SDR Bigband / Erwin Lehn


One person I recorded with during 18 years of my professional life was the band leader Erwin Lehn. Not always easy, as he was practically constantly on the search for something. Thus it was impossible to anticipate „his“ direction in pre-emptive obedience, since you never knew where it was going to take you. Maybe he did not know what the way was going to look like, but he was always certain of its destination.


And now, considering it retrospectively, this is not too difficult to understand – but in the middle of the creative process and without the detachment of age?


Erwin Lehn – a life in jazz amongst stars    -   To Mr. Manfred Deppe with cordial thanks for the excellent cooperation during all the years at the S.D.R.       -        Yours, Erwin Lehn   -   17th March 2004
Erwin Lehn – a life in jazz amongst stars - To Mr. Manfred Deppe with cordial thanks for the excellent cooperation during all the years at the S.D.R. - Yours, Erwin Lehn - 17th March 2004

Be that as it may, apparently we, our team, did not go completely against the grain, if I receive a dedication like this in his book.




From this book >Paul Allmendinger – Erwin Lehn – Bandleader<  from the „Edition Barocco“ of the publishing house „Peter Valentin Verlag“, the picture of Erwin Lehn on the vibraphone was taken (with a – then new - Neumann M49 in shiny chrome, should anybody be interested).


Erwin Lehn und sein Südfunk Tanzorchester


Erwin Lehn started his career as a pianist and arranger with the dance orchestra of the Berlin broadcasting corporation in 1945, after he was „discovered“ by Bully Buhlan and recruited for the band as a pianist. When their band leader Michael Jary left Berlin, Lehn directed the band together with Horst Kudritzki as from 1947 until, upon the recommendation of Hans Carste from the radio station RIAS Berlin, the jazz enthusiast born in the Palatinate region of Germany went to Stuttgart („take Erwin Lehn, young but already experienced, modern, but musically not over the top, sympathetic, but also of a strict discipline – simply the perfect man for the job).




There, on 1st April 1951 (2nd April to be precise, since he considered the 1st of April a joke date) and commissioned by the South German broadcasting corporation, he established a new orchestra which officially operated under the name “Südfunk-Tanzorchester”, but soon was only referred to as “Orchester Erwin Lehn”. He thus succeeded the radio dance band Paul Wehrmann which had dissolved shortly before. The orchestra, which became a stepping stone for the solo careers of, among others, Peter Herbolzheimer, Charly Antolini, Horst Fischer and Klaus Weiss, but also Ernst Mosch and Mladen Gutesha, did not only play swinging dance and light music, but also thrilling bebop and later modern jazz.




Amongst the American star soloists (e.g. Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Benny Goodman, Oliver Nelson and Lester Young), who performed with the Orchester Erwin Lehn in the 1950s, the band was given the reverent nickname “The German Jazz Hurricane”.




I can remember many recordings with American and international jazz soloists from my own experience. One in particular remains unforgettable: when I did an internship with the Südfunk radio station in March 1972, a couple of tunes were recorded with Chick Corea, who had only just ascended into the heaven of jazz. When played through for the first time, his arrangements of „La Fiesta“ and „Return To Forever“ sounded, cautiously expressed, cacophonous. Of course, nobody was aware of the extent of his arranging skills, so some cautious investigating got underway until Bernd Rabe burst out into laughter in his inimitable way: “It’s a C score, that’s how the Americans write”. Well, the copyist had not taken that into account and after a rewriting break during which the appropriate corrections were made, the recording was continued with the right notes.


The Orchester Erwin Lehn as it started in 1951


Franz Bummerl, Horst Fischer, Georg Ernszt, Heinz Abendschön (tp)


Josef Göppel, Ernst Mosch , Ferry Juza, Rudi Becher (tb)


Berthold Schramme, Werner Baumgart (ts), Walter Vogel, Karl-Heinz Tischendorf (as), Ernst Machwitz (bar)


Joka Weber, Heinrich Rieth, Helmut Geiger, Ewald Bargmann,


Eberhard Schmidt-Schultz, Bruno Zwintscher, Kurt Leisring (vl), Max Franke (vc)


Walter Rehfeld (b)


Günther Leimstoll (git)


Gerhard Wehner (p, acc)


Hermann Mutschler (dr)



The Orchester Erwin Lehn, from the year 1966


Bernd Rabe, Fritz Dautel (as), Joki Freund, Manfred Hoffbauer (ts), Ernst Machwitz (bar)


Georg Ernszt, Conny Jackel, Franz Bummerl, Eberhard Schmidt-Schulz (tp)


Günther Rieke, Juraj Cukaz, Alfred Pendzialek, Kurt Krause (tb)


Horst Jankowski (p)


Peter „Fifi“ Witte (b)


Charly Antolini (dr)




In April 1967, Horst Jankowski was called to Berlin to become band leader at the RIAS and he was replaced by Helmut Kirchgässner in the Orchester Erwin Lehn.




At approximately the same time, Charly Antolini left the band. He was initially replaced by Klaus Weiss for about one year and subsequently by Jörg Gebhardt, who remained the “Benjamin” of the orchestra for quite a while, until I took over the position of the youngest member of the team in 1974 (aged 24).





An autograph card from 1966


(C) SABA Schallplatte.




Peter Witte (b)


Georg Ernszt, Conny Jackel, Franz Bummerl, Eberhard Schmidt-Schulz (tp)




Charly Antolini (dr)


Kurt Krause, Juraj Cukaz, Ernst Mosch, Alfred Pendzialek (tb)




Horst Jankowski (p)


Manfred Hoffbauer, Joki Freund (ts) Bernd Rabe, Fritz Dautel (as) Ernst Machwitz (bar)




Erwin Lehn


each row from left to right




The Orchester Erwin Lehn, as I got to know it in 1974

Bernd Rabe, Fritz Dautel (as), Joki Freund, Manfred Hoffbauer (ts), Ernst Machwitz (bar)

Lubomir Rezinina, Ack van Rooyen, Lee Katzman,  Eberhard Schmidt-Schulz (tp)

Bobby Burgess, Donald "Don" Beightol, Alfred Pendsialek, Kurt Krause (tb)

Helmut „Cherry“ Kirchgäßner (p)

Hans Wenzel (git)

Peter „Fifi“ Witte (b)

Jörg Gebhardt (dr)

Erwin Lehn und sein Südfunkorchester 1984




A picture from the Big Band calendar 2002


(C) Süddeutscher Rundfunk, photographer: Hugo Jehle.




from left to right:


Rudolf Reindl (tp), Kurt Krause (b-tb), Bobby Burgess (tb), Bernd Rabe (as), Lubomir Rezanina (tp), Don Rader (tp),


Joe Gallardo (tb), Alfred Pendzialek (tb), Johannes Faber (tp), Joki Freund (ts), Klaus-Peter Schöpfer (g), Jörg Gebhardt (dr), Fritz Dautel (as), Peter Witte (b), Helmut Kirchgäßner (p, synth), Manfred Hoffbauer (ts), Joerg Reiter (p, synth), Ernst Machwitz (bar)








Erwin Lehn


Erwin Lehn und sein Südfunkorchester in the late 80s


An autograph card from the late 80s


(C) Süddeutscher Rundfunk, photographer: Hugo Jehle.




top row:


Joe Gallardo (tb), Lubomir Rezanina (tp), Bobby Burgess (tb), Alfred Pendzialek (tb), Joki Freund (ts)




middle row:


Rudolf Reindl (tp), Kurt Krause (b-tb), Johannes Faber (tp),


Manfred Hoffbauer (ts), Joerg Reiter (p, synth), Ernst Machwitz (bar)




front row in the half circle:


Karl Farrent (tp), Fritz Dautel (as), Bernd Rabe (as), Jörg Gebhardt (dr), Klaus-Peter Schöpfer (g), Peter Witte (b)




Erwin Lehn