Fritz Renold was born in Wettingen, Switzerland. His father played accordion and introduced him to Tango and Dixieland. As a boy clarinetist, Renold played Mozart’s Concerto, “Saints,” gospel, and Beatles songs. He joined the school band at 14 in order to get an alto sax, even though he hated marching bands. He heard Charlie Parker then, but remained unimpressed until, at 18, he joined a big band and played Sammy Nestico’s Basie Book. When he discovered Miles Davis’Funny Valentine and Kinda Blue in the LP bins at Montreux, he was converted to jazz.
Renold flew to Boston and thrived in Berklee College’s international music community. Three ‘audition’ big band scores—Take The A Train, Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Blues For Susy—earned him the Quincy Jones Award, a full scholarship with advanced placement. Since Berklee recommended that he compose, he took every composition course he could, including tuition by Herb Pomeroy, Bob Freedman, Greg Hopkins and Corey Allen. He had Joe Viola andBill Pierce as his saxophone teachers, and was taught improvisation by Gary Burton and John LaPorta among others. Renold graduated in 1987; through 1990 he served as Berklee’s first Swiss faculty member.
In Boston, Renold co-founded a band called Bostonian Friends with Christian Jacob, the world-class French pianist. They debuted at Berklee’s Performance Center, featuring guest percussionist Greg McPherson, sax legend Jerry Bergonzi, bassist Bruce Gertz, and drummer Ian Froman. When manager Ed Keane sent a tape to WCNY-TV’s All American Jazz, it made their Top Ten.
The Bostonian Friends’ first European tour in 1989 led them through Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland. After a 1992 tour brought the Friends back to New York, Washington, and Boston, they cut their first album for EPM [France]. In 1991, EPM signed Bostonian Friends to its first CD, Peace For Africa. “I was glad to have as guests,” says Fritz, “two of my most influential teachers, Jerry Bergonzi and Herb Pomeroy.”
In 1993 Renold toured Switzerland and recorded another CD for EPM with bassist Gildas Boclé, drummer Tommy Campbell, and Bergonzi. On this three-week tour, his Aarau school ensemble played with these American jazz masters. Renold helped form the Jazz Orchestra of Canton Aargau and sent the project band overseas, for learning on the bandstand with “real heavy cats.” This concept blossomed into one of Europe’s biggest and best education camps, Jazzaar Concerts Aarau; the guest list reads like a Who’s Who of Jazz. The event is known today as Jazzaar Festival.
The 1994 Bern Jazz Festival invited Renold to host an international band with Randy Brecker, Miroslav Vitous, Jacob, and Nussbaum, a Bostonian Friends edition that returned annually thereafter. Also in 1994, Swiss National TV produced JazzIn hosted by Peter Jaques, with New York based pianist Mark Soskin. Renold led the show’s band, The Empire State Group, which featured Randy Brecker, Victor Lewis, saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, bassist Harvie S. and others. Renold toured often with top players like Bob Berg, Benny Golson, Randy Brecker, Cecil Bridgewater and Buster Williams, and recorded two albums for Sony Columbia. After many festivals and well-received recordings, Renold marveled “Here we are, twenty years later, with the same rhythm section: Adam, Miroslav, and Christian!” When Renold signed with Sony Music in 1997 as the first Swiss jazz musician on Columbia Records, the Friends made European tours to Glasgow, London, Paris, Bordeaux, Krefeld, Kaiserslautern, Basel, Milano, Vienne, Lustenau and Stuttgart.
The Friends’ second album is about to come out again on Sony/BMG – Columbia Records containing the second 1998 session, with Cecil Bridgewater, Golson, Jacob, Williams, and Jackson.
His writing harks back to his classical influences. Bostonian Friends and the Aargauer Symphonie Orchestra premiered in 1998 the Jacob/Renold collaboration, Helvetic Suite for Jazz Quintet and Symphony at the newly formed Jazzaar festival. Commissioned by Möbel Pfister Stiftung, the 50-minute suite re-enacts scenes from Swiss history. The work caught the ear of Sony Classical’s European CEO Norman Block, who was in the audience.
In 1999 Renold united all the living Ellington band alumni with alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, cast as Johnny Hodges, at Jazzaar. It was the largest assemblage of Ellingtonians during Duke Ellington’s centennial year. The band performed classic Ducal suites: “The Queen’s Suite”, “Far East Suite” and “Such Sweet Thunder”. Eight Ellington alumni filled the brass and rhythm chairs: trumpeters Benny Bailey, Bill Berry (also conductor), Barrie Lee Hall; trombonists Buster Cooper, Art Barron, Britt Woodman; Aaron Bell (as ‘boy pianist’), John Lamb on bass and Charlie Persip on drums. Touring Switzerland, Bill Berry recalled, “The band got back the old spirit of hangin’ in hotel lounges, playin’ til 4 a.m. and almost missing planes. The last time this happened was at the White House in 1968.”
A 1999 CD featuring Brecker, Berg, Nussbaum, and bassist Mike Richmond helped Renold discover the creative joys of record production and finding the right chemistry for musicians working together. He has produced over a dozen CDs for his bands, and those of Christian Jacob, Herb Pomeroy, Markus Hauser, and Ruth Juon. Included in the recording were tracks of the Friends’ tour of Europe with Golson, Bridgewater, Williams, and Ali Jackson.
Years in Switzerland and “Jazzaar concerts”
In 2000, Renold organized and produced Jacob’s jazz adaptation of Kurt Weill’s Three Penny Opera. Saxophonists Bobby Watson, Renold, Shelley Carroll, Walt Weiskopf, Bernd Konrad, trombonists Bergeron, Gardner, Cooper; trumpeters Hall and Brecker, Chris Albert, Tom Garling, Vitous, Lewis and Jacob played the keystone piece commemorating Weill’s centennial in which Aarau Youth Orchestra played Weill classics (“Speak Low”, “Mack the Knife”).1999 was a turning point when Renold quit touring to stay with his family, with one noteworthy exception. The Swiss Embassy in Thailand commissioned Renold and Jacob to collaborate on “The 6th Cycle”, a composition for jazz quintet and symphony dedicated to King Bhumibol of Thailand, a well-known amateur clarinetist. Thai Kings are celebrated as having 12-year life-cycles; when Bhumibol turned 72 he made it to his sixth cycle. Each 12-year period was depicted as a movement. The recorded performance sold out a pressing of 5,000 CDs.
In 2001, Renold brought Benny Golson’s All-Star Big Band and performed with them; this was an all time dream come true to play with one of Renold’s most influential composers/players. His first Gospel work, “Ecclesiastes“, an oratorio with wife Helen Renold as librettist, premiered at the same festival that year. The band featured a Baptist church choir from Houston, Texas and a line-up, including Soskin, Lewis, Valery Ponomarev, Brecker, Dave Taylor, Buster Cooper, Buster Williams, Vincent Gardner, Wayne Bergeron, Vincent Herring and Dennis Montgomery. The piece was aired on Swiss television, and released on DVD in 2007.
In 2002 another Biblical oratorio, “Proverbs”, was premiered. Dennis Montgomery’s performance on Hammond organ once again drew attention to his immense talent. The context of this work was derived from the texts of King Solomon and wise men of Israel for coping with world affairs post – 9/11. The performance, both orchestrated and free vocal and instrumental improvisation built up to such a positive energy on stage giving evidence to its spiritual message to tap at the source of creativity – the Creator.
Fritz and Helen Renold wrote another musical work with narration in the 2003 commissioned work, “The Euphrates & Tigris Suite”. The 4-hour work—featuring Jim Snidero, Frank Green, Steven Bernstein,Amir Elsaffar, Julian Joseph, Wayne Bergeron, Charlie Young, Tommy Smith, Walt Weiskopf and others – drew on themes of the tree in Mesopotamia, The Fall of Babylon (from the universal Judaic, Muslim, and Christian roots of Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans) in drawing a thread from history to present day in describing the power struggles of the powers to be. The piece was recorded on 48-track digital and DVD.
Airto Moreira and Flora Purim performed with the Aarau Youth Orchestra – “A Night Of Jobim” in 2004. Guests included Donny McCaslin, Oscar Castro Neves, Cooper, and Christian Jacob, who also wrote string arrangements for this Brazilian project.
2005’s African Heritage program brought back to Aarau old friends from Boston Jamshied Sharifi and Werner “Vana” Gierig. Following the festival Renold went back into the studio and recorded his first big band CD project, The Cube. The work, with texts by Helen Renold, was released on CD in 2008.
Jazzaar 2006 saw a full-scale Beatles Revival. The performance on Friday night was “The Beatles in Symphony” and featured a ‘Fab Four’ tribute band from Colorado with the Aargauer Jugend Pops Symphony Orchestra conducted by Renold himself. Ian Darrington, Wigan Festival Director and IAJE representative, wrote: “This concert truly represented what musical performance is all about. It had… every emotion from laughter to tears and everything in between. It had people tapping their feet to the faster tunes and swaying to the slower tunes. It featured outstanding musical arrangements performed to an extremely high level…[and] great rapport with the capacity audience, every one of whom must have gone home that evening knowing they had been a part of such a special evening.”
Fritz Renold continues to write and produce for jazzaar concerts 2007 to 2010 with increasing focus on youth development and cultural exchange.
Over this decade, Renold wrote over 300 compositions, most of which he orchestrated himself. The compositions were commissioned by educational institutions, local and international big bands and orchestras, and various foundations. The works include saxophone quartets, orchestral pieces, saxophone and bass trombone concerti. Renold’s first saxophone book, published by Zimmermann, includes 16 transcriptions from duets played by Renold and Jacob.
He married Helen Savari in 1990. They have three children, Lydia, Benjamin and Sharon, who respectively play guitar, drums and bass.
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