Bolero Berlin – Chamber Music, Philharmonic, and Latin Jazz

Bolero Berlin – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Last night was another evening of outstanding music in Berlin! Bolero Berlin performed at the Berlin Philharmonic and finding a group of musicians with more charm or talent would be difficult!

Martin Stegner Viola –

After becoming “enchanted and inspired by melancholic, mysterious, sensual Cuban bolero,” violist Martin Stegner created the Bolero Berlin ensemble. The popular group fuses chamber music and philharmonic with Latin American jazz creating their own exceptional sound.


The “warm, dark, soft sound that characterizes Cuban bolero appeals to the viola player in particular.”


Esko Laine, Contra-Bass – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Philharmonic Meets Jazz

Martin Stegner plays viola with the Philharmonic, and Bolero Berlin includes three of his “like-minded orchestral colleagues”:

In addition, the ensemble has two incredible internationally known jazz performers:

Bolero Berlin Solos

Each musician performed solos demonstrating mastery of their instruments. The stunning solos were fully appreciated by the audience.

Preis’s mastery of his four instruments is amazing. Stegner’s bolero takes your heart and mind on a Latin vacation. Esko Laine’s solo during a composition inspired by Duke Ellington blew the audience away, and it was a delight watching Gioia flawlessly play a myriad of exotic Latin percussion instruments.

Daniel “Topo” Gioia, Percussion –

During an encore, guitarist Nieberle surprised the audience by playing a gorgeous ukulele solo – evoking big sounds from the instrument. Raphael Haeger held everything together with his impeccable piano skills and accompanied Gioia on drums during a Latin percussion tambourine solo.

Bolero Berlin – iTunes

In addition to their distinguished careers as musicians, Bolero Berlin members are also composers and teachers. They perform with other artists and have won many awards.


“We look forward to every concert and have a relaxed, respectful approach. Nothing has changed in ten years.”   Martin Stegner Bolero Berlin


Raphael Haeger, Piano and Drums – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

The group’s goal is “surprising listeners with familiar melodies in an unfamiliar sound”. Because jazz and classical are so different, in the beginning some wondered if the concept would work.

Bolero Berlin – © 2018 Hagke. Music Management

Clearly the music does work, and their audiences love them! The concert last night celebrates their 10th anniversary performing together. They’ve perfected Latin American music in philharmonic sound while complimenting each other superbly.

Bolero Berlin – Photo Alba Falchi

For their anniversary program, Helmut Nieberle arranged music combining tracks from Consuelo Velázquez’s Besamé Mucho, Django Reinhardt’s Troublant Boléro, Duke Ellington, and tango master Astor Piazzolla with operatic melodies from Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto and Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser. The result was absolute heaven!

Manfred Preis, Clarinet and Saxophone – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

I regret not being able to understand Stegner’s German narrative which amused the audience and created laughter. The program was in German, but the compositions played were originals inspired by contemporary and classical artists and composers.

I especially liked their tango music and reminisced about a Piazzolla Tango Performance in Buenos Aires several years ago. The evening featured the traditional songs of Astor Piazzolla, the world’s foremost tango music composer.

Helmut Nieberle, Guitar © Arvo Wichmann


“Classical concert organizers don’t dare offer jazz sounds to their audience, while jazz organizers doubt whether philharmonic musicians get the right groove for jazz and Latin American music.”


Bolero Berlin’s performance was a memorable evening! You must hear them in person to appreciate their talent and incredible sound. After rousing applause and two amazing encores, the audience still didn’t want to let them go!

Berlin Jazz Clubs and Émile Parisien Quartet

Mike Russell’s Funky Soul Kitchen at Quasimodo –

With so much happening in Berlin deciding where to go and what to do gets complicated. Berlin’s jazz clubs are a perfect nighttime venue for me. The atmosphere is comfortable and friendly – the music fantastic! Most clubs are small and fill up fast, so the challenge is booking a space before performances sell out.

Gauthier Toux Trio Live at b-flat – Peter C Theis

Booking Jazz Performances

There are a few helpful local websites – Jazzity and Guide to the Jazzy Side of Berlin – but they don’t book your ticket for you… Jazz clubs don’t always take credit cards or have apps that allow you to book performances and download tickets on your phone.

Quasimodo – MyCityHighlight

If you can’t book in advance, the only choice is to show up and hope for the best. If you make a reservation but don’t arrive on time to pay – they sell your space.

Jazz Club A-Trane – Kauperts

Most evenings those with and without reservations line up outside popular jazz clubs. Box offices open 30 – 60 minutes before the performance begins.

I’ve visited these Berlin jazz clubs and describe them below:

  • A-Trane International Jazz Club
  • b-flat Acoustic Music + Jazz Club
  • Quasimodo
  • Junction Live Music Club

Prince at Quasimodo – Photographer Unknown

A-Trane International Jazz Club

A-Trane in Charlottenburg was founded in 1992. Performances begin at 9 pm and on Saturdays there’s a jam session “Jazz after Midnight”. Occasionally they have an earlier performance. The small club holds a max of 100 guests. It’s a popular JazzFest venue and my favorite club in Berlin!

Some artists who’ve appeared at A-Trane include Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Diana Krall, Dave Grusin, Lee Ritenour, and others. The owner is “Turkish-born ex-graphic artist and basketball player” Sedal Sardan. In 2013 Sedal won the German ECHO music award for jazz promotion. He and his staff help with tickets.

b-flat Berlin Mitte

The club is named after John Coltrane (nicknamed “Trane”), “reminiscent of the unequaled Duke Ellington standard – Take the A Train :o)”!

I saw the Émile Parisien Quartet at A-Trane – a phenomenal performance which I’ll describe later in this post.

A-Trane Owner Sedal Sardan – YouTube

b-flat Acoustic Music + Jazz Club

Popular b-flat is in Mitte District. Two musician brothers – Jannis Zoto and Thanassis Zoto – and actor, producer, writer André Hennecke founded the club in 1995.

Jannis Zotos b-flat – David Beecroft

Architect Claudius Pratsch designed the club’s acoustics. B-flat is known for “diverse and lively” performances. Many well-known artists appear at the club, including Randy Brecker, Joe Sample, Harry Connick Jr., and Brad Mehldau.


Quasimodo in Charlottenburg is one of the “oldest live music clubs on the Berlin cultural landscape”. In 1975 Genoese Giorgio Carioti took over the existing club, renamed it Quasimodo, and made it one of the most important live jazz clubs in Berlin.

Quasimodo – c Quasimodo GmbH

International stars like Branford Marsalis, Prince, and Chaka Khan have appeared at Quasimodo. The club is beneath the Delphi Film Palace and the Quasimodo Restaurant. It’s known as a “musical place of worship for quality jazz, blues, rock, Latin, soul, and funk”.

Giorgio Carioti Quasimodo – Foto Emilio Esbardo


At Quasimodo, “fans from all over the world meet like old friends in a cozy ambiance somewhere between tradition and modernity, united by the music.”


A-Trane – c Foto Pierre Adenis

Junction Live Music Club

Junction is in the heart of Kreuzberg a few blocks from my apartment. After German reunification in 1989, Junction “held its position in Berlin’s nightlife” when other neighborhoods became more popular music venues.

Junction is “divided into two parts” – café and bar (above) and live music club (below). Every night the basement remains “the place for live music” in Berlin.

Jazz Jam Junction Live Music Club – Brixton Buzz


“Jazz, pop, blues, Brasil, rap, and funk – anything goes at the Junction.”


Emile Parisien Quartet – c ACT Sylvaim Gripoix

Émile Parisien Quartet at A-Trane

Last night I saw the Émile Parisien Quartet perform at A-Trane. It was incredible!!! The performance at 9 pm was fully booked, but they had an earlier session, and I was able to get a reservation. What’s even better, I was invited to take a closer seat only a few feet from the musicians! Watching them perform was as exciting as listening to their music.

French saxophonist and composer Émile Parisien is a phenomenon who “lives every moment of his music and makes it dance”.  His talented quartet includes:


“The Parisien Quartet plays music that maybe only French people can. It’s intellectual and nefarious, provocative and witty, anarchic and disciplined.”


Julien Touery © Emmanuelle Vial 2013

Parisien attended Marciac Jazz College and the Conservatory of Toulouse where he studied both classical and contemporary music. He moved to Paris in 2000 and founded his own quartet.

Julien Loutelier –

Parisien performs at festivals like Jazz in Marciac and has played with well-known musicians including Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride, Johnny Griffin, and Bobby Hutcherson. Classical and contemporary composers Hector Berlioz, Igor Stravinsky, Richard Wagner, John Coltrane, and Wayne Shorter inspire his compositions.

Known as a “jazz visionary” Parisien’s many distinctions and awards include:

Ivan Gélugne Bass –


“The reference points on Parisien’s personal musical map are wide. They range from France’s popular folk traditions to the compositional rigour of contemporary classical music and abstract free jazz.”


Emile Parisien Quartet – c ACT Sylvaim Gripoix

The group captured the audience completely and held their attention every minute. A-Trane is a relaxed environment and the animated movements and humor of the musicians were a treat. They played outstanding original compositions written by Parisien and other members of the quartet. It’s clear they’re professionals who love their music deeply and perform from the heart.

Emile Parisien Quartet – c ACT Sylvaim Gripoix

The group just released a new CD – Double Screening – and were signing copies at the club. I’ll return for more A-Trane performances, but none like the Émile Parisien Quartet!

Abdullah Ibrahim Master Musician

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim‘s solo performance at The Fugard last night was captivating! The beautiful piano was setup in a cozy theatre illuminated by soft blue lighting. With almost a sellout performance Ibrahim held delighted jazz enthusiasts captive with 1.5 hours of incredible uninterrupted sets. The distinguished musician’s performance was impeccable. He began with sheet music but quickly pushed it aside and played from his heart and soul.

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim

At 82, Ibrahim’s fascinating life has been full – from his upbringing in Cape Town’s District Six to his political activism, spiritual enlightenment, and friendship with Nelson Mandela, association with other famous jazz artists including Duke Ellington, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and John Coltrane, extensive worldwide tours, and his record and production companies.

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim

“Ibrahim’s solo program Senzo is described as a monumental defining work. It transcends category, combining the intimate and universal in a unique way hinted at in its title. Senzo means ‘Ancestor’ in Chinese and Japanese. The word echoes the name of Ibrahim’s Sotho father, in whose language it translates as ‘Creator’.”

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim

Baptized Adolph Johannes Brand, Ibrahim was born in 1934 in Cape Town. He grew up listening to traditional Khoisan songs, Christian hymns, and gospel tunes.  His grandmother was the pianist for a local Methodist Episcopalian church. His mother was the choirmaster.

Sathima Bea Benjamin

Sathima Bea Benjamin


Ibrahim, who also sings, plays flute, saxophone, and cello, is legendary for solo performances that glide his compositions into long, unbroken sets.




Ibrahim’s mother was from a “coloured” (mixed-race) family. In adulthood he discovered that his Sotho father was murdered. Ibrahim says “There was heavy, simmering racism – anti-African feeling – in our communities. My grandparents gave me their name so I’d be classified as coloured. I thought they were my parents and grew up believing that my mother was my sister. That code of silence was created by the system. I had a lot of bitterness at an early age.”

Cape Town Jazz Orchestra

Cape Town Jazz Orchestra

“The Cape Town of Ibrahim’s childhood was a melting-pot of cultural influences, and exposed the young Dollar Brand, as he became known, to American jazz, township jive, Cape Malay sounds, and classical music. Out of this rich blend of the secular and religious, the traditional and modern, Ibrahim developed a distinctive style, harmonies, and musical vocabulary that are inimitably his own.”

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim

Ibrahim began piano lessons at seven and made his professional début at fifteen. He played bebop with a Cape Town flavor and formed several bands including the Dollar Brand Trio and the Jazz Epistles. Formed in 1959, the Jazz Epistles included saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, trumpeter Hugh Masekela, trombonist Jonas Gwanga, bassist Johnny Gertze, and drummer Makaya Ntshoko – all notable South African musicians. That year, he met and first performed with vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin. They married six years later.

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim


Ibrahim plays an increasing role as an educator in a still deeply traumatized country.


“After the notorious Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, mixed-race bands and audiences were defying increasingly strict apartheid laws. Jazz symbolized resistance, so the government closed a number of clubs and harassed the musicians. These were difficult times for musical development in South Africa. Some members of the Jazz Epistles fled to England with the London musical King Kong and stayed in exile.”

Jazz Epistles

Jazz Epistles

In 1962, with Mandela imprisoned and the ANC banned, Dollar Brand and Sathima Bea Benjamin left the country. Later, Gertze and Ntshoko joined them and the trio took up a three-year contract at the Club Africana in Zürich, Switzerland. There, in 1963, Sathima persuaded Duke Ellington to listen to them play. This led to a recording session in Paris – Duke Ellington presents the Dollar Brand Trio – followed by invitations to perform at key European festivals and on television and radio.”

In 1965, the couple moved to New York and appeared at Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival on the West Coast. In 1966 Dollar Brand led the Ellington Orchestra in five concerts followed by a six-month tour with the Elvin Jones Quartet. In 1967 Ibrahim received a Rockefeller Foundation grant to attend the renowned Julliard School of Music.

Life in the USA gave Ibrahim the opportunity to interact with progressive musicians, including Don Cherry, John Coltrane, Ekaya, and Pharaoh Sanders. In exile Ibrahim introduced his South African sounds to American musicians, including saxophonist Archie Shepp and drummer Max Roach. “Even though he was successful on the club circuit, by his insistence on a South African idiom he disseminated and created an appetite for South African music.”

In 1968 he returned to Cape Town, converted to Islam, and took the name Abdullah Ibrahim. In 1970 he made a pilgrimage to Mecca and then moved his family to Swaziland where he founded a music school. Ibrahim returned to Cape Town in 1973.


District Six was the hotbed of the jazz explosion, a “fantastic city within a city”


Cape Town Jazz Orchestra

Cape Town Jazz Orchestra

In 1974 Ibrahim recorded “Mannenberg – Is where It’s Happening” which soon became an unofficial national anthem for black South Africans. After the Soweto student uprising, in 1976, he organized an illegal ANC benefit concert. Before long he and his family left South Africa and returned to the freedom of New York again.

“In 1990 Nelson Mandela, freed from prison, invited him to come home to South Africa. He reflects the fraught emotions of acclimatizing there again in Mantra Mode (1991), the first recording with South African musicians since 1976, and Knysna Blue (1993). Ibrahim memorably performed at Mandela’s inauguration in 1994.”

Abdullah Ibrahim has been the subject of several documentaries. In 1986 a BBC film Chris Austin’s A Brother with Perfect Timing, and A Struggle for Love by Ciro Cappellari (2004). He has also composed scores for films, including the award-winning soundtrack for Claire Denis’s Chocolat (1988) and Idrissa Ouedraogo’s Tilai (1990).

For over a quarter-century Abdullah Ibrahim has toured the world extensively, appearing at major concert halls, clubs, and festivals. His collaborations with classical orchestras have resulted in acclaimed recordings, such as my favorite African Suite.


Since he first fled South Africa in 1962, Ibrahim’s increasingly spiritual and meditative jazz has won followers across Europe, the US and Japan.


Currently Ibrahim divides his time between Cape Town and New York. In addition to composing and performing, he started a South African production company, Masingita (Miracle), and established a music academy, M7, offering courses in seven disciplines to educate young minds and bodies.

In 2006 he spearheaded the historic creation (backed by the South African Ministry of Arts and Culture) of the Cape Town Jazz Orchestra. “The eighteen-piece big band further strengthens the standing of South African music on the global stage.”

South Africa’s Abdullah Ibrahim is known as “a man of inspiration”.