Nicole Johänntgen

Nicole Johänngten Photo
Nicole Johänngten, Photo: Ayumi Kagitani


Nicole Johänntgen (* September 4, 1981) is a German jazz musician and composer.

Nicole Johänntgen was born in 1981 in Quierschied, Saarland, Germany. She grows up in Fischbach surrounded by nature. Music plays an important social role in her family circle. The whole family spends a lot of time at the neighbouring Dachsbau Ranch and celebrates music festivals with lots of live country music. The father, master locksmith, plays guitar, trombone and sings. Nicole’s brother is a pianist. And the mother likes to dance and sing along. Her first instrument is the piano. In her early years, she was interested in classical piano literature and later switched from piano to saxophone without forgetting classical music. In her father’s group, the Joe Fuchs Band, Nicole Johänntgen plays live jazz to dance music for the first time with the saxophone. Piano lessons were her inspiration for the classical music world and with the saxophone new paths in music opened up for her. Both resonate in her musical expression to this day.

Her participation in the Saarland Youth Jazz Orchestra ignited her great passion for improvisation and free playing in the 90s. A short time later she founded her first own band called “Nicole Jo.” with her brother Stefan Johänntgen, drummer Elmar Federkeil and Christian Konrad on bass. Needs 2B Funky”. Jazz leads her to study at the University of Performing Arts and Music in Mannheim. There she dedicates herself intensively to her saxophone and studies jazz/popular music and composition/arrangement. During this time and until today her great idols are Cannonball Adderly and John Coltrane. Only at the age of nineteen she discovered John Coltrane and the sound of the soprano saxophone.

During her studies in Mannheim she was part of the international jazz meeting of the jazz schools “IASJ” in Heslinki. In 2003 she was selected as lead saxophonist for the European Swinging Orchestra. In the same year Nicole Johänntgen is invited to play as the only European musician in the American further education program “Sisters in Jazz”. From then on she is invited as a soloist for tours in France by the Remi Panossian Trio and in the Netherlands by the Rembrandt Frerichs Trio.

In 2005 Nicole Johänntgen moved to Switzerland and worked as a freelance musician. For her there is not one musical style. There are only musical colours, which she uses. The saxophonist sets silent films to music in Switzerland for the silent film institute “IOIC” and is part of the China tour.

She is involved in the JazzBaragge association and is head of the press department there. JazzBaragge organizes the Zurich Jazz Jam Session every Wednesday. In 2016 Nicole Johänntgen receives the studio scholarship of the city of Zurich Culture and moves to New York. A very important and instructive time for Nicole Johänntgen. She takes saxophone lessons with the American saxophonist Sam Newsome, who is known for his expressive soprano saxophone playing and his special sounds. She deepens her knowledge of odd time signatures with the Indian tabla player Samir Chatterjee.

She takes part in a percussion workshop for African rhythms in Brooklyn. As an extension to her profession Nicole Johänntgen completes the first level of “Martial Arts” at the “CHKA Schule” and a clown workshop with Daniel Passer in Manhatten. These activities have an impact on her future work in Europe.

With her return to Switzerland she plays engagements with the magician Jamil and the renowned protest guitarist and cabaret artist Piet Klocke. From this time on she mixes music with other styles such as art, literature and magic.

Nicole Johänntgen is committed to female musicians from the jazz and improvisation scene. Every two years she organizes the music business workshop SOFIA Support Of Female Improvising Artists in Zurich. This workshop is about learning self-management and networking among female musicians. Her goal is to get more female jazz musicians on stage.

Nicole Johänntgen is booked as a lecturer for music and business workshops in Switzerland and abroad. She plays concerts worldwide and has received seven international jazz awards. Nicole Johänntgen now lives with her family in Zuerich.

Nicole Johänntgen is a versatile musician. This is a result of her broad musical education on piano and saxophone. She is always open for new ways in music and is inspired by walks, birdsong and social activities. In close cooperation with her brother Stefan Johänntgen, keyboarder of her band, she learns the craft of saxophone recording and delivers saxophone tracks for DJs and musicians internationally. She produces her own CDs and founded her own label “Selmabird Records” three years ago.

Nicole Jo
She has been playing together with her first band “Nicole Jo. needs 2B funky” since 1998. The sound has changed over the years. From initial funk beats to groove jazz with film music character. Her brother Stefan Johänntgen handles the keyboards and the sounds. Together with his sister Nicole he sets the “space mood”, accompanied by Philipp Rehm’s crisp bass riffs and Elmar Federkeil’s drumbeats. The band name will become Nicole Jo in 2011.

Nicole Johänntgen is invited worldwide as a soloist. Concert tours take her to Indonesia, China, Malaysia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, France, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and USA.

New York
During her time in America in 2016 she will attend jam sessions and record her first CD in Brooklyn with musicians she meets during her time in New York. The album is called Robin and has not been released until now. The recording deals with rhythms. The line-up with electric bass, voice, drums, saxophone and lots of percussion does not contain a harmony instrument.

New Orleans
Her trip to America also takes her to New Orleans. A momentous time. Nicole is immediately inspired by the local music scene and lets herself be inspired by the rhythms and energy. She realizes her second recording session in New Orleans with Paul Thibodeaux drums, Steven Glenn Sousaphon and Jon Ramm Trombone. Only through friends Nicole found her musicians. All of them met for the first time on the studio stage in New Orleans and recorded the joint album Henry within three hours. This recording gave Nicole many new opportunities to perform in Europe. The sound is minimalistic, acoustic and driven by New Orleans charm. It rumbles and blows from all corners. Not only that. Henry also reflects natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

Peter Finc & Nicole Johänntgen
Swiss guitarist and singer Peter Finc is known for his percussive and sensitive playing and singing. Both met a few years ago in a small bar in Zurich. She joins in as a guest soloist and the music of both of them convinces with its concentrated charge of energy. This is followed by several tours through Austria, Switzerland and Germany.

In 2019 Nicole Johänntgen will get to know her saxophone from a completely new side. It is about the confrontation of space and sound. She records her first solo album in 2019 in Zurich’s Andreaskirche. The building is a monolith and has a reverb of five seconds. The church’s reverberation changes the way the music is played and the flow of the music. Meditative and intense.

Nicole Johänntgen will always float between the worlds and this is the name of one of her new compositions, which she will record in Winterthur in December 2019 with the support of Swiss radio SRF 2. The sound of the Swiss band wanders between Oxident and Orient with the Egyptian oud player Nehad El Sayed, the Austrian bassist Philipp Moll and the Zurich percussionist Andi Pupato. The result is an album with lots of temperament and depth. The CD will be released in 2021.

2017 - Composition competition for the 25th anniversary of the Jazzclub Moods (Zurich)
2016 - 1st annual international online 7 Virtual Jazz Club contest
2015 - Scholarship New York of the city of Zurich
2015 - JTI Trier Jazz Award
2011 - Concours International de Solistes de Jazz, Monaco
2006 - Concours de jeunes soliste de jazz, Fribourg
2003 - European Yamaha Sax Contest, Berlin

Current Album

Nicole Johänntgen - Henry III

Nicole Johänntgen - Henry III

Nicole Johänntgen - saxophone, composition
Jon Ramm - trombone
Steven Glenn - sousaphone
Paul Thibodeaux - drums

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Saxophonist Nicole Johänntgen recorded the new album on tape during a live concert at Domicil Pforzheim. Quite in the old manner. Nostalgia comes up. You can feel how familiar and eager to play the four musicians are.

Henry has developed into a dynasty; the current owner bears the title Henry III. His empire is the oldest of its genre: jazz à la New Orleans. The grandson is unmistakably a child of his musical ancestors, especially the founder of the Henry dynasty: Her Ladyship Nicole I.

Short history
Darkly, the frequencies of sousaphone (a kind of portable tuba) and trombone resound with earthy warmth. The tones feed from the depths and lay that power in the music against which the other instruments have to measure themselves, which do not come close to the sound full of boom. For the low-pitched instruments define the traditional two-bar New Orleans necessary. The indispensable snare and bass drums then define sufficiently. In the past, this also required two men for drumming. Precisely because the New Orleans style "constituted" itself as a street or marching band. So walking, also marching - one, two, one, two - and playing cool or hot. Today - in the sense of a rationalized way of playing - Paul Thibodeaux has to trouble his snare drum alone.

Here & Now
The saxophone was not originally included at all. Consequently, we have here a real break with tradition when Nicole Johänntgen puts her alto saxophone at the service of the New Orleans style. The alto is then responsible for the airy sequences, the melodic expressions, it refreshes the sound with high as well as bright timbres including the female emancipation of the genre. How can the Louisiana sound - after its more than 100-year history - sound updated? And how does this jazz sound in the "small" quartet? One thing should be anticipated. The music of Henry III really puts you in a good mood.

The titles in detail.

Striding à la New Orleans
The bass hums softly, the drums beat cautiously, leaving the theme to the others. Now the trombone and the alto meet in an interplay, permanently throwing the balls to each other: Blow a note. Yes, I will, but now you. And so it goes on... at first deliberately, then increasingly more agitated. The life theme sounds a bit melancholic.

Too Loose
Drums and Sousa start quietly. Staccato beat as well as melody make the beginning with a touch of November blues. The harmonic events take shape in the dialogue between trombone and saxophone, which act according to the call and response principle. One of them leads, the other follows, then everything in reverse. Bass and drums play their part unflinchingly, not letting anything stop them from their rhythm. At the end the wind instruments agree on harmonies played in unison.

Funky & Fun
This already starts dancing. A blown touch of disco fox - one, two, tap - plus a strong breeze of funky Louisiana waft over. The trombone shows the way. Now the alto joins in and both improvise together in a collective - occasionally in a collective low, then in a collective high. The drums replace a whole marching band. In the old days in this country - when there were still brass bands - this was called a Spielmannszug. Spielfrauenzüge were almost non-existent - that has changed, as have the current names for them.

The snare drum rattles off, the bass follows, both always in front, encouraging the brass to join in. They don't let themselves be asked for long and lay down a nice horn section: an accentuated motif, a briefly blown rhythmic riff. There's catchy soul in the loops of the horns, plus a dash of funk. Then there are poignant solos from bass and drums that last longer. Then, after repeating the melodic motif, it's over.

Sweet and Honest
Ballad-like tones to start. Alone, only the lines of the alto saxophone are heard. The sax introduces the theme, the band joins in. Bass and trombone provide the ostinato figure for the singing alto. Then the sousaphone alone has to give the beat, the trombone moves into the camp of improvisation ..... Because this works so well, there is another ball toss of trombone brass and wood. Now the sousaphone can be heard solo: this is bass sound that carries everything away, that grabs everyone, that thunders like a musical galaxy of its own. A double bass can't keep up with this depth and heaviness. That's why there is none.

Ballads or songs for a good night's sleep, also known as lullabies and much sought after. Yes, the falling asleep thing probably won't work out that way, because you want to keep listening to the music. And then you do fall asleep.

Swinging two-beats
It swings nicely: good mood, good atmosphere. The beat soon becomes swinging in the style of a funky beat. Again bass Steven Glenn blows the figures out of his body and soul - hard work. If there should be a working class in jazz, then that: Tubists and sousaphonists. Without their breath of hot and cool, nothing works. The music stands still... if that's what your strong breath wants. Now the sound sounds like witches' Sabbath - organic and sustainable? Maybe, but certainly jazzy, 100% current New Orleans.

It usually blows from the front, here it blows - driving the music ahead - from behind. A classic genre rhythm, the horns drop in, the theme flashes, then Jon Ramm's trombone is allowed to blast fanfares into the air. Again a teasing row play is announced. One, two bars and it's the next one's turn, the next one can take over. This is now Nicole Johänntgen, who in the best sax manner - tight, staccato, bleating blowing - makes her way through the theme, gives vent to her ideas. The playing animates the whole band into an unleashed frenzy of wild collective improvisation. A drum solo bridges the gap until the theme is played again, the airstream dissipating.

Dig Deep
Play leisurely, pace with deliberation, just don't get scared, because this ballad is filled with disturbing melancholy. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, it sounds beautifully sad- sadly beautiful. A classic song for every funeral - at least for the way there. For the way back the other tracks are more suitable. Big Deep - That's Tradition, That's Modern Sound of Henry III. As a reward there's a polyphonic singing - that's almost too much of a good thing.

Text: Cosmo Scharmer


  • Henry III, 2021
  • Solo, 2019
  • NICOLE JO – 20, 2018
  • Nicole Johänntgen – Henry, 2016
  • Nicole Johänntgen – Sisters in Jazz, 2016
  • Nicole Johänntgen & Peter Finc – Live, 2015
  • Nicole Johänntgen – Moncaup, 2015
  • NICOLE JO – Colours, 2014
  • NICOLE JO – Go On, 2011
  • Nicole Jo. needs 2B funky – 4ever, 2007

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