Helmut Brandt

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Born in Berlin on New Year's Day of 1931, the composer, bandleader, and baritone saxophonist Helmut Brandt was a vital force on the German jazz scene throughout the entire second-half of the 20th century.…
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Born in Berlin on New Year's Day of 1931, the composer, bandleader, and baritone saxophonist Helmut Brandt was a vital force on the German jazz scene throughout the entire second-half of the 20th century. While the jazz of this country is often associated with avant-garde styles, bringing to mind the fire-breathing saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, Brandt was a German bopper by nature whose inspirations were players such as Stan Getz and the intricate arrangements of Gil Evans. He first heard sides by the latter artist as a teenager. Brandt rose to prominence among mainstream fans in the mid-'50s, in a combo that combined his baritone saxophone with trumpet, piano, bass, and drums. This group's repertoire was heavy on arrangements and original compositions by Brandt and he was considered to have a particular flair with ballads.

Brandt began his musical training in a church choir at the age of nine. The following year he began violin lessons, followed by the study of both saxophone and guitar in a music conservatory. In 1950 he made his professional debut; he formed his own group early in 1954. By the end of this decade he had joined an important dance band organized by one of the main Berlin radio stations. He also was involved with orchestras led by Lubo D'Orio and Kurt Widmann. A series of albums featuring his group were released on the Metronome label. In the '70s he started his own Mainstream Orchestra, recording several well-received albums and building a loyal following in Berlin. While it seemed as if he swam with the musically conservative crowd, Brandt hardly settled into gentle mainstream strokes, creating more and more complicated compositions with intricate classical symphonic influences. He died of a heart attack while taking a walk in Stuttgart.