About the Kruger Brothers

Jens, Uwe, and Joel warming-up backstage at ISIS, Asheville, North Carolina, December 2014.

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Born and raised in Europe, brothers Jens and Uwe Kruger started singing and playing instruments at a very young age. Growing up in a family where music was an important part of life, they were exposed to a wide diversity of musical influences. The brothers were performing regularly by the time they were eleven and twelve years old, and they began their professional career in 1979. Jens’ and Uwe’s first public performances were as a duo, and in just a few years they were busking on the streets of cities throughout eastern and western Europe.

CBS Records contracted with Jens and Uwe when Jens was just seventeen years old, and shortly thereafter, the Krugers hosted a radio show on SRG SSR, the Swiss Public broadcast group. Several years later, the brothers teamed up with bass player Joel Landsberg, a native of New York City who also had a very extensive musical upbringing in classical and jazz music (studying with jazz great Milt Hinton), thus forming a trio that has been playing professionally together since 1995. Together, they established the incomparable sound that The Kruger Brothers are known for today. The trio moved to the United States in 2002 and is based in Wilkesboro, NC.

Since their formal introduction to American audiences in 1997, The Kruger Brothers’ remarkable discipline, creativity and their ability to infuse classical music into folk music has resulted in a unique sound that has made them a fixture within the world of acoustic music. The honesty of their writing has since become a hallmark of the trio’s work.

In their ever-expanding body of work – Jens Kruger (banjo and vocals), Uwe Kruger (guitar and lead vocals), and Joel Landsberg (bass and vocals) – The Kruger Brothers personify the spirit of exploration and innovation that forms the core of the American musical tradition. Their original music is crafted around their discerning taste, and the result is unpretentious, cultivated, and delightfully fresh.

In addition to their regular concert schedule, The Kruger Brothers perform these classical pieces regularly with select symphony orchestras and string quartets throughout the country.

Through their numerous CD releases, radio and television performances, lectures, and collaborative efforts, The Kruger Brothers’ powerful artistic statement continues to inspire and enlighten audiences and musicians around the world.

Jens Kruger

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Originally from Switzerland, Jens Kruger began playing North American folk music at an early age and was particularly inspired by recordings of Doc Watson, Flatt and Scruggs, Bill Monroe, and other progenitors of country, bluegrass and folk music.

While he has written and continues to write the music for all of The Kruger Brothers’ original tunes, in 2006, Jens began his “official” venture into the themes and forms of classical music when he was commissioned to write Music from the Spring for banjo, guitar, bass and full symphonic orchestra. Since then, he has received three commissions to write classical pieces which The Kruger Brothers have performed with various orchestral ensembles: Appalachian Concerto with string quartet; Spirit of the Rockies with a small orchestra, and most recently in 2013, Lucid Dreamer, a chamber music piece written specifically for and commissioned by the Kontras Quartet* and debuting in 2014.

Jens is a member of the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 2011. In 2013, he was awarded the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music. Jens is the first winner of the award who resides in North Carolina and the first born outside of the United States. Happy Traum, guitarist, folksinger, teacher, and writer for aspiring musicians, has described Kruger as, “One of the world’s most musically sophisticated and technically accomplished five‐string banjo players.”

While Jens plays in a melodic style that has roots in bluegrass, his music is distinguished by long, melodic passages and a complex compositional foundation, often building on jazz or classical themes and techniques.

*This commission by the Kontras Quartet has been made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund.

“Composers have been incorporating elements of folk music into classical compositions for over one hundred and fifty years.  As a musician and composer, I have always admired how masters such as Bartok, Smetana, Brahms, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky incorporated folk music into their classical compositions.”

– Jens Kruger

Uwe Kruger

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Uwe Kruger, lead vocalist and guitarist, has been playing music since early childhood. When they were very young, Uwe and younger brother Jens would place a guitar on the floor between them and play it together, one brother taking the upper three strings and the other the lower three. Uwe was introduced to American folk music through the brothers’ father, who would bring folk music records when he returned to Switzerland from business trips to the United States.

For more than twenty-five years, Uwe has been playing guitar and singing as a professional musician. Over the course of his career, Uwe has developed range and versatility – instrumentally and stylistically. Today, Uwe astonishes audiences with his blend of guitar-picking styles. His rich, resonant, and mellow baritone voice has an uplifting effect on all who hear him sing. Uwe has been influenced by a diversity of musicians, ranging from Doc Watson, Jerry Garcia, and Eric Clapton, to Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms. Watching and listening to Uwe’s unique style, a blend of flat-picking and finger picking, is a fascinating experience. Uwe loves playing “in the moment,” and his guitar improvisation during live performances has listeners sitting at the edge of their seats in excitement and anticipation.

“ … when I see people walk out of the theatre with a smile on their faces, you know, the sense of community that we have within the band, if that radiates to the audience, and they keep that feeling as they leave the theatre, that’s when I think, ‘well, we’ve done our job today.’ That is what we want. No one will ever come to me and say, ‘Uwe, I loved that solo you did in the third song!’ But they will come to me and say, ‘This was a wonderful evening.’ And then I’m happy. That’s what I want to hear.”
—Uwe Kruger

Joel Landsberg

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One can only imagine the number and variety of musical influences – Broadway, classical, jazz, rhythm and blues – that surrounded Joel as he was growing up in New York City. Like Uwe and Jens, Joel began his musical career early in life and picked up the bass at the age of twelve.

And like many other musicians, Joel began learning music through classical training on the piano. After several years of piano lessons, he switched to the bass, and as he discovered his love for the instrument, Joel decided to devote all of his attention to playing the bass.

Destined to find Uwe and Jens, in 1989, Joel moved to Switzerland and began a successful career as a bassist with various country/rock and jazz groups based throughout Europe. It was during this time that he met Jens and Uwe and developed what would become a deeply rewarding musical alliance and friendship. In early 1995, Joel was initiated into the “brotherhood” and has been performing full time with the band ever since.

“It really does come down to that saying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s a great example of what we are. Each person tries to be the best that he can be on his instrument, but when the three of us come together, that’s where the magic is created. We’ve been working together for so long that a lot of what we do is nonverbal, especially the way we communicate on stage. In doing so, we also try to involve the audience. We don’t exclude them from the creative process that’s happening on stage, and I think that’s something that people appreciate in our performances. We’re not playing at them, we’re saying, ‘Listen to what we found, listen to this.’”

—Joel Landsberg