Wollny, Michael (b. 25th May 1978, Schweinfurt, Germany). Piano lessons from 5 years of age with teacher who was a student of Hindemith. As well as studying Bach and Mozart, Wollny also studied contemporary classical music; later he would say, “That made a big impression on me, contemporary classical music.” Equally, from his first lesson, time would be given over to improvisation — improvise only on the black keys, improvise sounding far eastern and so on. He was introduced to jazz by an uncle who gave him an LP by Keith Jarrett’s European Quartet.
Studied at the Musikschule Schweinfurt and from age 16 commuted to participate in the jazz course at the Hermann Zilcher Conservatory in Würzburg. By now recognised as an outstanding student, his piano teacher was Chris Beier from 1997 through to 2002, who encouraged him to develop his own approach to jazz rather than following the standard academic pedagogy. Graduating in 2002 cum laude his diploma thesis was on the “Tone Vortices” in pianist Joachim Kühn’s improvisations.
Played in the BuJazzO (the national youth jazz orchestra), encouraged by tutors Walter Norris and John Taylor. Made his debut as a leader on record with Wolfgang Kriener on bass and Joachim Leyh on drums in 2000. They became the rhythm section for a recording under the name of saxophonist Peter Back in 2001, and in 2002 a quartet under trumpeter Hans Peter Salentin. Back recommended Wollny for the role of pianist in the HR Jazz Ensemble, the radio big band of Hessian Radio, which included German jazz stars Albert and Emil Mangelsdorff, Christof Lauer and Heinz Sauer.
Sauer was sufficiently impressed with Wollny to invite him to share the stage with him at the 32nd German Jazz Festival in Frankfurt, beginning a duo association both live and on record that began with Melancholia (ACT) that received the Preis der Schallplattenkritik in 2005.
Meanwhile, Wollny formed the piano trio [em] in 2002 with Eva Kruse on bass and Eric Schaefer on drums. Wollny gave ACT boss Siggi Loch a demo of [em] at Jazz Baltica in 2004 that resulted in the album Call it [em] (ACT) that launched the ACT label’s Young German Jazz series in spectacular fashion in 2005. On release it catapulted the group to the forefront of European jazz, and with [em] II (ACT) the German broadsheet Die Zeit hailed the band as “the world’s most exciting piano trio” while The Observer Music Monthly declared “This is the future of jazz.”
In 2005, [em] acted as the rhythm section for Young Friends: Great German Songbook (ACT) with a horn section comprising Axel Schlösser, Florian Trübsbach and Johannes Lauer. In all, [em] recorded five albums, and all come highly recommended with [em] Live, recorded at JazzBaltica in 2010 one of the finest albums of the previous quarter century.
After Wasted and Wanted the trio felt they had achieved all they could have done after accumulating awards that included: Bayerischer Kunstförderpreis in 2007, the Bayerischer Staatspreis für Musik 2013, the Binding Kulturpreis 2013, the SWR Jazzpreis in 2008, the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik in 2005 and 2013, the New German Jazz Prize in 2011, the BMW World Jazz Award 2009 and ECHO Jazz awards in 2010 and 2013, the "Choc de l'annee" from the French magazine Jazzman/Jazz Magazine and a Ronnie Scott's Jazz Award as "Most Promising International Newcomer Of The Year.”
A change of direction was signalled with a new Wollny trio with the American bassist Tim Lefebvre coming in for Eva Kruse who left to have a family. Their first album album Weltentraum from 2014 made the pop charts, and topped the Jazzwise Critic’s Poll. Nachtfahrten followed in 2015 with Christian Webber on bass, and Klangspuren in 2016.
Wollny has also distinguished himself with solo projects such as Wunderkammer XXL and a variety of collaborations, most notably with Emile Parisien and Vincent Peirani that saw his stature as one of jazz’s most creative artists continue to grow.
In 2014 Wollny moved with his wife and child to Leipzig to take up the post of Professor specialising in Jazz/Popular Music, Jazz Piano and Ensembles at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater.