The Rough Guide to
JAZZ Questionnaire

Professional name: John Wolf Brennan
Full name: John Wolf Brennan
Date of birth: February 13th, 1954
Place of birth & nationality: Dublin, Ireland; Double Citizenship: the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland (two passports)
Instruments played: Piano, Prepared Piano, Pipe Organ, Melodica, Conductor
Family background
(any relatives musically inclined, etc.):
My mother Una Brennan was a famous classical singer in Ireland (repertoire from Schubert, Schumann, Brahms to Hugo Wolf and Richard Strauss, including the odd Irish folk song in the usually very sentimental arrangements of that time). My father Hans Wolf was a very good amateur pianist. My uncle Karl-Ulrich Wolf was a composer, pianist and designated director of the Stockholm Conservatory, Sweden, but died prematurely at the age of 36 in 1957. My brother Peter Wolf was founding member of the quite famous art-rock group "Flame Dream" (from 1976 to 1986 they recorded 6 LPs on Vertigo/Polygram), and my wife Béatrice Wolf is a classical pianist (she studies with Werner Bärtschi, Zürich) and director of the music school of the lake district Weggis/Vitznau/
Musical education: 1954: born in Dundrum, Dublin, Ireland
  1961: family moves permanently to Central Switzerland
  1961-1967: primary school in Weggis
  1965: starts piano lessons with Heidy Harry in Lucerne
  1967-1974: high school in Lucerne
  1971: continues piano lessons with Eva Serman, Lucerne
  1974: “Maturity” (leaving certificate) in socio-economics
  1975-1979: University of Fribourg, Switzerland – Musicology (Prof. Luigi Fernando Tagliavini), German Literature and Linguistics (Prof. Peter-Horst Neumann) and Film (Prof. Stephan Portmann)
  1975-1979: Swiss Jazz School Berne (Axel Jungbluth, Piano and Theory)
  1977-1980: Summer classes at the RIAM (Royal Irish Academy of Music) Dublin with James Wilson (composition) and choral conducting
  1979: writes his first "music for theatre" (more than 40 will follow in the next 20 years) for the "Théâtre au Stalden", Fribourg
  1983: Creative Music Studio (CMS), Woodstock/New York, USA – jazz workshops & clinics with Karl Berger, Carla Bley, Paolo Moura, Nana Vasconcelos, Marilyn Crispell, Ola Tunji, Steve Gorn, David Cherry a. o.
  1979-1984: Conservatory of Music, Lucerne – classical education with Hungarian professor Eva Serman (piano), Peter Benary (harmony & counterpoint) – piano diploma in 1985
  1979-1983: ZEBU, Lucerne: expression dance with Kurt Dreyer

Academy of Church and School Music, Lucerne – belcanto singing (Walter Meier), rhythmic dance, conducting (Alois Koch, Hans Zihlmann), church organ (Monika Henking), choir singing. 1987: diploma in school music

Masterclasses in composition with Ennio Morricone (1992), Edison Denisov (1993/94), Klaus Huber (1995) and Heinz Holliger (1998).

Workshops in jazz & improvisation with Tim Berne, Joey Baron, Hank Roberts, Don Friedman, Ray Anderson, Joëlle Léandre, Chris Burns, Pauline Oliveros, the ROVA saxophone quartet, Pierre Favre

Details of your musical career with dates
(how you began; what groups you‘ve played with or led, records released, prizes or awards, etc.)
1970: starts to play bass-guitar (!) in "Crossbreed", a blues rock band covering material by Jimi Hendrix, Traffic, The Cream, Chuck Berry, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Humble Pie
  1974: shorttime member of "Flame Dream", now moving to electric keyboards, playing art-rock in the "Canterbury Scene" tradition (Henry Cow, King Crimson, Van de Graaf Generator, Hatfield and the North, National Health, early Genesis, Gentle Giant, Yes, Egg, Art Bears, Slapp Happy, Robert Wyatt, early Pink Floyd)
  1975: moving on (still on electric keyboards) to more adventurous jazz sounds, with two extreme poles: one being jazz-rock (Miles Davis, "Softmachine", "Nucleus", "Weather Report", John McLaughlin‘s "Mahavishnu Orchestra", Chick Corea‘s "Return to Forever", Phil Collins‘ "Brand X" and Bill Bruford‘s "Feels good to me"); the other one (now changing to acoustic piano) being ethnically rooted music (Chris McGregor‘s "Brotherhood of Breath", John McLaughlin "Shakti", Gato Barbieri "Latin America", McCoy Tyner, Don Cherry, and the Irish folk-rock groups around "Moving Hearts", "Planxty" (with Christy Moore), "Clannad" and "The Bothy Band")
  1977: founds his first radical free improv jazz group "Freemprovisations" (sic!) with trumpeter Peter Schärli and guest artists – ranging from duo to quartet, following the (slightly cynical, I guess) DADA motto: “if anybody in the audience is still there after the concert, we have failed...”
  1979: establishes the quintet "IMPETUS" and recorded the first LP "Opening Seed" with a very unusual line-up (violin, recorder, saxophone, marimba, guitar, bass-guitar, drums, piano and e-piano)
  1980-1984: member of "Mohrenkopf", a 15-piece band playing afro-jazz along the lines of Charlie Haden‘s "Liberation Orchestra" and the "Brotherhood of Breath"
  1980-1982: trio "Triumbajo" with Prem Ushma (violin, recorders) and Barni Palm (tabla, assorted Indonesian percussion)
  1982 (-1989): starts his 7-year-collaboration with Swiss saxophonist Urs Leimgruber, which resulted in 4 duo CDs ("M.A.P. - Music for Another Planet", the last one, also featuring Norma Winstone)
  1983: second LP "Down to Earth" with quintet "IMPETUS" with Marco Käppeli (dr), Prem Ushma (violin, alto recorder), Thomas Dürst (b) and Jürg Burkhard (alto sax)
  1984: two months series of duo concerts (3 sets every night) in Berlin with singer Corin Curschellas at the legendary pub "Max & Moritz" (where the West-German Communist Party DKP was founded), just beside the Berlin Wall
  1985: "Les extrèmes se touchent" – a one month series of quintet concerts (every night) in Berlin (Oranienplatz) with singer Corin Curschellas, Michael Rodach (guitar), BassAchim (bg) and Peter Hollinger (dr) – urban punk jazz with Rhaeto-Romanic lyrics (this is the 4th and least known language spoken in Switzerland, in Grison)
  1986: jazz sextet N.N. with Hans Kennel (tp, flh, alphorn, büchel), Christy Doran (guitars), Thomas Eckert (cl, bcl), Marco Cerletti (bg, Chapman stick) and Fritz Hauser (dr)
  1988: lives in New York City for 6 months, in Greenwich Village near Washington Square, resulting in my first solopiano album "The Beauty of Fractals"
  1988: records and releases duo CD "Entupadas" with singer Corin Curschellas on the Swiss "Creative Works Records" label
  1988: records duo CD "Henceforward" with guitarist Christy Doran
  1988: marries Béatrice Schmidlin, a Swiss pianist (strictly classical)
  1989: founds quartet "PAGO LIBRE" with Steve Goodman (USA, violin), Lars Lindvall (Sweden, tp and flh) and Daniele Patumi (Italy, double bass). A first album is recorded for the Italian "Splasc(h)" label
  1989: quartet "esa" with Christy Doran (g), Urs Leimgruber (ss, ts) and Steve Argüelles (dr). Performs live at the Montreux Jazz Festival
  1990: puts together a 13-piece big band called "Creative Works Orchestra" featuring Corin Curschellas (voc), Lindsay Cooper (bassoon, sss), Steve Argüelles (dr), Burhan Oeçal (perc), Wolfgang Puschnig (as, ss, fl), Bernd Konrad (as, bs), Eckard Koltermann (ss, bs), Peter Schärli (tp, flh), Lars Lindvall (tp, flh), Steve Goodman (violin), David Gattiker (v‘cello), Daniele Patumi (b). Performed live at Willisau Jazz Festival
  1990: first duo concert with Daniele Patumi in East-Berlin (just after the fall of the wall)
  1990: solopiano concert tour in the Ukraine
  1991: is invited to live in Japan through a fellowship of the "Hida Global Institute of Human Art" in Takayama. This results in the second solopiano album "Iritations" and solo concerts in Japan
  1991: Austrian violinist Tscho Theißing replaces Steve Goodman in "Pago Libre", who moves back to the USA
  1991: invited to the “Accents” new music festival in Dublin, Ireland
  1991: another orchestra, called "SinFONietta", this time with singer Gabriele Hasler, Lindsay Cooper (bassoon, sopranino sax), Joachim Litty (as), Thomas Eckert (cl, bcl), Tscho Theißing (violin), Micheal Rodach (g), Lars Lindvall (tp, flh), Daniele Patumi (b), Alex Cline (dr, perc). Performed live at the International Music Festival Lucerne
  1992: their first daughter Móreen is born. His first composition after her birth are the "Happy Birthday Variations" – nine hilarious variations in the style of J.S.Bach, W.A.Mozart, Frédéric Chopin, Claude Debussy, Erik Satie, George Gershwin, Béla Bartók and Arvo Pärt (edition pan 34, Zurich 1992)
  1993: his first duo album "TEN ZENTENCES" with Daniele Patumi is released on the German "Bellaphon" label and is immediately voted "miglior disco del anno" by Piero Amari, MusicaJazz magazine, Italy
  1993: a fellowship of the Swiss "BINZ39" art foundation enables him for the first timeto return to Ireland for an extended period of time to study and work at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Co.Monaghan, digging up his ancient Celtic roots among others, and resulting in his third solopiano album (and last of the blue trilogy) "Text, Context, Co-Text & Co-Co-Text", which receives its world premiere in Coleraine, Northern Ireland
  1994: Russian horn virtuoso Arkady Shilkloper joins "Pago Libre". The first concert in this line-up in the jazzclub "Porgy & Bess" in Vienna is met with critical acclaim
  1994: "OrganIC VoICes" with German singer Gabriele Hasler, recorded in various churches (with pipe organ), is released on the British “Leo Records” label
  1995: their second daughter Enya is born
  1995: New York flutist Robert Dick joins the Brennan/Patumi duo – the trio "Aurealis" is born
  1995: solo piano recitals in Moscow and St.Petersburg
  1995: first performance of his "Euratorium" for choir, orchestra and alphorn solo in Stadtcasino Basel, with soloist Hans Kennel (alphorn)
  1996: extensive tour in Russia with "Pago Libre". The second album, simply entitled "Pago Libre", is released on “Bellaphon” and hailed as "Album of the Year 1996" by Jürg Meilicke in the German magazine "Jazzthetik", Munich
  1996: is invited to the "Ireland and its Diaspora" festival at the Frankfurt Book Fair to perform "Text, Context, Co-Text & Co-Co-Text"
  1997: invited to live in London thanks to a fellowship by the Swiss art foundation Landis & Gyr. This six months residence in the East End results in the new solopiano album "The Well-Prepared Clavier" and the sextet "HeXtet" with Julie Tippetts, Evan Parker, Paul Rutherford, Chris Cutler and Peter Whyman (both released 1998)
  1997: "Moskau-Petuschki" (after Wenedikt Jerofejev) and "Felix-Szenen" (after Robert Walser), two works for the theatre, are released on "Leo Records"
  1997: records "Ent/ropo/logy" with Eddie Prévost (perc) and Simon Picard (tenor sax)
  1997: performs with Elton Dean, Simon Picard and Mark Sanders in London
  1997: invited by British flutist Nicky Heinen and Russian bassoonist Alexander Alexandrov to record "Nisajo" trio music
  1997: works with Swiss percussionist Margrit Rieben and Reto Senn (cl, bcl, taragot) in the trio "MinuteAge"
  1998: Canada/USA tour with "Trio Aurealis", concerts in Sicily
  1998: concerts with "Pago Libre" feat. Hans Kennel (tp, flh, alphorn)
  1998: composes new music for the glockenspiel at the Swiss Centre, Leicester Square, London, premiered on September 21
  1998: performs concerts with American composer and bassclarinettist Gene Coleman and Swiss drummer Christian Wolfarth
  1998: performs concerts with American drummer Chris Massey, Carlos Baumann (tp, flh) and Giancarlo Nicolai (el. guitar)





What do you consider your best albums and why?
(Please give full name of albums along with UK/US or other label, and wether available on CD)

For the proverbial lonely island, I would choose the following "10 best" of my albums, ll available on CD (in the UK: via ReR Megacorp, London; in the USA, via Cadence, Redwood, New York):


The Well-Prepared Clavier

solopiano & one duo w/ Marianne Schroeder (p)

part I of the yellow trilogy

feat. Kuryokhin memorial recital live at the Queen Elisabeth Hall, London, May 1997

"Selection Swiss Radio International" SRI, Berne,
July 1998

Creative Works
CW 1032



because this work sums up a lifetime of all sorts of prepared and unprepared sounds, inside and outside of the piano and the traditional harmonies, counterpoints and rhythms – and the two live concerts (Moscow, London) add a whole new dimension to my work



Through the Ear of a Raindrop

w/ Julie Tippett (voc), Peter Whyman (bcl), Evan Parker (ss, ts), Paul Rutherford (tb), Chris Cutler (dr).

8 Poems and 5 echoes by Seamus Heaney, E.A.Poe, Paula Meehan, Theo Dorgan, Julie Tippetts,Tom Paulin and William Shakespeare

Leo Records
CD LR 254



because I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to play with these great players, especially Julie Tippetts inimitable voice, and the re-interpretation of these highly personal poems



T r i o A u r e a l i s

w/ Robert Dick (fl) & Daniele Patumi (b)

"Challening, but highly satisfying modern jazz"" Bill Tilland, "option", March/April 1998

"Sheer pleasure – conceptionally daring music" Bill Shoemaker, "JazzTimes", June 98

"Selection Swiss Radio International" SRI, Berne, December 1997

victo cd 052,



because the flute has never sounded the same after Robert‘s array of technical wizardry and mind-blowing inventions



Moskau-Petuschki / Felix-Szenen

w/ Tscho Theißing (vio), Marion Namestnik (vio), Martin Mayes (frh, hand-horn), Lars Lindvall (flh, tp) & Daniele Patumi (b)

"Einer der eigenständigsten und eigenwilligsten Schweizer im Grenzbereich zwischen Jazz und zeitgenössischer E-Musik... mit einer Klangsprache, die einen unweigerlich in ihren Bann zieht.", Hanspeter Vetsch, Schweizer Illustrierte 4/98

Leo Records



because of more than 40 works for theatre, only 2 made it on to an album, and I think they are among my best. Russian writer Wenedikt Jerofejew (Moskau-Petuschky) and Swiss writer Robert Walser write extreme literature - their work is highly recommended



P a g o L i b r e

w/ Arkady Shilkloper (frh), Tscho Theißing (violin) & Daniele Patumi (b)

"Platte des Jahres 1996", Jörg Meilicke, "Jazzthetik" Nr.12/96

"Witziges kammermusikalisches Konzept mit vielen Sound-Variationen ...übertrifft jede Erwartung", Gerd Filtgen, "STEREO" 7/96, München

"Eine Fundgrube...eine Offenbarung" Nick Liebmann, "NZZ", Zürich

L+R 45105



because Pago Libre remains my main working group over nearly 10 years now



Shooting Stars & Traffic Lights

w/ Alex Cline (dr,perc), John Voirol (ss, ts), Tscho Theißing (v) & Daniele Patumi (b)

"Brennans bisher stärkstes Album", Peter Bürli, "dissonanz" Nr.44, 5/95

L+R 45090



because of the group interplay, Alex Cline‘s incredibly beautiful percussion work and the good feeling about this project with my Pago Libre pals Tscho Theißing and Daniele Patumi as well as Swiss saxophonist John Voirol



H e n c e f o r w a r d

w/ Christy Doran (guitars)

"Moderne Erzähler - meisterhaft", Karl Lippegaus, "STEREO" Nr.2/96

Leo Records



because the unusual and highly improbable combination of two harmonic instruments really works here – thanks to the Irish roots ?


Text, Context, Co-Text & Co-Co-Text

solopiano - part III of the blue trilogy

"Countdown to ecstasy", Cian Gleeson, "Sunday Times", London

"Ekstase mit Kalkül", Urs Mattenberger, "LNN", 7.12.94

Creative Works
CW 1025



because of the background context in literature (which I feel very close to), the lyricism and the fine balance between the abstract and the concrete material




w/ Daniele Patumi (b)

"Miglior disco del anno ‘93", Piero Amari, "MusicaJazz" Nr.1/94

L+R 45066



because very few musical friendships turn out to be as magic, visionary and telepathic as this


The Beauty of Fractals

solopiano - part I of the blue trilogy

"Creative, tasteful & frequently complex music. The 16 pieces are superb recording – imaginative rambling with an experimental bent", "Factsheet Five", Los Angeles, 5/90

"Exquisite subtleties, thundering basslines", Jason Weiss, "Jazzforum", Warsaw

Creative Works
CW 1021



because in the life of a musician, there‘s only one "first solo album", and that‘s it... it reflects the power of the "wonderful catastrophe" (Le Corbusier) of New York City, and features 5 or 6 real "ditties" – songs which are unashamed to be beautiful, children‘s songs, hummable tunes



Favourite musicians on your instrument(s):

Generally, my phrasing, timing, melody-building and intonation was probably more influenced by non-piano players – guitarists such as John McLaughlin, Jimi Hendrix, Fred Frith, Robert Fripp, Eric Clapton or Allan Holdsworth (great for his voicings!); saxophonist like Evan Parker, John Coltrane, John Zorn, John Surman; singers like Annette Peacock, Julie Tippetts, Norma Winstone, Lauren Newton; drummers like Paul Motian, Bill Bruford, Peter Erskine; bassists like Dave Holland, Mark Dresser, Charlie Haden, Gary Peacock; and trumpeters like Miles Davis, Dave Douglas or Kenny Wheeler.

Sharing my musical work between (classical) composition and (jazz) improvisation, and getting more and more involved in an area b e t w e e n the two realms (we might call it "comprovisation"), my sense of form, timbre, rhythm and harmony comes from the classical fields, especially from studying the music of composers like Béla Bartók, John Cage, Györgi Kurtag, Henry Cowell, Erik Satie, Harry Partch, Benjamin Britten, Alban Berg, Charles Ives, Györgi Ligeti, Alfred Schnittke, Edison Denisov, Harrison Birtwistle, Heinz Holliger, Luciano Berio, Helmut Lachenmann, Wolfgang Rihm, Klaus Huber

But of course, I also have my favourite jazz pianists:
Bill Evans, John Taylor, Gordon Beck, (early) McCoy Tyner, Keith Tippett, Keith Jarrett, Carla Bley, Gil Evans (the latter two also as composer/arranger).

I also very much believe in the art of good song writing. I know that in some "hard-core" free improvising circles or at some festivals of new classical music, you‘d be stoned for saying this, but I freely admit that I enjoy very much listening to songs by the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Cassandra Wilson, (early) Al Jarreau, Sting, early Elton John (no kiddin‘!), The Police, Frank Zappa, Robert Wyatt, Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin, (early) David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, Jack Bruce, Susanne Vega, Pat Metheny (I know some of you will kill me for this...), Steve Winwood, John Martyn, Paul Brady, Marie Brennan, Christy Moore, Bonzo Dog Band, Prefab Sprout, Bob Dylan, The Nits, Crowded House, Fay Lovsky, Zap Mama, Tom Waits, Steely Dan



Name two or three other instrumentalists or composer/arrangers who have been a particular inspiration to you:

Paul Bley (his trio 1961 with Jimmy Guiffre and Steve Swallow)

Mike Westbrook (The Cortège 1982, William Blake Songbook, Mama Chicago)

John Surman (Upon Reflection 1979) 



CH-6353 Weggis