Czech jazz of the 1950s and 60s.
Jazz and the Creeping Embrace of the Revolution
The ground for everything that was to follow the communist takeover in February 1948 was prepared earlier, starting immediately after the end of the war. The future development of jazz was to be greatly affected by President Edvard Benes's decree of 1946 nationalising the gramophone industry. Here it should be explained that totalitarian-type states always strive to ensure that cultural or social activities have central-umbrella organisations with structures enabling the whole entity to be controlled ideologically, through censorship and political manipulation. By taking over the publishing industry communist power obtained a decisive voice in determining what was beneficial in music for the new society. Censorship was exercised by political cadres installed in the leading positions of every organisation. Sadly, among these cadres were also some pre-war leftist intellectuals, including musicians.
Jazz enthusiasts today have sometimes tended to take the optimistic view that towards the end of the 1950s Czechoslovak jazz was getting close to its American model in terms of quality. But it is enough to point out that at the end of the 1940s be bop--as the defining developmental stage of modern jazz -, had already come a long way in the US: Norman Granz was touring America with his travelling Jazz at Philharmonic festival and Miles Davis recording the first pieces later to be brought together under the title Birth of the Cool, and by the end of the 1950s, modern jazz had progressed right to the threshold of free jazz. Quite obviously, Czech jazz was in a completely different developmental phase - only just starting to find its bearings in modern jazz. While a number of local soloists had grown up into excellent instrumentalists, the almost complete lack of direct contact with overseas music had made it impossible for Czech jazz to gain the necessary experience to perfect style or achieve style shifts. The distinguished American jazz producer, writer and critic John Hammond visited Prague in 1947 and in an interview for Jazz magazine (no.2/1948) remarked: "I heard the Karel Vlach orchestra--but it's a little inflexible for our American average." He also said the orchestra needed to achieve more freedom in expression--it was excessively conducted. He praised Karel Krautgartner's clarinet solos--his was a name that would be heard ever more often. Today the progressive appearance of re-editions of recordings of the time on shellac discs confirms the accuracy of his remarks. In some cases we can speak of very good music but the recordings show that with all the will in the world, the Czech jazz scene needed another few decades spent bringing it sound as close to American jazz as possible, picking up on and absorbing new influences promptly, and keeping up with new developmental trends. And for the moment modern jazz was primarily an alternative to other popular forms of music rather than a major genre in its own right. All this, of course, applied to jazz all over Europe--but after February 1948 the road forward for Czech jazz was to prove particularly hard.
Bitter destinies in unhealthy times
The vanguard of Czech jazz was looking promising as the communist era started. A number of swing orchestras and bands had matured during the war years. Just as on the American scene they were the nurseries of musicians able to shift jazz forward. While across the ocean this was a matter of defining modern jazz, be bop, here it was primarily about raising the artistic ambitions of swing, which had mainly been the swing pop music known as dance music. According to a survey by the public opinion institute of the time on the popularity of music genres, in 1947 only sixteen percent of respondents stated jazz as a favourite (and what they usually meant by jazz was swing dance music). The models preferred were usually the Glen Miller and Stan Kenton orchestras, or in other words jazz closer to European tastes and perceptions. In the period of the nylon age (a term coined by the writer Josef Skvorecky for the era of Czech jazz from the end of the war to the early fifties), no clear development emerged, for the years of postwar freedom before the communist takeover in February 1948 were all too brief. In April 1950 the General Secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers Tikhon Khrennikov advised the Union of Czechoslovak Composers (just founded by the communists), that,, It is the music of a class on the way out. This music cannot express the fullness of emotions and energy that is in the Czechoslovak people". Incidentally, his opinion differed little from that of Joseph Goebbels in 1939, who claimed that,, The only contribution of the USA to world cultural heritage is jazzed up negro music, which is in fact unworthy of any notice at all." There were, however, many people at home who also felt the need to give jazz enthusiasts a hard time. For example, immediately after the February 1948 coup, a revolutionary so-called "action committee" under the leadership of Emanuel Ugge immediately dismissed the existing staff of Jazz magazine and Ugge demanded that young people should not copy American music. In fact he was one of those pre-war leftist intellectuals who soon saw through communism. From 1952 to the end of his life he devoted himself to the promotion of traditional jazz, its history and forms, but he never liked modern.
In 1947 an ad in the daily paper of the communist youth could still read: ,,If you want to listen to BE-BOP, you don't have to go off to Sweden where Dizzy Gillespie is new performing. 'The orchestra Rytmus 47 too plays you the latest pieces in the new BE-BOP style!" Where? In the Prague dancehall known as the Pygmalion, where Vjaceslav ,,Vaclav" Irmanov sang and played guitar with the band. The group Rytmus had existed during the war but only in the years 1946-1948 did it mature into a vanguard band in modern jazz in this country. Yet its promising development was cut short precisely by the rise of the communists to power. The pianist Ladislav Horcik, the trumpet player Lumir ,,Dunca" Broz, the vibraphonist Jan Hammer (father of the world famous keyboard player Jan Hammer of the jazz-rock era) and his wife the singer Vlasta Pruchova, as well as the Irmanov already mentioned - all young people around twenty-five, had seemed to have a brilliant future in front of them. They were enchanted not just with Gillespie's bop, but also with the emerging cool jazz. But the new political order scattered the group. Three members emigrated to the west, including the irreplaceable Broz, Horcik went over to the Karel Vlach Orchestra where he met other supporters of modern jazz in the circle around the saxophonist and clarinettist Karel Krautgartner. The subsequent fate of the talented trumpettist Broz is entirely unknown - he is alleged to have died in the 1950 somewhere in South America. The prominent swing bandmaster, composer and accordionist Kamil Behounek (1916-1983) played with his orchestra in the American-occupied zone of Germany after the war. After returning home in 1947 he reduced the orchestra to a sextet. The next year he left the republic and lived in West Germany for the rest of his life. He had been one of the central figures of the Czech jazz swing era. The communist regime had a more tragic fate in store for the swing singer and composer but above all founder and owner of a music publishing house Rudolf Antonin Dvorsky (1899-1966). A year after "victorious February" 1948, his publishing house was nationalised and all his property authomatically confiscated. As one of the former people (as the communists branded people closely associated with Masaryk's inter-war First Republic), he was from the outset attacked as a member of the bourgeoisie. He was not, however, allowed to go aboard. In the summer of 1950 he and some others tried to cross the frontier illegally, but the escape failed for technical reasons and the people around Dvorsky came under surveillance by state security. In 1953 he himself was arrested and charged with treason and attempting to leave the republic. After the thaw following revelations of the cult of personality of Stalin he was released conditionally. This star of the Czech swing heaven lived out his life in poverty and obscurity. Another important exile was the swing composer and pianist Jiri Traxler, court arranger to the postwar Karel Vlach Orchestra. At the time of writing he is ninety-eight years old. In 1949 he went to Germany where he went on making music, but for most of his life he has lived in Canada where he has published his fascinating memoirs with the Toronto Sixty-Eight Publishers firm (owned by another Czech emigrant--the writer Josef Skvorecky). The forty years following the communist coup were to see many talented people leave with no hope of return, often meaning the end of a jazz career. Naturally, this also meant the continual crippling and deformation of the development of jazz inside the country.
The Revival of Swing and the Road to the Modern
After the liberation from the Nazi occupation, the orchestra of the tenor-saxophonist Karel Vlach (1911-1986) represented itself in a completely rejuvenated line-up. It played dance music in Prague cafes, and recorded for radio and records, and managed to solve its economic problems by a permanent theatre engagement. In 1948, for example, the Vlach Orchestra played in the Prague production of Burton Lane's musical Finian's Rainbow--its European premiere fourteen months after the American premiere. This apparently useful engagement had its down side, however, since it involved an obligation to adjust the orchestra's repertoire to the musicals and classical operettas staged by the Music Theatre in Prague's Karlin district. The burden naturally affected the orchestra's free work. The aversion to jazz as,, music of the fat" (Maxim Gorky), or,, music of spiritual poverty" (Viktor M. Gorodinsky) taken over from the cultural ideologues of the Soviet Union and cultivated by the new regime meant that this important orchestra in Czech jazz history made not a single record in the years 1949-1951. In the years 1953-1954 it was placed under the organisation of Czechoslovak circuses and only after it moved again to the more progressive Prague Theatre of Satire did it slowly start to get to the recording studios. Even so, swing recordings of dance music predominated. In 1949 the Vlach Orchestra in 1949 contained three musicians who were to become important big band leaders; they were the saxophonist and clarinettist Karel Krautgartner, the trumpet player Vlastimil Hala and the saxophonist Kamil Lochman.
The Czech jazz scene to this day identifies with the legacy of composer and pianist Jaroslav Jezek (1906-1942) and the orchestra of the pre-war Liberated Theatre. He was among the composers of 20th-century music to have been enchanted by jazz. The repertoire of the orchestra was influenced by bands of the American Paul Whiteman or Englishman Jack Hylton's type, and later also by Duke Ellington or Benny Goodman. At the same time Jezek wrote his own songs and instrumental pieces influenced by the Czech musical tradition. The music that had been played at the Liberated Theatre (a leftwing theatre in its time), was to be taken up, supported and sponsored by the promoters of jazz against state ideologues right up to the 1980s. Every orchestra had some of Jezek's music in its repertoire. To this day jazz performers and arrangers continue to demonstrate that his music is truly timeless. In 1951 there was an attempt to form a new Jaroslav Jezek Orchestra. The always ailing composer had died in exile during the war and so the setting up of the new orchestra was entrusted to the composer Alexej Fried, who in the war years--before he was even twenty--had led his own student band in which he played the trumpet. Later he became a leading author of the third stream of Czech jazz. Unfortunately, the formation of the orchestra had a purely ideological background as was evident from the repertoire: alongside pieces by Jaroslav Jezek and the bandmaster Fried it included popularised versions of music by Isaak Dunayevsky and Aram Khanchaturian and authors of Soviet pop music. This concept of jazz suited neither the taste of the swing public not the musicians, and the orchestra lasted less than a year. The notion of creating ideologically correct jazz while misusing the name of the brilliant Jezek was quite absurd.
In the Moravian metropolis, Brno, the orchestra of the singer, clarinetist and violinist Gustav Brom (1921-1995) had been performing since the start of the German occupation. In 1951 Brom had to reduce his originally fifteen-member swing big band for economic reasons. It then survived for the whole decade in the artistic limbo in which it was confined like the Vlach Orchestra by the cultural situation of the period. On the one hand it contributed to the development of a dance swing song at what was often an inconsistent standard, but on the other hand it assisted in the birth of a more modern conception of jazz through young musicians, including such co-creators of Czech modern jazz as the double bass player Ludek Hulan, the drummer Ivan Dominak or the future lifelong trumpet player of the Brom Orchestra Jaromir Hnilicka. Brom's new band, also however played in purely dixieland from. In the fifties this meant an expansion of the public's knowledge of jazz styles. In 1955 at an appearance in Leipzig in East Germany Brom's dixieland encountered the English singer Gery Scott and over the years 1957-1962 it recorded more than thirty singles with her, mostly of standards. At the end of the fifties the orchestra was reinforced by other distinguished musicians and composers, for example the pianist Oldrich Blaha, the saxophonist Josef Audes or the guitarist Antonin Julina. Through their continuity of personnel with the successful swing bigbands of the thirties and forties, the Gustav Brom and Karel Vlach orchestras created the belief that quality jazz orchestras would continue to be the basis for further development.
The Amateur Hotbed of Traditional Jazz
The appearance by the Australian traditionalist Gream Bell and his band in 1947 at an international Prague congress of leftwing youth was a sensation and set off a wave of enthusiasm in Czechoslovakia for primitive jazz styles that continued to inspire the Amateur jazz scene for several decades. The influence of Gream Bell was behind the formation of what would be the well respected Czechoslovak Dixieland Jazz Band. It was dissolved shortly before the arrival of the new regime. Only in the mid-fifties did it find a worthy successor in the form of the group Prazsky dixieland. Revivalist bands were also formed in small towns after the war. The jazz publicists, including the Emanuel Ugge, or the most prominent figure in Czech jazz life for the next half century, Lubomir Doruzka, exploited the revivalist bands to create literary-musical shows presenting the history of jazz. Among those who worked on scripts for the shows were the writer Josef Skvorecky and the Prague Dixieland guitarist Ludek Svab. One interesting feature of the dixieland music movement was that several of the young musicians who grew up in it went on to become pioneers of czech rockeneroll, thus unwittingly confirming the direct link between new forms of popular music and jazz. For the young Czech public at the end of the 1950s, the revival of traditional jazz forms, modern swing, the emergent modern jazz and rock'n 'roll represented a complex of new sound antagonistic to the ideologically deformed popular music. Communist ideology preferred optimistic songs about building a new society, or a deformed version of folklore.
The revivalist era of Czech jazz of the fifties culminated in the formation of a new group by clarinetist and composer Pavel Smetacek. The history of the group "officially" started in 1959, but its cradle was a Prague high school, three years before. This was a time that also saw the birth of the Prague Circle of Friends of Jazz and Modern Popular Music at the Gramophone Works. It was formed to try to break through the isolation of Czech jazz by promotion and education. Of course, its activities had no mass impact in a censored culture. Smetacek's band joined this community in 1958 and the next year adopted the masking name Traditional Jazz Study Group. Later, when they started to get invitations to dixieland festivals throughout. Europe, this was changed to the more easily understandable Traditional Jazz Studio. It was orientated to the earliest period of New Orleans jazz but as time went by its members started to write their own music with more modern elements. Last year--in fine fettle--it celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.
The credo of the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat after February 1948 in relation to jazz (and to all artistic trends coming from the West) was encapsulated by the comment of an author in the magazine Estradni orchestr [Variety Orchestra] in 1954 on the very politically slanted 1953 Czech film Unos [Kidnap] by the directors Jan Kadar and Elmar Klos (who would go on to make the Oscar Winning Shop of the Green [Obchod na korze]): ,,Look carefully at the figure of the jazz trumpet-player: he is not a bad man, he is not an enemy by his class origin--but it is precisely his fondness for jazz that is drawing him into the position of class enemy--something he recognises only when it is too late ..."
The Book in Modern Jazz
The position of jazz in Czechoslovakia taught musicians and listeners alike to rely on their own power and organisational abilities. The Circle of Friends of Jazz and Modern Popular Music brought together those involved in Prague jazz life and from 1956 put out a cyclostyled bulletin and organised lectures and concerts. All its activities, however, had no more than a semi-official character. It provided a stimulus for the establishment of similar organisations in other towns. When the Circle produced a publication entitled Jazz e58, the copies were immediately confiscated. 1964 saw the founding of the Czechoslovak Jazz Federation as a co-ordinating body, but it did not have legal subject status. One of the leading musicians of the rising Modern, the great expert on be-bop, double bass player and scat singer Ludek Hulan (1929-1979) was a moving force in Prague Jazz life from the beginning of the 1950s. Depending on the possibilities he organised jam sessions for the new generations in various venues. He remained a great promoter of jazz to the end of his life. Naturally, however, the communist regime's cultural controllers viewed efforts to bring the jazz community together and spontaneous organisation with great suspicion. From the later fifties the time was ripening for the emancipation of those swing orchestra players who wanted to develop the trends of modern jazz systematically in smaller line-ups. In this context, and important role was played by the saxophonist and clarinettist Karel Krautgartner. In 1956 he left the Karel Vlach Orchestra and founded a quintet in which Karel Velebny (1931-1989), another important figure in Czech jazz history, played saxophone and vibraphone. Originally this was a coffeehouse jazz band intended for dance, but soon it grew into a septet with the addition of other important soloists of the future - the trumpet and bass trumpet player Vaclav Hollitzer and the saxophonist and flautist Jan Konopasek. The bandleader conceived the band's appearance as jazz concert education and put together the repertoire from various different styles in jazz history. In the years 1957-1958 the Krautgartner group was influenced by the music of Miles Davis and his Capitol Orchestra, as well as the Modern Jazz Quartet. In the new nonet the influences of cool jazz interacted with those of West coast jazz. Among those musicians considered founders of Czech modern jazz, the bassist Ludek Hulan, the drummer Ivan Dominak, the trombonist Zdenek Pulec and the pianist Misa Polak all played with Krautgartner.
In addition to jazz, the nonet also accompanied popular music singers - this double existence was usually economically necessary. After the Krautgartner band was dissolved in 1958, Studio 5 was formed with the aim of reflecting the development of contemporary American jazz in a more up-to-the-minute way. Its first members were the vibraphonist Karel Velebny, the baritone-saxophonist Jan Konopasek, the guitarist Vladimir Tomek, the bassist Ludek Hulan and drummer Ivan Dominak. In 1958 Karel Krautgartner was entrusted with putting together a Czechoslovak All Stars Band for the popular music festival of the international radio and television organisation OIRT. The whole Studio 5 line-up and Krautgartner's co-players performed in it. This west-coast orientated orchestra and its members formed the basis of the future Dance Orchestra of Czechoslovak Radio (TOCR), which had its premiere in March 1960. It was oriented to swing dance music and jazz orchestral pieces. After three years the orchestra divided, creating the Jazz Orchestra of Czechoslovak Radio (JOCR) alongside TOCR. Although the instrumental line-up was similar, the repertorie of these two orchestras differed. The leadership of JOCR was entrusted to Kamil Hala, while Karel Krautgartner remained artistic director and conductor. The repertoire was based on unconventional arrangements of pieces by its own members and existing pieces from the swing themes of Count Basie or Neal Heft as far as Gil Evans. It also contained the orchestra's own third stream work or classics interpreted in this spirit, for example Igor Stravinsky's Ebony Concerto, Debussy's Rhapsody for Soprano Saxophone or Glazunov's Concerto in E flat major for alto saxophone. Among Czech composers outside the orchestra who wrote major third stream pieces we find Pavel Blatny, Alexej Fried and Milos Stedron. The main authors of original jazz pieces who came from the orchestra's own ranks were Kamil Hala, Karel Krautgartner, Karel Velebny, Ludek Hulan and the young pianist Karel Ruzicka. (although the latter only joined the orchestra in 1966). The life of Czech jazz began to focus around the musicians in this orchestra. Although the real jazz ferment was taking place mostly in Prague where musicians came not just to gain experience but also to study at the Prague Conservatory (mainly composition, jazz was not taught), amateur jazz bands formed in the smaller towns, and not only Brno, Ostrava or Olomouc. One significant band was formed in 1959 in the North Bohemian town of Usti nad Labem - the Jazz Combo Usti. The band was the cradle of two important musicians who later achieved fame abroad - the baritone saxophonist Jaroslav Jakubovic and the trombonist Svatopluk Kosvanec.
The Hopes of the 1960s
At the turn of the fifties/sixties the communist regime found a new enemy in the field of music when rock'n' roll, that derivate of jazz out of blues, rhythm&blues, boogie-woogie, swing and country&western music, reached Czechoslovakia. Jazz ceased to be the main perceived threat and was "graciously" recognised as a musical genre, although the activities of people around jazz continued to be watched simply because admiration, for anything American and "western" was always was ideologically suspect in itself. The fact that jazz activities were not directly persecuted did not of course mean that state culture became favourable to jazz. Jazz periodicals were printed by non-typeset methods and brought out in samizdat, amateur form by private individuals or by the non-Prague jazz clubs, always just for a small circle of readers. The brief exception was Jazz Bulletin published in the years 1966-1968 by the Czechoslovak Jazz Federation. Additionally, thanks to the fact that the prominent jazz activist Lubomir Doruzka became editor of the official national monthly for popular music Melodie (founded in 1963), jazz was a consistent element in its contents. Finally, in 1964, came the International Jazz Festival Prague, which with state financial support provided a chance for the Czech public to hear stars of American and European jazz juxtaposed with the best domestic bands. But even here the choice of programme had to be cautious initially. In the first year American jazz was represented only by musicians working in Europe at the time: the only real star was the saxophonist Leo Wright from the singer Dave Douglas's band. As a result the range of jazz from the Soviet block countries featured at the festival emerged as all the more interesting: the brothers Joachim and Rolf Khun from East Germany, Aladar Pege from Hungary and the Poles Zbigniew Namyslowski and Krzystof Komeda. The European "West" was represented by Acker Bilk from England and the German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorf's band, which presented the most contemporary avant-garde jazz trends. Political balance had to be taken into account in the prize giving. The performance of Mangelsdorf from West Germany was clearly the best, but this meant that the prize had to be split with the East German musicians - the Kuhn brothers, who were on the threshold of brilliant careers but still far from musically mature.
At the end of the 1950s it was Studio 5 that was of decisive importance for Czech modern jazz. The censors failed to understand the music and Lubomir Doruzka had to expend a lot of effort defending it. At the end of the band's short career, however, its music became stuck in a rut and the members fell out in their views on future direction. After three years together, Studio 5 collapsed in 1961 and two new influential groups were formed. The vibraphonist and tenor saxophonist Karel Velebny together with the saxophonist and flautist Jan Konopasek formed the S+H Q ensemble, later to be better known as SHQ.
It is no exaggeration to say that over the three decades up to the death of the bandleader in 1989, all musicians of all generations of Czech jazz went through this band. The other important protagonist of the dissolved Studio 5, the double bassist Ludek Hulan, formed the Jazz Studio in the framework of the Radio Orchestra where he was joined by the drummer Ivan Dominak. The difference of style was clear. Velebny's SHQ was orientated to the intellectual currents of modern jazz, while Hulan's Jazz Studio played more animal music close to hard bop and soul jazz. The activities of the Jazz Studio ended in practice with Ludek Hulan's departure for Switzerland in 1968, where he lived for several months without playing much music. After his return he used to play on an occasional basis with different bands. It was an essential feature of both SHQ and Jazz Studio that they developed and played their own original music alongside the American repertoire they took up. This meant that the protagonists of Czech modern jazz were in fact carrying on the tradition of the creators of the swing era in Czechoslovakia, who had always engaged in composition of their own.
The year 1961, when Studio 5 broke up, saw a particularly remarkable event in Czech jazz. The Jan Hammer Jr., a thirteen-year-old pianist influenced by the lyricism of Bill Evans, founded his own Junior Trio with the the Vitous brothers, the fourteen-year-old bass player Miroslav and the drummer Alan, a year older. During just two years the talented teenagers made a name for themselves on the domestic scene and from the mid-60s in neighbouring countries as well. In 1965 the famous German jazz critic and producer Joachim Ernst Berendt made a TV documentary called Jazz in der Tschechoslowakei with them. In 1961 the Slovak trumpet player Laco Deczi came to Prague to do his two years obligatory military service. During his service he took part in jam sessions with leading Prague jazzmen, and afterwards he decided to stay permanently in Prague, where he later became a member of Velebny's SHQ. In the summer of 1965 he toured a whole range of countries including Germany, Austria, Poland and Egypt with the Reduta Quintet. Joachim Kuhn also guested with them for a short time on piano. In 1966 the quintet changed its line-up, Deczi became leader and it is worth mentioning that alongside himself and his friend from Slovakia the drummer Laco Troppa he engaged two very young future stars of world jazz - the pianist Jan Hammer Jr. and the double bassist Miroslav Vitous, whose Junior Trio had fallen apart with the departure of Alan Vitous. In 1967 Laco Deczi formed his own band, which was to be an important part of the history of Czech jazz over the next twenty years: the hard bop quintet Jazz Cellula. Musicians who Went through it in its first phase included for example Ludek Hulan and Ivan Dominak, but also the, next first guitarist of Czech modern jazz Rudolf Dasek. As models they looked to the repertoire of Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter, with Deczi and Dasek adding their own original works. Another current of Czech jazz was represented by the group Jazz Q orientated to the music of Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman. It was founded in 1964 by the saxophonist and flautist Jiri Stivin and keyboards player Martin Kratochvil. Towards the end of the sixties Jazz Q was moving towards free jazz and jazz-rock synthesis.
The Interrupted Dream
The sixties in Czechoslovakia were marked by a relaxation of controls on cultural life. This happened both because of the pressure on politicians caused by economic problem's and cyclically deteriorating relations between the communist East and capitalist West, and as a result of the increasingly vigorous activities of the unofficial and semi-official Cultural scence, to which jazz belonged. Jazz musicians were gradually getting to go abroad, where they were usually sent to various festivals not only in the east but also the west, beyond the machine guns, minefields and barbed wire of the carefully guarded iron curtain. Such opportunities even started to be extended to amateur groups, which had several festivals in Europe. The 1966 saw the launch of a Czechoslovak Amateur Jazz Festival with international participation. Czech amateurs were now going to similar festivals, for example in San Sebastian in Portugal or in Vienna. In 1967 the festival that was to have the longest uninterrupted tradition of any of its kind in Czechoslovakia (it exists to this day) was founded in a small town close to Prague--the Slany Jazz Days'. The jazz grassroots seemed to be flourishing and Czech jazz gradually acquiring a reputation on the European scene. The Prague Spring of 1968 aroused great hope of change in the political system. For some time the cultural sphere had been seeing the rise of a generation bolder in expressing its ideas: the first happenings were organised, the new wave in film, and books that had been banned for years were coming out. Czech jazz was catching up fast in getting to know avant garde trends. This more liberal decade was also marked by the continuing emigration of jazzmen. The bassist Milan Pilar failed to return from an SHQ concert in Sweden in 1963. In the summer of 1965 the saxophonist Jan Konopasek left the republic. The leader of the Reduta Quintet, bassist Jan Arnet left at the beginning of 1966. Just before midnight on the 20th of August 1968 the armies of the Warsaw Pact marched into Czechoslovakia under Soviet leadership in order to put an end to the Prague Spring and keep the post-Stalinist politicians in power. Miroslav Vitous left to study in Boston the same month and stayed in the USA. At the beginning of September the saxophonist Jaroslav Jakubovic from the successful Jazz Combo Usti emigrated as well. In the autumn of 1968 Jan Hammer Jr. and the bassist Jiri "George" Mraz went to Munich for an engagement at the Club Domicile. When it was over they both went on scholarships to the Berklee School of Music in Boston and stayed in the USA. After the occupation the conductor, clarinetist and saxophonist Karel Krautgartnar, left the radio orchestra. He went to Vienna where he soon became chief conductor of the Big Band ORF. Czech jazz waited for a resurrection. Towards the end of 1969 a few jazz enthusiasts submitted and application to the authorities for approval for a new organisation--the future Jazz Section. It would not be permitted and established for another two years.
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|Date:||Apr 1, 2010|
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