The history of jazz in Luxembourg is a long process. Imported by American soldiers during the First World War, this very particular musical style quickly found its place in the Grand Duchy. Let's go and meet some of the talents who made jazz emerge in Luxembourg.
Ernie Hammes - trumpeter with a double life
One of Luxembourg's greatest jazzmen is undoubtedly trumpeter Ernie Hammes. With his own band mixing jazz with Latin sounds, he has become an ambassador of the post-bop movement throughout the world. He has played in prestigious clubs such as the Blue Note and Birdland in New York, Ronnie Scott's Club in London, the Basement in Sydney and at jazz festivals in Montreux, Den Haag and Toronto.
This authentic trumpet virtuoso has performed with countless other musical greats, including the Supremes, Paul Anka and orchestras such as the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, the BBC Wales Symphony Orchestra and, of course, the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. With the Maynard Ferguson & Big Bop Nouveau he has performed as a soloist or lead trumpeter in more than 25 countries.
But why the trumpet? His parents didn't give him this passion, because they are not musicians at all, says Ernie Hammes. He discovered the instrument himself at an early age. At the age of eight he took music theory lessons and continued at the Esch Conservatory until the age of 18 before studying jazz at the Hague Conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music.
'For me, jazz means the freedom to create something new'
The other musical activity that marks Ernie Hammes' career is that of military music. Since 1987 he has been the first trumpet in the Grand Ducal Military Band.
For Ernie Hammes, classical music and jazz are not compatible and he has always fought against it. That's why he started playing jazz at the age of 15. "Doing classical music was not enough for me. I wanted to try everything, I wanted to play more. To have the freedom to improvise, to write lyrics or do something that isn't on a sheet of paper."
In 2019, Ernie Hammes set the Grand Duke's birthday to music. Entitled Regiis ostium (Royal overture) for symphonic orchesté ra and choir, the four-minute composition was performed by the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra at the opening of the official National Day ceremony at the Philharmonie.
For the record ...
Ernie Hammes was born in 1968 and since launching his career has recorded seven albums under his own name and is featured on 40 other recordings of all genres.
His latest album Evolution features his own quartet with guests Philip Catherine on guitar and Wayne Escoffery on tenor saxophone. For this album he also wrote arrangements for a ten-piece string section.
Michel Reis - full-time pianist
Who would have thought it? It was his father, a jazz fan but not a musician, who started his music career. Michel Reis told us that his father made him listen to the first jazz records and that it was then that he developed a passion for this music.
In love with melodies and rhythms, the young pianist went to study in Boston, at the renowned Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music.
But as time went by, it was not only his studies that took him abroad but above all his concerts that took him all over the world.
The pianist is usually well surrounded, whether in a trio or a quartet. With his acolytes Marc Demuth and Paul Wiltgen, Michel Reis forms the Reis-Demuth-Wiltgen triangle, with the formation piano, bass, drums. The story, which began at a high school party in 1998, has soared in 2011. Praised from its first album in 2013, the talented trio is now one of the musical attractions in the Grand Duchy and beyond. It is even exported very well, as the band has many concert halls around the world jamming. The three musicians travel between Luxembourg and New York, and are often on tour on the Asian continent. Even the famous saxophonist Joshua Redman, with whom Michel Reis has collaborated as a soloist, has praised the Luxembourg group.
In recent years, Michel Reis has succeeded in putting his unique signature on the demanding world of jazz and has established himself as an internationally renowned artist. He has collaborated with artists such as Vince Mendoza, Didier Lockwood, Richard Bona and many others. Since 2005 he has released ten albums and his latest, the eleventh album entitled Short Stories, is the second on the Italian label CAMJazz.
Michel Reis has performed on the international scene in the most important venues and festivals in the world such as the Blue Note Jazz Club, the Olympia in Paris, the Casa de Musica in Porto, the Panama Jazz Festival and the Montreux Jazz Festival.