The header's only certain assertion is that we are talking about two books. The first one is Fonogram. Praktický průvodce historií záznamu zvuku (Phonogramme. Practical guide to the history of sound recording) by Gabriel Gössel. Behind the serious title hides a playful work which by its typography, pictorial supplements and the well-known reproductions of newspaper advertisings seemingly threatens to evoke nostalgia of the early 20th century and of the 1920-ies. The text body, however, bears witness to a serious research effort. First of all the technical history of sound recordings is presented from Edison's cylinder phonograph passing by Berliner's disc record gramophone to films with soundtracks. A section on the record industry and trade of Russia and the Soviet Union is inspired by Slavic mutuality. The adepts of historic ancillary sciences will find a precise iconographic review on the painting on which the famous „His master’s voice” trademark is based, including the dog Nipper its central figure, and a survey of the world's famous historic sound archives and their catalogues.
What about playfulness? Face it as early as in the preface where Ondřej Havelka in high spirits quotes from old song texts such as the couplet beginning with “My dear Vendelin, what are you up to, what are you holding in your hand?” (“Vendelíne, co děláš, co ty máš v ruce?”) , ruminantly establishing that to date nobody was able to, or dared to say what exactly this bad guy Vendelin held in his hand. Doubtlessly one of the great unsolved questions of Czech cultural history (I refrain from calling it a question of destiny because that's the domain of Hungarians).
The second chapter on Czech gramophony up to 1945 not only impresses with its textual and pictorial documentation but also holds more Hungarian references. In a song written around 1919 famous cabaret artist Karel Hašler who between the world wars with his texts and songs supported the young Czech-Slovak democracy commemorates of Hungarians as follows: „Hungarians in revolution, Károlyi threw up the throne, now it's occupied by a Hungarian Jew grabbing his knife, by Béla Kún…” („V Uhrách byla revoluce, s Károlym se zbořil trůn, na nĕj nased’ s kudlou v ruce mad’arský žid Bela Kuhn…”) As we can see even the protagonists of bourgeois democracy were prone to some antisemitism which is particular even next to the habitual simplifications of the genre and even though Czech antisemitism was nurtured by an anti-German stance, thus directed against those Czech Jews assimilated to German culture. This is an example of how early records became a medium of political propaganda.
Popular film actor and cabaret artist František Fiala probably took on his stage name Ferenc Futurista for the sound of it. This definitely could be a Hungarian name but Ferenc in this case does not refer to the Hungarian for Francis but to American sculptor, Ferenth, given that the actor has an early record in plastic arts. In any case a huge number of records bear this apparently Hungarian name, amongst them a reportage of a soccer match Hungary against Czecho-Slovakia.
The book's third chapter features a “Who-is-who” collection of singers, text writers and bands from the Sokol Association's Brass Band of Kolín to Karel Vlach's Big Band; the latter we may frequently meet on records published by the legendary Supraphon label in the years of real socialism – but that's already a different story.
As we can see the work of Gössel is devoted to the traditions of a section of Central European culture related with the Danube region and the Monarchy, given that the whole book including graphics and contents are saturated with a certain nostalgia of the 'great period' of this region.
The second book edited by Rainer Bratfisch and published at Berlin is a completely different breed (Freie Töne. Die Jazzszene in der DDR). The volume discusses 40 years of East German jazz life in the former GDR, including the four years of Soviet military administration after 1945. No room for nostalgics or for a 'belle époque' atmosphere, instead there is Neue Sachlichkeit (new objectiveness): arid, strict analysis, precise reportages, dispassionate memorials, black and white photography. The entire book is cool down to its two-column typography. (Evidence for scientific soundness is provided by the flawless footnotes, the chronology, the bibliography, the index of photographs and names, and an introduction of contributors to the volume. German precision in the best sense of the word.)
East German jazz history indeed is an exceedingly interesting subject of cultural history. Here at the hottest spot of international class struggle, at the birthplace of the Iron Curtain some struggled to localise a musical genre of American origin. (The volume does not refer to the antecedents in the Weimar Republic given that there was no clear continuity due to the years of national socialism.) Add to this the fact that Stalinist cultural politicians must have been greatly irritated by a genre built upon improvisation and thus difficult to control, and imagine the difficulties faced by East German jazz musicians. In their dispute with cultural bureaucrats the only supportive stance was reference to the 'music of oppressed niggers' ('Neger' worker at that time was an acceptable term). To the contrary the anti-jazz stance of Adorno did no service to their cause and Marxist leaders defining East German musical aesthetics had an habit to refer to him.
Up to 1961 this struggle for the acceptance of jazz continued more or less successfully and early on the relatively open border allowed for some interchange with the west (especially at Berlin). In 1961 after the erection of the Berlin Wall this instantly changed and no room was left for western influence. Surprisingly within the narrow space a quite intensive internal development took place and also, contact with eastern neighbours brought unexpected new effects. First of all the Germans were influenced by the lively Polish jazz scene, but they also became aware of Prague and Budapest. In the 1980-ies the strengthening of east-west musical exchange was typical of a weakening regime still relentless on the surface, yet there was something like an overture to the end of the Wall.
The two volumes deal with an aspect of cultural history pertaining to two spheres of Central Europe, the Czech territory of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy respectively its successor state, and the successor state of the German Empire. Even with regard to these special topics we become well aware of the differences of culture and mentality between these regions. That is why the caption refers to Central Europe. The term popular music effectively deserves a question mark given that the Czech history of sound recordings also extends to other musical genres and first of all, it is more than questionable whether jazz will ever belong to the category of popular music. Both volumes, however, compel us to keep pondering these questions.
Gössel, Gabriel: Fonogram. Praktický průvodce historií záznamu zvuku. (Fonogram. Gyakorlati vezető a hangrögzítés történetéhez.) Praha, Radioservis, 2001, 229. p.
Bratfisch, Rainer (publisher): Freie Töne. Die Jazzszene in der DDR. Berlin, Ch. Links Verl., 2005, 334.p. (+CD: Erstes DDR-All-Stars-Jazzkonzert, 8/9. Dezember 1965, Kongresssaal im Hygienemuseum Dresden.)