Born in Leipzig on March 15, 1944, Joachim Kühn gave his young-age debut as a concert pianist and studied classical piano and composition with Arthur Schmidt-Elsey. Influenced by his elder brother, clarinet-player Rolf Kühn, he simultaneously got interested in jazz and started leading traditional and mainstream combos very early. In 1961 he became a professional jazz musician. With a trio of his own, founded in 1964, he presented the first European-rooted free jazz in the GDR. In 1966 he did not return to his country from an international competition organized by Friedrich Gulda in Vienna. He settled in Hamburg where he formed a free-jazz quartet with his brother and they presented themselves at the Berliner Jazztage and the Newport Jazz Festival. In New York, produced by by Bob Thiele, the brothers Kühn recorded with Coltrane-bassist Jimmy Garrison for the Impulse label.
Living in Paris since 1968, Joachim Kühn worked with numerous musicians of different styles, e.g. Gato Barbieri, Don Cherry, Karl Berger, Slide Hampton, Philly Joe Jones, Phil Woods, Michel Portal, et al. A member of Jean Luc Ponty´s Experience and Association P.C., he turned to electronic keyboards in the early 70´s and became one of the protagonists of European rock-jazz. At the same time, he also led acoustic trios. One of these was completed by Jean-Francois Jenny-Clark (b) and Daniel Humair (dr), who were to cross his path again and again in years to come. Le Monde, in those days, called him "Europe´s most interesting commuter between jazz and rock".
Geographically and musically speaking, Kühn was furthest apart from Europe during the second half of the 70´s when he lived in California and joined the West Coast fusion scene. Crossover stars, such as Alphonse Mouson, Billy Cobham, Michael Brecker, and Eddie Gomez participated in his recordings. Simultaneously, he was frequently to be heard solo and in a duo with former Focus-guitarist Jan Akkerman from Holland.
After a short period in New York (1980), Kühn returned to Hamburg and, in 1981, got in touch with Bechstein piano company. This caused him to devote himself exclusively to the acoustic grand piano. Increasingly, he concentrated on blending jazz improvisation with the harmonic influences of European modernism.
Apart from the chamber-musical recording I´m not Dreaming (1983, with George Lewis, Mark Nauseef, et al.), he turned out numerous solo releases during 80´s which gave evidence of Kühn´s complex playing, his ponderous touch and his intense preoccupation with modern classical music.
Having settled near Paris again, he received his "French trio" with J.F. Jenny-Clark and Daniel Humair in 1985 and made it one of the leading acoustic piano trios in international jazz. With Walter Quintus, an outstanding expert at studio electronics, the artistic commuter produced Dark (1989), the music to a ballet of choreographer Carolyn Carlson. In 1990 Kühn was able to perform in East Germany again for the first time in 23 years; HiFi Vision readers polled him "jazz musician of the year".
1991, the year of his 30th anniversary as a professional, was crowned by two major projects: a coproduction of West German Radio and the CMP label; it included the Trio Kühn/Humair/Jenny-Clark, the WDR Big band, and an anniversary all star band consisting of the likes of Rolf Kühn, Randy Brecker, Palle Mikkelborg, Albert Mangelsdorff, Joe Lovano, Christof Lauer, and Adam Nussbaum. A composition for chamber orchestra and piano was commissioned to him by the Jazz festival of Grenoble.
After more than a decade, he released another album again that found him on electric keyboards besides the grand piano: Let´s Be Generous, with Miroslav Tadic (g), Tony Newton (b), and Mark Nauseef (dr/perc). Here, combining the influences of Béla Bartók, Eric Dolphy, Jimi Hendrix, Captain Beefheart, and Tony Williams´ Lifetime, he set new standards for a contemporary and distinctively European blend of concert music, rock, and jazz. Get Up Early, though another extraordinary duo project with Walter Quintus, saw the untiring experimenter back at the Bechstein. Using a digital soundboard, his partner treated, formed, and modified the classical piano sound directly, spontaneously, and live in the studio. Thus, he achieved iridescent and irritating sounds and effects hardly ever heard before which created the basis for the colaboration with the Cologne Dance Company for several live performances at the Cologne Opera in 1996/7.
In November 1991 he was producing Eartha Kitt´s Thinking Jazz where he confronted the legendary show singer with a modern jazz combo and, thus, practiced a new what he always attracted him most: passing another stylistic boundary.
His latest CD "famous melodies" - a work up of compositions of the 30´s - was regarded by the German Critics as the best released CD in the first half of 1994. Kühn continued his way of working up standards - in 1996 he puplished his first album for the label Verve, under the title "Threepenny Opera" - this time with his trio partners J. F. Jenny Clark and French master drummer Daniel Humair.
During Summer 1996, Kühn took the occasion to make a long-fostered wish come true. He joined Ornette Coleman during two festival concerts at Verona and Leipzig festivals which opened the way for new projects with the legendary saxophone player. The result of this duo colaboration will be publsihed for Verve records soon.
May the boundaries change, Joachim Kühn will stay a commuter between the territories.
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