Resurrection of the Russian Satchmo

Resurrection of the Russian Satchmo

by Alexey Bateshev
copyright © 2002 Alexey Bateshev

It was a real wonder, a miracle of art. December 14 2001, at the prestigious Moscow Tchaikovski Hall, the legendary Eddie Rosner Jazz Orchestra triumphally played his famous hits of '30s and '40s: What!?

Yes. And it was not a band of ghosts, it was a ghost orchestra, the first of the kind in Russia. Just like nowadays Glenn Miller's, Count Basie's, Dorsey Bros.' orchestras do exist.

Eddie Rosner, also known as Adolf Ignazy, as Ady, as Eddie Ignatievitch, also recorded as Pinhas Ben Itzhak, a solo trumpet virtuoso and bandleader who was born in Berlin, who ascended in prehitler Germany, first recorded in France, who became a star in pre-war Poland, who then was anschlussed to the USSR which made him Honored Artist and then jailed to gulag. The most tragic figure of the world jazz, he was called "the second jazz trumpet after Satchmo" and said to have possessed a Louie photo with a dedication "To white Armstrong from black Rosner." He and his Soviet jazz band, the best in the USSR, were a Byelorussian party leader's favorites, earned salaries more than any artist in the world, had the best wardrobe, owned two luxurious railway sleeping cars and appeared on stage personally for comrade Stalin. And they lost all that overnight.

Rosner's name was forbidden [to be mentioned] twice -- first time just after arrest, second time after his leaving to his home town Berlin. But even now it is still concealed, slurred over, veiled, hushed up. The orchestra's participation in the popular movie "Carnival Night" is not mentioned in the credits. Reissued records with his participation also neglect to mention him. Maximum he deserves now is to be referred in enumerative case within a row of other bandleaders.

But lately a little explosion of interest to Eddie Rosner shows. Around ten years ago I made a Rosner Memorial festival in Kazakhstan, where in Stalin's time Mrs. Rosner was exiled. A year after, it was reiterated in Moscow by other people. Then I did a series of broadcasts about Rosner on Radio Free Europe. Recently a French film "A Jazzman from Gulag" was shown in Europe and Russia. A Japanese NHK made their TV film about the musician. In Poland Felix Falk, a director of a cult movie "Byl Jazz," is planning to make a feature film about Rosner's story.

During latter years impresario Maya Kotchubeyeva and I produced a series of commemorative concerts dedicated to the great jazz bandleaders -- Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman and even Bert Ambrose. These events happened at the Tchaikovski Hall [in Moscow] and attracted a lot of people. And lately we decided to consecrate our next program to Eddie Rosner. To convoke a new orchestra, to give musicians scores and parts of the Rosner's repertoire. But:

All the Rosner's legacy was exterminated or scattered -- no scores nowhere can be found today. The only way to revive the orchestra was to restore the scores from the records left partly on 78s, partly even on the ribs -- on X-ray films with chests or pelvises. As it was nicknamed those years, on the granny's skeleton. It was no time for fundraising. We fixed upon this beautiful project to be sponsored at our own.

Many arrangers refused, and only one, named Vladimir Prokhorov, helped the scores to be resurrected. He completed his part in the process fast and irreproachably. The real sound of the Rosner orchestra that captured listeners in the late '30s and '40s was reproduced again, and tears glittered in the Tchaikovski Hall audience.

The opener was Rosner's hit "A Thousand and One Bars in the Jazz Rhythm." I remember when I first heard this piece. I heard it from a just-bought 78. It was months after the war. That jumping strain stroked me, it was new. It seemed to be the sign of a new life, a life without war, without fear. New hopes stood on the threshold: Rosner's style was a milestone of those days, of that new era.

The first set contained the most popular instrumental Rosner's selections of that period, like Joe Bishop's "Blue Prelude," Strauss' "Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald" and Tizol's "Caravan" in extraordinary Rosner's renditions. And of course "St. Louis Blues" orchestrated by Haim Nagel and Lui Markowicz. Rosner was the first one who introduced these two latter pieces to the Russians and made them extremely popular. The original Duke's version came much later.

This night the last survivor from the Rosner's orchestra of the '50s -- a legendary vintage drummer soloist Boris Matveyev -- sparklingly soloed in "Caravan." For him, who was the jazz fans' idol of the '50s and is now almost retired, it was a special emotional experience. And when the audience stood up in unanimous ovation, Boris only could come close to a mike to mumble "Spassibo, spassibo ["Thanks, thanks]."

The second set was made up of songs. Eddie Rosner is awfully underestimated as a songwriter. He introduced a new style of songs -- innocently non-Soviet and jazzy. It was a kind of part of "Western hemisphere of Russian culture," a part of emigrants' Russia. Like Vertinski, like Leshchenko: This night a number of masterpieces were performed. A dramatic romance "Why Should We Smile At?" was sensitively chanted and played by vet trumpeter-singer Evgeni Baranov. Another Rosner's masterpiece for trumpet, a swan song "Farewell My Love" recorded a few weeks before his arrest, was recreated by Vladimir Galaktionov. Here was a renowned "Tyrolese Song," such smashes as "Cowboy Song," "Mandolin, Guitar and Bass," and of course the craze of the '40s, "Cicha Woda," with witty lyrics by Ludwik Jerzy Kern. That is the hardest point of the show for me to describe -- I became a front man to croon it.

The audience was very special. They met every number with applause. Several times they made standing ovations. They were like jubilee classmates graduates, as if brother soldiers abroad meeting after a good while being apart. It was uniquely touching. They tapped on the shoulders, hugged, embraced, kissed, made photos together. They stayed and talked long after the end of the show. As well as the musicians themselves, everybody felt that something historically important happened tonight.

President of the Russian Jazz Critics Guild, Alexey Batashev is a writer, television and radio broadcaster, and producer-promoter who (among many other credits) opened the first Soviet jazz club in Leningrad in 1958, and published Soviet Jazz -- A Historical Survey in 1972.

C o m m e n t s

Eddie Rosner 1 of 1
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June 05, 08

can any body tell me where I can find his music or visuals

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