Swiss alto player Werner Lüdi recorded little and remains even lesser known despite his involvement in early European free jazz and his later, critically-hailed performances at jazz festivals. Lüdi first began playing music at a young age, beginning with the concertina. By his mid-teens, he was already a fan of jazz -- be-bop in particular -- and decided to learn to play the saxophone. Lüdi was 15 when he began teaching himself the instrument, starting with the baritone, then switching over to alto. He served in the military for a time and, after his release from the service, began to travel around Europe, working various jobs and playing in several groups in Germany and Scandinavia, sharing the stage more than once with fellow hard-blower, German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. Lüdi's first steady gig came with Gunter Hampel's first group in the 1960s. This ensemble played at clubs, festivals, and universities in Germany, Spain, and Holland.
Still, many audiences and even current musicians were still uncertain what to think of this new breed of jazz musician, who favored experimentation and was moving far away from bop. Brötzmann once spoke of a time when he and Lüdi were the last two left playing on a stage -- the other musicians had eventually stopped playing, "terrified" of these uncertain waters. He also added that laughter from the audience was not unusual at that time, and that these same musicians would later be happy to collaborate with him. Due, perhaps, to lack of gigs as well as unreceptive audiences, Lüdi retired from music in 1966 to work as a copy editor.
Fourteen years later, he picked his saxophone back up, and started playing occasional sessions. He then formed the group Sunnymoon, a quartet with the original line-up of guitarist Stephan Wittwer, bassist Leon Francioli, and percussionist Fredy Studer. Sunnymoon gave a performance at the 1981 Willisau Jazz Festival that brought the house down, marking a successful comeback for Lüdi. Unfortunately, the times hadn't changed enough, and Sunnymoon soon dissolved since there weren't many opportunities to play. Lüdi remained active in music, however, and led his first recording date in 1983. This session, which included pianist Donat Beer, resulted in the album Painted Bird. Lüdi revived Sunnymoon in 1984, this time with multi-reedist Hans Koch, bassist and cellist Martin Schultz, and drummer Timo Fleig. This incarnation of Sunnymoon quickly became in demand on Switzerland's jazz scene, and their set at the 1984 Zurich Jazz Festival was another stunning success. From December, 1984 through the following month, Sunnymoon recorded for the Hat Art label. Lunatico was released later in 1985.
Since this successful comeback, Lüdi has remained active in the creative music scene. He performs on several albums on the FMP label, including a duo with Brötzmann (Wie das leben so spielt (1989)), in Brotzmann's tentet (The März Combo Live In Wuppertal, 1992), with Sainkho Namtchylak (When The Sun Is Out You Don't See The Stars). Lüdi has also gone on to lead more of his own dates, including Ki (on Intakt) and Lucendro (on Unit). His travels during this time included a tour of Europe with Brötzmann's tentet, the März Combo, and a brief tour of Japan with drummer Shoji Hano. ~ Joslyn Layne