Sounding like a Mad Hatter: Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky and the Beginnings of Jazz Experimentalism in East Germany

Harald Kisiedu


This article illuminates the beginnings of jazz experimentalism in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) during the 1960s by focusing on one of its critically important proponents: multi-reedist and improviser Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky. I situate Petrowsky’s engagement with jazz experimentalist practices within the context of politico-aesthetic debates surrounding jazz in East Germany that were decisively informed by the notion of socialist realism. Focusing on his work with pianist Joachim Kühn and Ensemble Studio 4, I explore the difficulties these jazz experimentalists faced under the ideological constraints imposed by GDR cultural policy makers during the height of the Cold War. Moreover, emphasizing the conditions in the East German state socialist system, I reconstruct the critical reception of post-war jazz in the GDR and discuss Petrowsky’s engagement with African-American experimentalism during the 1960s.


Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky; Joachim Kühn; Heinz Becker; Experimental Jazz; East Germany; Cold War; Andrei Zhdanov; Socialist Realism

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ISSN: 1712-0624