When chance takes a hand, it can write the most unlikely stories. Michael Wollny has made more than a dozen albums as leader during his 15 years as a recording artist, but has left it until now to make his first "classic" solo piano album. His innate curiosi- ty, the desire to interact with other musicians, the temptation to discover new and original music together with others have normal- ly proved far too great. After all, solo piano, whether on stage or in a studio, appears – at least on the surface – to be a lonely under- taking. However, in early 2020 the time seemed right for Wollny to start to delve into the endless fund of music, stories, thoughts, moods, images and encounters that he has been accumulating over the years. When it happened, the act of making the solo recording in April 2020 fell in the middle of the worldwide lock- down. The time, then, to retreat into oneself, a moment when the world has suddenly become smaller and quieter, lost its regular pulse, when the normal and constant flood of stimuli has been cut off, and in which many people find that their gaze starts to turn inward...
The Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich’s respected broadsheet, has called Michael Wollny a musician “who transforms any music imaginable into an experience which takes your breath away”; for Frankfurt’s FAZ he is the "perfect piano master"; and for Hamburg’s Abendblatt he is "the strongest jazz personality that Germany has produced since Albert Mangelsdorff". He doesn’t just fill big concert halls, he is also in demand to work as a partner with some of the most renowned musicians in Europe.
The pianist was born in 1978 in Schweinfurt on the river Main about 80 miles east of Frankfurt, and is unquestionably one of the most important jazz musicians of his generation in Europe. And yet he is anything but the typical jazz pianist. Few people work the piano as physically hard as Wollny does, his mind and body in constant motion. There is a viscerality about his playing. His inspiration can come from Franz Schubert or Gustav Mahler, from Björk or Kraftwerk, from Japanese gangster films or horror stories, in other words his quest for both the unknown and the unheard are completely boundless. His expressive power is irresistible; it comes from the sheer energy levels he is capable of, from an inexhaustibly rich imagination and from a phenomenal technique.
Wollny had his first piano and violin lessons at the age of five. An important influence was his older sister, who also played the piano, and through whom he became familiar with classical and romantic music. For him, as he explains, "playing the piano was always both about improvisation and also about playing Bach or Schumann." When he attended the Herrmann Zilcher Conservatoire in Würzburg as a junior external student at the age of 16 he was discovered by pianist and teacher Chris Beier.
Beier recognized Wollny's talent straight away, and took him under his wing as a young student at the Musikhochschule in Würzburg. Then followed the German Federal Youth Jazz Orchestra (BuJazzO), Wollny’s first trio and also a duo with saxophonist Hubert Winter. From 2001 Wollny was invited several times to play as pianist with the jazz ensemble at Frankfurt Radio, where he worked with major figures in German jazz such as trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, and saxophonists Emil Mangelsdorff, Christof Lauer and Heinz Sauer. Sauer was so enthusiastic about the young piano player, he invited him to perform with his sextet at the 32nd Deutsches Jazzfestival in Frankfurt. That first collaboration ushered in a cross-generational musical partnership which has continued until the present day, and has produced four award-winning duo albums.