Hans Koller

Cool tenor saxophonist

Tuesday 30 December 2003 01:00
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Hans Koller, saxophonist, bandleader, composer and painter: born Vienna 12 February 1921; died Vienna 22 December 2003.

Normally jazz musicians bemoan the inability of their audiences to appreciate the music. This was not a problem, during the Second World War, for the Austrian tenor saxophonist Hans Koller.

Drafted into the German Wehrmacht in 1941, he was taken prisoner by the US Army. He formed a band in the prison camp. Mistake. It became so popular with his captors that when the war ended they were loath to let him go. Consequently he was one of the last prisoners to be released. It was only fair that after the war his playing should become popular in the United States but, despite many offers, he preferred to stay in Europe. He moved to live in Germany in 1950.

So the Americans came to him, and he toured Europe with, amongst others, Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Konitz, Bill Russo, Stan Kenton and Eddie Sauter. In 1958 he played in Benny Goodman's band at the World Festival in Brussels. He was lauded by the American critics and top musicians, although his work made little impact in Britain. In the middle of 1965 he and his regular guitarist partner the Hungarian Attila Zoller made a trio album with the French-Algerian piano virtuoso Martial Solal that was regarded as one of the most trenchant of its time.

Although he played all the saxophones and clarinet, it was as a cool tenor saxophonist of the Lennie Tristano school that Koller made his name. He admired, recorded and worked with Tristano's most prominent disciples, Konitz and Warne Marsh, and Koller's free thinking drew in to his orbit many of the best modern Europeans.

Capable of swinging, blues- inspired tenor solos, he gravitated in later life to esoteric unaccompanied music on the soprano saxophone. His music by then reflected his interest in other arts. He composed several longer works and wrote the ballet New York City (1968), all influenced by contemporary art music. He was a respected abstract painter whose work was included in exhibitions in France, Germany and Austria. Koller made his last recording in 1991 and retired from music shortly afterwards.

Steve Voce

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