Darmstadt Jazz Institute

by Mike Hennessey

When you look at the elegant 18th century Bessunger Kavaliershaus, a baroque palais which stands in a beautiful square in Darmstadtís Bessunger Strasse, you would scarcely expect to find within:

40,000 Jazz CDs, LPs, EPs, shellac records, cylinders and tapes

More than 40,000 Jazz periodicals embracing over 800 different titles (including, of course, Crescendo & Jazz Music)

The world's largest computer-based Jazz bibliography

More than 6,000 books on Jazz

One of the world's largest collections of Jazz photographs and posters

Vast quantities of sheet music

But the palais, which was built between 1709 and 1725 and which used to be the setting for the post-hunt parties of Darmstadt's prince, Landgraf Ernst Ludwig, is now the Darmstadt Jazz Institute, a most comprehensive archive of Jazz information and memorabilia which was the first international Jazz centre to be established in Europe and is the third biggest in the world.

(Interestingly, the three leading Jazz institutes all have German connections. The largest Jazz archive is the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, founded as a research centre in 1952 by Marshall Stearns at Hunter College, New York and transferred to Newark in 1966 when it affiliated with Rutgers. Since 1976, the director of the Institute has been Munich-born writer, Dan Morgenstern, who moved to the USA in 1947.

The world's second largest Jazz information centre is the William Ransom Hogan Jazz Archive, located at Tulane University in New Orleans and directed by Bruce Raeburn, son of bandleader Boy Raeburn, whose ancestors hailed from the Flensburg area of Germany).

Founded in 1990, the Darmstadt Institute is financed at a cost of some 300,000 Euros annually, by the City of Darmstadt, a municipality which has an impressive record of support for the arts and which was internationally renowned for the Jugendstil, or Art Nouveau movement, which flourished at the turn of the century. It is also famous for its festivals of contemporary music and for its international holiday courses in modern music, which were inaugurated in 1946.

The city is also very much associated with the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen and Marisio Kagel.

Darmstadt was originally the capital of the state of Hessen, but after heavy allied bombing raids which destroyed 78% of the inner city area and left 12,300 people dead and 70,000 homeless, the state government moved to Wiesbaden.

Director of the Darmstadt Jazz Institute since its inception is Wolfram Knauer, a prolific Jazz writer, critic and musicologist who, in 2002, won the Hesse Jazz Award for his achievement in establishing the Jazz information and documentation centre. (Previous award winners have included saxophonists Heinz Sauer, Emil Mangelsdorff, Ekkehard Jost and Alfred Harth, pianist Bob Degen, bassist Jüergen Wuchner and drummer Ralph Hüebner).

Knauer has written a number of Jazz books, including Jazz And Composition, Jazz In Germany, Jazz And Society and a two-volume study of the Modern Jazz Quartet. He has also written and produced several Jazz programmes for radio, including a four-hour feature on Sidney Bechet, and is a contributor to The New Grove Dictionary Of Jazz.

The award to Knauer also acknowledges his inaugurating the world's only regular scholarly Jazz conference, the Darmstadt Jazz Forum, which brings together scholars from different fields, plus his work in organising workshops and the concert series Jazz Talk, in which Knauer has between-sets discussions with the participating musicians.

The foundation for the creation of the Jazz Institute was laid in 1983 when the city of Darmstadt bought the enormous Jazz archive of the celebrated Jazz writer, producer, promoter and broadcaster, Joachim-Ernst Berendt.

Berendt, who died in a road accident in Hamburg in February 2000 at the age of 77, was known in Germany as "the Pope of Jazz." He was the author of the world's best-selling Jazz volume, The Jazz Book, which sold more than 1.5 million copies. He wrote 32 other books, which were translated into 16 languages, produced more than 250 albums and made more than 10,000 radio broadcasts in his 55-year career.

Originally the Berendt collection was housed in the Internationales Musikinstitut, but in 1990, when the city established the Jazz Institute, it moved to the Bessunger Kavaliershaus and Wolfram Knauer began the unending process of enlarging the archive. The Berendt collection of LPs still represents around 60% of the total.

For Knauer, running the Institute is a full-time job, in which he is assisted by part-time associates, Doris Schrder and Arndt Weidler. In addition to dealing every day with 25 to 30 mailed enquiries from all over the world and attending to the needs of five to ten visitors, the Institute stages regular concerts in its cellar which holds about 80 people and boasts an excellent grand piano. Recent performers in the room have been Al Foster, Ralph Sutton and Kirk Lightsey.

The Institute's Jazz Index, a computer-based bibliography on periodical articles, essays and books, founded by Wolfram Knauer, has proved an invaluable reference source for researchers from all over the world. And it is a source of considerable satisfaction to Knauer that a study programme for Jazz research organised by Rutgers provides that when students are required to write a paper, they first contact Darmstadt to get the relevant bibliography before proceeding with their project.

As the Institute's collection continues to grow, Wolfram Knauer is currently in the process of finding an additional room for the archive, the rent for which, he earnestly hopes, will be provided by the Burgermeister.

The Darmstadt Jazz Institute* is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Fridays.


* Darmstadt Jazz Institute,

Bessunger Strasse 88d,

64285 Darmstadt,


Tel: 49 6151 963700

Fax: 49 6151 963744

Jazz Now Interactive February Vol 13 No. 10 - Table of Contents