Drum Set

I have played drum set since 1971, professionally since 1979.

Though rather attached to Modern Jazz, from 1975 on I played with many bands of the strictly traditional "Ham­burger Szene" (was permanent with the Blackbirds of Paradise, with Gottfried Böttger, Norbert Susemihl's Arlington Annex, and Riverside Jazz Connexion). In 1997 I founded the Mainstream Swing band Avalon Casino Kings. From 2005 to 2015 I played with the Swing Combination. Presently I am working with the Swinging Ballroom Six, the Swing Composers' Orchestra, the Marc Löhrwald Nonet, and with Norbert Susemihl's Joyful Gumbo.

Photo of Thomas Altmann performing on the drum set
Photo: Stefan Theßenvitz

Also, I played with a number of the first post-war generation of Jazz musicians in Germany, such as Hans Haider, Ladi Geisler, Günter Fuhlisch, Stefan von Dobrczynski, Joe Sydow, (American) Herb Geller, Paul Kuhn and Nana Gualdi.

I had been one of the house drummers of the club "Tropical Brasil" on the Reeperbahn (1981-85), and in 1985, I was probably one of the first German drummers to adopt Songo and various Salsa rhythms to the drum set.

My own project is currently the Blutone Sextet, in which I am returning to Hard Bop and Post-Bop after 35 years.

Except for initial snare drum lessons with Otto Frahm and Manfred Sperling, I have been my own teacher and mentor completely, as far as the drum set is concerned.


Percussion

Since 1976, I have played various percussion instruments in addition to the drum set, with an emphasis on Latin-American music.

Photo of Thomas Altmann, bongos
Photo: Steven Haberland

Among my teachers were Bernardo Ball, Rodolfo "El Moro", José Luis Quintana "Changuito", John Santos, Nicky Marrero, Juan Bausta, and John Amira (Vaudou drumming).

In 1979, I had been a founding member of the first Hamburg-based Salsa band and played with many other local groups later on. Moreover, I played with Lu LaFayette's Wolfsmond, with Eartha Kitt, Jesús Guerra, Olivia Molina, the Orchester Frank Valdor, the NDR-Big­band, with Joe Gallardo's Latino Blue and Sonora 51. Currently I am a member of the extended Lorenz Boesche-Trio.

Among my own projects were the percussion groups Cuero! Cuero! (Ghanaian and Afro-Cuban music), Comparsa Malecón (Cuban carnival music), and the Latin Jazz Band Septeto Miramar.


Batá

Although subsumable under percussion as much as any one of the other instruments mentioned above (including the drum set), batá drummers are quite aware of the fact that this particular drum trio, linked to the traditional Yorùbá religion in West Africa and in Cuba, forms a whole universe of its own.

I got my first batá drum set in 1988. While I transcribed dozens of the traditional Afro-Cuban toques by myself, I enjoyed the assist­ance and instruction of my fellow German drummers Ralf Moufang, Ottmar Köhler and Andreas Molino, and of Cubans Milian Galí, Francisco Hernández Mora "Pancho Quinto", Felix Navarro and Cristobal Larrinaga, as well as Angel Bolaños, Daniel Carbonell and Reimundo Sosa in Havana.

In the years 1994-2005 I founded and directed the group Ayé Ilu in Hamburg, which focused exclusively on Lukumí music, complete with drummers, singers and dancers.

Photo of Thomas Altmann, playing the iyá
Photo: Marc Schultz-Coulon

In 1998 I published my book Cantos Lucumí a los Orichas which became a standard work for Lukumí vocal music worldwide.

In 2005, I was officially initiated as omoañá in Regla (city of Havana), which allows me to play consecrated drums in ceremonies (which I did).

In Hamburg, I had worked with Juan "Petit" Ortíz and Arturo Martínez Cabrera, and with pianist Adonis González, among others.


Further Experiences

Professional musicianship requires a great deal of versatility, which led me to play in theaters, studios, private parties just as well as big festival stages or jazz clubs, all kinds or sizes of orchestration (incl. solo), belly dance accompaniment, New Orleans style brass band parades, Top-40 dance bands, Rhythm & Blues, Rock'n'Roll and Country & Western music, Klezmer music, semi-classical music, reading and non-reading situations.

Chronology

1971 The first drum set, first school band (Rock). Lessons with Otto Frahm in Hamburg-Billstedt.

1975-1977 Classical snare drum lessons with Manfred Sperling (Hamburger Konservatorium).

1976-1979 First autodidactical studies of conga, bongo and timbales.

1979 Becoming a professional musician.

1980-1984 Founding member of the first Salsa-Band in Hamburg (Papaya, later becoming Tremendo Cumban with famed Cuban sonero Jesús Guerra).

1981-1984 Drummer and percussionist at the Tropical Brasil on the Reeperbahn street in Hamburg-St. Pauli.

1982 Germany tour as a percussionist with Lu Lafayette's Wolfsmond.

1984 Percussionist with Eartha Kitt at the Macadam-Theater in Hamburg for one week.
Four-week-study-travel to Havana, Cuba; lessons with the percussionists of the group La440 (Moro y Fósforo).

1984-1985 Living in Heidelberg; percussion with the band Salsa Mortal, Latin drum set with the groups Caimán (Mannheim) and Orfeo (Hannover).

1986 House drummer at the Country Palace on the Reeperbahn (Country & Western Music).

1987 Theater musician at Theater für Kinder, Hamburg: "Das Dschungelbuch" ("Jungle Book").

1988 Starting to study the Afro-Cuban batá drums (autodidactically at first).

1988-1992 Percussion group Cuero Cuero!: percussion music of Cuba and Ghana.

1989 Theater drummer in "Hilfe, die Herdmanns kommen" at Theater für Kinder, Hamburg.

1990 Theater percussionist in "Der satan­archäo­lügenialkohöllische Wunschpunsch" at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg.

1991 Theater percussionist in "Der Sturm" ("Tempest") at Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg.

1994 Foundation of the batá group Ayé Ilú (active until 2005).

1997 Foundation of the Hamburg-based Swing band Avalon Casino Kings.

1997 One-week engagement with Nana Gualdi and Paul Kuhn at Schmidt Theater in Hamburg.

1998 Publication of the book Cantos Lucumí a los Orichas.

2000 Foundation of the Latin-Jazz-Band Septeto Miramar in Hamburg (starting as a sextet).

2004 Theater percussionist in "Sugar - Manche mögens heiß" ("Some Like It Hot") at the Altonaer Theater, and drummer for the musical show "Fifty-Fifty" at Schmidt's Tivoli in Hamburg.

2005 Second journey to Havana, Cuba; batá lessons with Daniel Carbonell, Javier Márquez, and Angel Bolaños. Initiation as omoañá (consecrated ceremonial drummer in the Santería religion).

2007 Third journey to Havana; initiation in the Regla de Ocha as santero (olórisha).

2007 (to the present): teaching Latin Drumset at the Hamburg School of Music.

2008 Fourth journey to Havana; batá lessons with Reimundo Sosa Reinoldes.

2009 Journey to New York; lessons with John Amira in Haitian Vodou Drumming.

2012 One-week engagement with Norbert Susemihl's "Night on Frenchmen Street" at the JazzAscona festival.
Fifth journey to Havana to become initiated in Ifá as a babalawo.

2016 Foundation of the Blutone Sextet.