Pop/Rock Dance Hiphop Jazz World Classical Contemporary Stage Festival Genre tree


Summary | Biography | Discography | Photos | Audio/Video


01-12-1947 - 05-09-2017


componist, improvised, jazz, piano

Leo Cuypers

As a baby Leo Cuypers (Heemstede, 1 December 1947) lay in his cradle literally under the family’s grand piano, as he puts it himself, for his entire family plays the instrument. He grows up in Maastricht and initially wants to be a jazz drummer. At the Maastricht Conservatory, where he ...
Full biography


componist, piano

Mentioned in the biography of

1971   Willem Van Manen
1974   Arjen Gorter
1974   Maurice Horsthuis
More results Less results

Biography Leo Cuypers

As a baby Leo Cuypers (Heemstede, 1 December 1947) lay in his cradle literally under the family’s grand piano, as he puts it himself, for his entire family plays the instrument. He grows up in Maastricht and initially wants to be a jazz drummer. At the Maastricht Conservatory, where he drops out before graduating, he eventually opts for piano, however. After an intense period of self-study he wins the 1969 Loosdrecht Jazz Competition with a solo performance. He moves to Amsterdam and joins the Willem Breuker Kollektief on piano. Cuypers stands out for his theatrical contributions and his catchy, often melodious compositions. As a pianist he is controversial, criticized for his technical limitations, but valued for his idiosyncratic style. In 1973 he is awarded the Wessel Ilcken Prijs (the major Dutch jazz award at the time) and in 1974 he and Willem Breuker found the record label BVHaast. Cuypers writes music for theater and film. He also starts forming his own bands. In 1977 his Zeeland Suite is broadcast on TV. Together with writer J. Bernlef he produces musical theater pieces. In the course of the 1980s Cuypers disappears from the music scene. In 1994 he starts performing again as a solo pianist and in 1995 his solo album Songbook is released. His comeback, however, is short-lived. Many of Cuypers’ albums have been reissued. His first solo album from 1972 is released on CD for the first time by Music Center the Netherlands in 2011.

Played in

Willem Breuker Kollektief   piano

1947 - 1968

Leo Cuypers grows up in family of pianists. Both his parents and all six children play the piano. When he is nine years old the family moves from Heemstede to Maastricht. His oldest brother brings him into contact with jazz. He therefore initially wants to play the drums. In 1962 Cuypers enters the Maastricht Conservatory, where he is taught by a classically trained percussionist. The student prefers the company of arts students at the Jan van Eyck Academie to that of his fellow music students. With them he shares an interest in avant-garde music and freejazz. When he drops out of the conservatory in 1965 his interest has shifted to playing the piano. Through intensive self-study he develops his characteristic solo style in which he improvises between percussive atonality and quiet, melodious passages. Apart from the odd quote from existing music he exclusively plays his own compositions. He doesn’t notate his music, however, but learns everything by heart.

1969 - 1973

In 1969 Cuypers wins the prestigious Loosdrecht Jazz Competition with a solo performance, in which he also uses the piano interior. The jury includes bassist Ruud Jacobs. The prize for Cuypers also includes a TV performance, and his father gives him a grand piano as a present. He will often take the instrument along to gigs. Two weeks later he performs at the Baden-Baden Free Jazz Meeting, at the invitation of reed player Willem Breuker, who had seen Cuypers on TV. In the German town he performs with trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, bassist Barre Phillips and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. He moves to Amsterdam, where he joins the bands of Willem Breuker and saxophonist Theo Loevendie. Meanwhile he continues to give solo concerts. He makes his recording debut with the album Chess! by the Theo Loevendie Consort, which includes tenor saxophonist Hans Dulfer, trombonist Willem van Manen, bassist Arjen Gorter and drummer Martin van Duynhoven. In 1972 Cuypers records a solo album, which is released as part of the BIM series (1971-’74) of the German BASF label. The LP, produced by Joop Visser, has an edition of only a few hundred copies.


1974 sees the start of the Willem Breuker Kollektief, of which Leo Cuypers is the pianist. The orchestra makes a name for itself with powerful, theatrical performances. In the founding year Cuypers composes the Johnny Rep Suite. This ode to the rebellious (Ajax) soccer player is performed at the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, ‘with Han Bennink as referee, Willem Breuker in a DWS (Amsterdam soccer club) jersey and I myself in Ajax colors. We also had a tape giving the impression that we were in a huge stadium’, is how Cuypers describes the performance in newspaper De Volkskrant – an event at which Rep himself was present. 1974 is also the year Breuker and Cuypers start their own record label, BVHaast. They intend to release their own music and that of likeminded musicians. The first release is Cuypers’ Live In Shaffy, featuring a recording of the Johnny Rep Suite, with Breuker, Piet Noordijk and Hans Dulfer in its frontline. The album should not be confused with Live In Shaffy by the Breuker-Cuypers duo, an LP in a large, triangular sleeve, designed by visual artist Ger van Elk.

1975 - 1980

Cuypers keeps working with the Willem Breuker Kollektief, but also joins the bands of pianist/composer Nedly Elstak and bassist Harry Miller. In 1976 he gives a solo concert at the first North Sea Jazz Festival. He composes music for the theater production Jan Rap En Z’n Maat. For the Festival Nieuwe Muziek Zeeland he writes the Zeeland Suite, for jazz septet. All parts of the suite are dedicated to various towns and villages in the Dutch province. In 1977 these pieces are performed and filmed on location. The NOS broadcasting company airs the registration on Dutch TV and distributes it internationally. 1977 is a busy year for Cuypers: he collaborates with the Scapino Ballet, and the Willem Breuker Kollektief tours the States. 1978 sees the release of live recordings from Berlin and Paris by the Kollektief and the duo Breuker-Cuypers. The Kollektief records soundtracks for filmmaker Johan van der Keuken. In 1979 a solo performance by Cuypers is released on the album In Amsterdam, for which visual artist Jeroen Henneman designs the sleeve. In 1980 Cuypers leaves the Willem Breuker Kollektief.

1981 - 1990

Cuypers starts his own bands. In 1981 he performs with two different trios, one with Han Bennink and the other with Martin van Duynhoven. With Arjen Gorter and Han Bennink he records two LPs: Heavy Days Are Here Again (which also features Willem Breuker) and Corners. He performs at the 1981 North Sea Jazz Festival with Breuker, Gorter and Bennink. From1982 Cuypers regularly plays with saxophonist Vera Vingerhoeds, in the Leo Cuypers Quartet and other combinations. In 1984 he presents his Leo Cuypers Brull Band, a septet with a frontline featuring Kollektief cohorts Willem van Manen and Maarten van Norden. In 1986 he composes music for Voetnoten, a theater production by writer J. Bernlef about the transience of musical fame. In the years to follow Cuypers does the occasional solo concert, but hardly performs at all. In 1989 he gives a one-off duo concert with Louis van Dijk at the Amsterdam Bimhuis. In the years to follow he quits performing altogether, inhibited by stage fright and an alcohol problem, as he explains in a 1994 interview with newspaper Het Parool. Cuypers moves back to Maastricht.

1994 - 1998

In 1994 Leo Cuypers makes a comeback with a series of solo concerts where he performs his new, fifty minute suite Hotel Maastricht. In 1995 the solo album Songbook is released, based on a repertoire of brief compositions he has been composing since the 1980s. Shortly after the completion of the studio session he gives a concert on a Bösendorfer grand, and decides to release this registration instead of the studio recordings. The CD release leads to new solo tours. Media reactions to the comeback are generally positive. Cuypers’ style is less anarchic than it was back in the 1970s, and more aimed at melodiousness, as he states in an interview with newspaper NRC Handelsblad. In his book New Dutch Swing (1998) Kevin Whitehead draws a comparison between Cuypers’ melodious style and the improvisations by the South-African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly known as Dollar Brand). Songbook ends with the composition Jarrett, a reference to another kindred spirit, Keith Jarrett.

1999 - 2016

After 1998 little is heard from Leo Cuypers. The Zeeland Suite and Johnny Rep Suite are reissued by BVHaast on one CD. Leo Cuypers’ Heavy Days Are Here Again is released on CD in John Corbett’s Unheard Music series for the American Atavistic label. In 2011 Cuypers’ eponymous solo debut from 1972 is reissued on CD, by Music Center the Netherlands. In addition to the original recordings it features three live bonus tracks from 1973. At the CD launch on 2 October 2011 at the Bimhuis Leo Cuypers’ compositions are performed by pianist Guus Janssen.

Discography Leo Cuypers

In the discography you will find all recordings that have been released listed chronologically. We restrict ourselves to the title, the type of audio, year of publication or recording, label, list of guest musicians, plus any comments on the issue.

Photos Leo Cuypers

Audio/Video Leo Cuypers

No audio- or video material is yet available.
Add audio or video

Add audio or video

Muziekencyclopedie.nl on Facebook Muziekencyclopedie.nl on Twitter