German label Mons Records recently released a series of “Smooth Jazz” singles and albums under the project names Groovaz and Brownie. While Smooth Jazz has long been a fixture in the United States, its European foothold remains somewhat tentative. This piqued my curiosity, as the driving force behind these projects, Peter Braunholz, is based in Germany. Intrigued by this, I reached out to Peter for an interview, and what unfolded was a captivating story of a truly creative and diverse artist on many levels. I’m sure you’ll find the following interview as engrossing as I did during my conversation with Peter.
Peter’s journey into the world of music had its roots in his family. His father, a cellist, and his mother, a piano teacher with a deep appreciation for composers like Chopin, Debussy, and Scriabin, provided Peter with a rich musical environment from a very early age.
At the age of 12, Peter’s musical horizons began to expand. It was at this point that he discovered his fascination with the bass. He bought a bass guitar from a flea market – despite describing it as “horrible.” He paired it with an amp from old tube radio and a self-built speaker box. While classical music was a significant part of his early years, Peter’s musical direction took a significant turn when he was around 13 years old. His discovery of jazz at this juncture would become a pivotal moment in his life. He vividly recalled, “The turning point for me was when I heard Deodato’s album ‘SuperStrut.’ Before that, I was playing classical piano. That album opened a whole new world for me.”
Over the following years he delved deeper into contemporary music and specifically jazz-fusion, immersing himself in the music of artists like Larry Carlton and George Benson. “I was like a sponge. I started getting into Miles Davis, Mike Stern, John Scofield, but I was also listening to more commercial things like Steely Dan, George Duke, and a lot of Brazilian music.” This eclectic mix of influences would go on to inform his style as a musician.
As Peter’s journey progressed, he began to explore a broader range of instruments, extending beyond the bass guitar. He developed a fascination for keyboards and the guitar however, he never abandoned his first love – the bass, “When I was 17 I brought a Fender L series Jazz Bass from 1962 – Oh Man, that was love at first sight!”
Peter’s versatility as a musician can be seen as a testament to his love for music in all its forms. While he formed his own band to play the music closest to his heart, he emphasized, “I love all kinds of music where I felt it is made with love and passion. Love for melodies, chords, sounds, rhythms, groove, instruments, every single note.” This openness to various musical genres and an appreciation for music that emanates genuine passion and creativity became a defining characteristic of his musical approach.
In the German music scene, especially in the earlier stages of his career, Peter faced the challenge of finding like-minded musicians who shared his passion for the style of music he resonated with. He noted, “It wasn’t easy at the time to find other musicians in Germany that were also into this style.” Peter’s pursuit of West Coast jazz brought him into the orbit of drummer Martin Stoeck. He expressed his admiration for Martin, saying, “He was amazing; I finally found a drummer that really grooved like they do in LA.” Their collaboration set the stage for a significant turning point. Peter reminisced, “One day Martin said, Peter I’m going to go to LA to study at MIT, do you want to come? I asked him when he was going, and he said – in three weeks! – So it was all a bit crazy, but I said yes. So I ended up with Martin in LA.” This spontaneous decision to accompany Martin to the United States would be a life-altering experience.
Upon reaching Los Angeles, Peter and Martin found themselves in the vibrant musical environment of Los Angeles in the 1980s. Peter described the sense of freedom they encountered, not just artistically but also in the broader cultural and social context. He reminisced, “I remember Martin really loved it at MIT, but I felt a bit lost in that school. I’m more of a practical guy; I learn by doing, so I decided to leave the school and just inhale the atmosphere.” The atmosphere of Los Angeles in the ’80s left an indelible mark on Peter, influencing his musical spirit in profound ways. He concluded, “It was amazing, and still to this day I can feel it; when I compose, it’s like I’m back there, it’s so vivid.” The vibrant, creative energy of that era continues to inspire his compositions, reminding him of the artistic freedom he found in the heart of the LA music scene.
Upon his return to Germany Peter’s passion for music took a new direction. He continued to pursue his career as a performing musician, but soon gravitated towards session work. This shift allowed him to delve deeper into music production. It marked the beginning of a phase that would significantly shape his current projects.
The next chapter brought him to the DMC Recording Center, located in Rüsselsheim near Frankfurt in Germany. This was a pivotal moment for him, as he found himself immersed in an environment he described as “a paradise.” The studio, featuring a collection of 120 synthesizers and five recording rooms opened the opportunity for Peter to develop skills as a sound engineer, mixing/mastering engineer, arranger, musician, and producer. His time at DMC allowed him to work with a diverse range of artists, each with their unique sound and creative vision including acts as Aziza Zadeh (several albums with Sony Music), Anna Maria Kaufmann (including London Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Symphony Orchestra and a duet with Barry Manilow; also with Sony Music), Christoph Haberer, Elena Kamburova, Stefan Bauer, Ramamani & KCOP and Charlie Mariano.
After his tenure at the studio, Peter reached a juncture in his career where he was ready to explore new horizons and sought to expand his expertise on the business side of the industry. This led to a significant turn in Peter’s career, his tenure at ACT Records where he stepped into the role of assistant to Siggi Loch. This experience marked a crucial phase in Peter’s journey, providing him with a unique perspective on the inner workings of the label and the music industry as a whole.
As Peter reflected on his time at ACT Records, he shared, “I was mostly involved with the production and marketing side of the label.” His responsibilities extended to crafting artist biographies and collaborating with designers and printing companies to bring the label’s releases to market. After a number of years at ACT Records, he embarked on a new adventure in the realm of marketing and communications. “Eventually, I wanted to go out on my own, so I set up a Marketing and Communications company,” Peter recalled. Notably, he didn’t limit himself to the familiar territories of the music world.
Peter activities here included copy writing however he also ventured into Industrial Photography and Graphic Design, self-taught and driven by a relentless passion for creativity. His foray into this domain yielded remarkable results. “We actually did very well and had some pretty big clients like Daimler, Porsche, Telekom, Hoechst, etc.,” Peter proudly shared. Yet, amidst the success, he found himself yearning for something more. Peter revealed, “I did this for about 10 years, but to be honest, it wasn’t my world. I loved it but I wanted to do something more creative again.” This pivotal moment of introspection led to another 90 degree turn in his career.
Peter’s return to the creative realm was a turning point in his journey. Transitioning from Industrial Photography to “Art Photography” marked a shift toward a more expressive and imaginative form of visual storytelling. “At the agency I was doing a lot of industrial photography and then eventually started to look at this in a more creative way by moving more toward ‘Art Photography,'” Peter shared. This shift was more than just a change in perspective; it was a reconnection with the creative core that defines him as an artist.
As he ventured into the world of art, Peter’s approach was, in his own words, “really naive.” Despite his limited knowledge of the art business, he ventured into the art scene, driven by the desire to share his work. He reminisced, “I had no idea how difficult it was, I just did it.” This unpretentious, attitude led to a serendipitous encounter with a gallery willing to exhibit his work alongside other renowned artists including Andreas Gursky and Thomas Ruff, both belonging to the most successful and renowned artists worldwide. “It was amazing to see my work hanging next to theirs and it still feels crazy that this happened to me. Most artists never find a gallery to have their work shown.”. Peter mused.
The success of his artistic endeavours in photography was not just a matter of happenstance. Peter’s dedication to the craft, along with his unique perspective, allowed him to flourish as a photographer, particularly in the realm of landscape photography. His work has been exhibited globally, from Los Angeles to Paris, and from San Francisco to the Louvre in France. It’s a journey that exemplifies Peter’s ability to transition seamlessly between different artistic disciplines, and his photography speaks volumes about his creative vision.
Around six years ago, Peter rekindled his connection with music, a journey that saw him establish a home studio, marking a significant turning point in his creative path that could be seen as closing the circle. “I felt a deep inner urge to reignite my musical journey,” Peter reflects. “The opportunity to build my own studio presented itself, and I just went for it.” It was a pivotal moment of renewed inspiration, propelling him back into the world of composition.
Peter’s productions unfold on two distinct fronts: Groovaz, a collaborative project with saxophone player Vladimir Strecker, and his solo work, produced under the title “Brownie,” his nickname. In Peter’s words, “Basically, I release the music I write together with Vladimir under Groovaz, and the music I produce entirely here in my studio, I release under the name Brownie.”
As a multi-instrumentalist, Peter is basically a one-man band playing all instruments from drums to keyboards, bass, and guitar. His creative process invariably commences with a focus on “the groove,” a foundational element that underpins his compositions. In his own words, “I’ll always start with the groove; that’s the basis for everything.” While he occasionally incorporates loops into his work, Peter prefers to play all parts live. The sax parts however he leaves to partner, Vladimir Strecker, whose musical synergy adds a distinctive layer to their collaborative work. It was Peter’s meeting with Vladimir, originally from Kazakhstan, that ignited the spark of partnership that eventually became the Groovaz duo. Peter remarks, “Working with Vladimir is just so easy; we have the same taste and we just seem to be on the same page,”
Delving into his compositional process, Peter shares his philosophy: “I tend to take my time – if I feel under time pressure, I tend to get blocked. I want the process to be organic, so I try to just let it happen, and if it’s not there, I won’t try to force it.” He candidly admits that there are moments when the creative spark simply eludes him, as he aptly states, “There are times I’ll work on an idea, and it just doesn’t happen, it’s… shit, and the more I try to force things, it just doesn’t work, and it will stay shit. But at other times, it will just flow and come together so quickly. I can’t put my finger on it, but maybe I shouldn’t even try.” To him, music is a profound force, much like love – “You can’t understand it, you have to feel it!”
German label Mons Records has become the home for Peter’s dual projects, Groovaz and Brownie. The collaboration with the label came to fruition when Peter initiated discussions with Thilo Berg in June of the current year, and the resonance between their visions was immediate. As Peter shares, “It just clicked, so we started to release some of the tracks as singles on the streaming platforms, and they’ve done really well so far.”
Regarding playing live I asked Peter if he had any plans. “Well Currently, I don’t have plans for a live band. In fact, I’m in getting ready to relocate to Austria. I’ve reached a juncture in my life where I’m eager to distance myself from city life and we’re in the midst of planning a move to a small village in the Austrian Alps. But maybe in the future I’ll look at doing something live.”
Summing up, It was a pleasure speaking with Peter and I believe his story serves as a vivid testament to the boundless possibilities within the realm of artistry. His experiences exemplify the contemporary notion of a “Creative” as someone whose life and work seamlessly intertwine in a tapestry of expression.
You can stream Groovaz below:
More information on both Groovaz and Brownie can be found at the Mons Records website.
Photo’s by Pat Kuck.
Last modified: November 9, 2023