In September 2017 the LOFT celebrated its 28th birthday, an almost biblical age for an operation of such quality and with such an aura, all run single-handedly. The actual foundation of the LOFT took place in 1986, the same year as the opening of the Cologne Philharmonic Hall and the concert hall in the Stadtgarten.
Directly next to the Musikhochschule on Unter Krahnenbauemen Street, an area steeped in history, Hans Martin Mueller (flutist of the WDR Symphony Orchestra and back then a teacher at the Musikhochschule) rented an unused workshop for his workspace and especially as an open forum for music. The location was ideal however some of the neighbours were disturbed by the sounds. Painter Sigmar Polke was one of them and carries the honour of having ended the LOFTs first rent contract with a private agreement.
In 1987, after an intensive search, the top floor in the Wissmannstrasse 30 building was found and rented from the photographer Josef Snobl; two years later it was purchased. After extensive renovation and extension the first rehearsals and concerts began in 1988. The official date for the beginning of the regular program at the LOFT is however September 1989, in this month the first Steinway piano was put into operation. Since that date, concerts (and in earlier days exhibitions) are a regular occurrence in the former Perfume factory. In the course of time, the factory floor became highly regarded as a performance space for improvised, contemporary, and Jazz music, both nationally and internationally. Most Cologne Jazz musicians who have risen to international recognition took some of their first career steps in LOFT, representative of these are Nils Wogram, Hayden Chisholm, Angelika Niescier, Florian Weber, Frank Gratkowski, Paolo Alvares, Philipp Zoubek, Robert Landfermann, Pablo Held, Jonas Burgwinkel and Sebastian Sternal.
New Music also found a home in the LOFT and the Cologne Society for New Music also choose to make its base in the same building as the LOFT, promoting several workshops and concerts. Figures such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Mauricio Kagel, Luciano Berio and Dieter Schnebel gave lectures and visted performances of their works. The Cologne Triennale and the DLF have put on their concerts at the LOFT and the Moers Festival has invited the LOFT and its associated scene to five of its projects. The LOFTs own publisher 2ndFloor supports selected musicians with the release of recordings, and numerous live-recordings have been published on other labels. The organisation 2ndFloor e.V. supports the activities of the LOFT since 2004 and with their help over events were able to be realised in 2017 (175 in 2016, 190 in 2015).
Thanks to its special atmosphere, numerous internationally renowned musicians have given concerts at the LOFT, however the focus of the program has always been the Cologne scene which has received great support here. The Steinway D Grand piano, purchased in 1993, greatly increased the attraction of the LOFT. In 1989, Pi-hsien Chen had already performed the entire piano music of Arnold Schoenberg. In 1994, Paolo Alvares presented the complete piano music of Mauricio Kagel and was also involved in the 1997 Cologne Triannale performances of the complete piano music of Karlheinz Stockhausen in the presence of the composer, alongside Majella Stockhausen, Herbert Henk and Pi-hsien Chen. Prominent musicians such as Alexander von Schlippenbach, Barre Phillips, Barry Guy, Bobby Previte, Carl Stone, Dave Bageron, Dave Douglas, Evan Parker, Han Benning, Jim Black, Lee Konitz, Mal Waldron, Manfred Schoof, Marilyn Crispell, Matthew Shipp, Michel Ducret, Michel Godard, Misha Mengelberg, Peter Brötzmann, Rebekka Bakken, Tim Berne, Phil Minton, Steve Lacy, Steve Swallow and Simon Nabatov were all heard in the LOFT; the guest list is a real who-is-who of the worlds of improvised music and jazz – for this reason the space was never only reserved for experiments and the first steps and productions of the Cologne scene, but also offered its guests internationally acclaimed acts in the program.
In 2000 the concert room was renovated and extended, the possibilities for concerts and especially the acoustics of the room were greatly improved.
The excellent quality of the studio, set up by Ansgar Ballhorn and continued by Wolfgang Stach, Stefan Deistler and Christian Heck, is alongside the superior concert grand piano (in a class of its own in German clubs) a further reason for the success of the LOFT. Numerous live recordings and studio productions have since been broadcast and appeared on CDs.
In 2008 the Prize ceremony of the Cologne Jazz Prize, (the Horst and Gretl Will Scholarship) took place in the LOFT. Most of the winners had already performed at the LOFT and produced their first recordings here.
Since 2010, the ceremony takes places at the Stadtgarten, since the LOFT could temporarily not meet the structural regulations for fire protection.
The final semester concerts of the Cologne Hochschule für Musik und Tanz were carried out in the LOFT for many years (now at artheater), and a long partnership has developed with the Rheinische Music school, each year students of the Jazz and Improvistion departments of the school give concerts at the LOFT.
Alongside all of this, the LOFT also opens its doors to other organisations such as the Cologne Society for New Music, the “Klang Koeln e.V.”, the “Arbeitsgemeinschaft fuer freie Musik, “Drang Klang”, the “Jazz am Rhein e.V.” and other institutions who have all used the premises for their own concerts and presentations.
In 2016, the Guardian included the LOFT in a list of 10 of the best Jazz Clubs in Europe:
„10 of the best jazz clubs in Europe“
(Adam McCulloch, the guardian, 02/2016)