#JAM Emil Mangelsdorff

April is Jazz Appreciation month. One of Germany’s most famous jazz musicians, alto saxophonist Emil Mangelsdorff, turned 90 on Saturday. His life is quite a story.

April is Jazz Appreciation month and here’s a nod of appreciation to German alto jazz saxophonist Emil Mangelsdorff, one of Germamy’s most famous jazz musicians, who turned 90 on Saturday April 11th.

Like many jazz musicians he has a life filled with stories and experiences that informed his music but for Emil, in Nazi Germany, his music literally landed him the wrong side of the regime. Jazz was illegal in Nazi Germany, considered racially unsuitable because of its African American roots. 

Just before World War II Emil studied at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt and became a member of the Frankfurt ‘Hot Club’ who would perform in the city. In order to ward off suspicion his ensemble would re-title standards like ‘St. Louis Blues’ to ‘St.-Ludwig's-Serenade’ but eventually the Gestapo spied on their concerts and Emil was arrested and imprisoned and later sent to the Eastern Front to fight the Russians.

The German offensive suffered a complete collapse and he was then imprisoned by the Russians and finally made it back home five years after the war in 1949 where he resumed his music. His style developed from Ragtime and swing into bebop and contemporary jazz and his music has never lost its connection with protest and politics. He is still performing at demonstrations and political events as well as jazz festivals.

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