger Abendblatt has seen in him the "biggest (jazz) music personality that Germany has produced since Albert Mangelsdorff".
Ever since the beginning of his career, the centre of Michael Wollny's creation has been his trio [em], with Eva Kruse on the bass and drummer Eric Schaefer. The success story of this magical triangle began with call it [em] in 2005, within the framework of the ACT Young German Jazz series. The trio's secret: the unique combination of outstanding technique and individual skills, inexhaustible creativity and instinctive interaction. "Wollny, Kruse and Schaefer save German jazz" said the Süddeutsche Zeitung back then, and die Zeit even spoke of the "world's most exciting piano trio". With the follow-up albums [em] II and [em] 3 the trio advanced to the embodiment of young German jazz. The accolades from various magazines (including the "Choc" from the French Jazzman) were followed by awards like Ronnie Scott's Jazz Award and the BMW Welt Jazz Award. With [em] live at JazzBaltica hitting the shelves in autumn 2010, the unconventional trio irrevocably played itself to the global peak of piano trios with, as the FAZ newspaper put it, its "irrepressibly vital interactive music". England's leading critic Stuart Nicholson called the album "...arguably the finest jazz album of the last quarter of a century". And the German music association Bundesverband Musikindustrie honoured the masterpiece with the ECHO Jazz for the best national ensemble performance of the year.
Wasted & Wanted came out in early 2012 and was the last trio album by Michael Wollny's [em] to date. Just how unrivalled this dream team currently is in the German jazz scene is proven by its winning the ECHO Jazz award for the best national ensemble performance of the year again. Powerful, modern, emotional, intelligent, masterly, full of energy and open in every direction – Wasted & Wanted is a conclusive answer to the question of the future of German jazz.
Wunderkammer XXL with the hr-Bigband: To this day, Wunderkammer has never let go of its hold on Michael Wollny. On 27 October 2012, the Deutsches Jazzfestival Frankfurt gave him the opportunity to live out a dream on a giant scale together with the hr-Bigband. Arranger Jörg-Achim Keller took over the big band orchestration. The concert in the hr broadcasting hall was to become a triumphant event: "Wunderkammer XXL" sounded "impressively different in the subtly differentiated orchestra arrangement" and resulted in "a fascinating interplay between gentle keyboard magic and inspired ensembles" (Frankfurter Rundschau). The FAZ wrote of "an irrepressible joy of playing and an intelligent creative power," that the "ingenious sound tinkerer Michael Wollny" fashioned together with the hr-Bigband under Jim McNeely. The concert provoked veritable storms of enthusiasm among the audience: 20-minute standing ovations were something entirely new to the oldest German jazz festival, in existence since 1953.
On 11 December 2012, Michael Wollny took the stage together with Iiro Rantala and Leszek Możdżer in the sold-out Kammermusiksaal concert hall of the Berlin Philharmonic. The three pianists impressively proved that classic and jazz are anything but contradictory. The recording of this acclaimed concert came out at the end of March 2013 as Live at Berlin Philharmonic I. On it, Wollny can be heard solo, in duets with the other two pianists, and in the finale even in a trio with both of them.
The fact that Wollny is now also a popular sideman who knows just how to lend music magical moments and whip audiences into raptures without playing himself into the foreground can be heard on The Moon, The Stars And You by Nils Landgren and Thrill Box by the young French accordion star Vincent Peirani. "Listening to how Landgren's trombone and Michael Wollny's piano [...] caress the melodies, you can't help but be spellbound by the charm of this music," wrote der Stern about the first of the two albums. And die Welt called Thrill Box the "tentative quest for contrapuntal beauty and exceptionally lyrical music with which the Frenchman touches the heart and steals your breath away, accompanied by pianist Michael Wollny and bassist Michel Benita."