The story of jazz in Hungary began after the first World War, for the following years records from England were imported, Hungarian musicians began to build small groups, and the people heard the new music for the first time. At first visiting musicians were a rarity, but later guests arrived from Western Europe and some Hungarian bands include the occasional English, German or Italian musician. In the thirties a good many American films were shown and such popular artists as Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Eleanor Powell, Paul Robeson and Al Jolson, and orchestras like the Casa Loma or Duke Ellington s became widely known and liked. The greatest event of these years was the personal appearance of the first full English orchestra, Jack Hylton s, which gave a number of highly successful concerts in the State Theatre in Budapest.
Prior to World War II imported records - His Master's Voice , Columbia,
Brunswick, etc. - served to introduce new voices and bands to Hungary, and such numbers as
Night and Day, The man I love, Tiger rag, Tea for two, Begin the beguine, and Alexander's
ragtime band became great hits. Our only guests in these years were popular singers like
Anita Best, Diana Clayton and Edna May.
After the war Hungary built a new world, a new state. Until 1949 a new
jazz era opened up after the years when German "fuehrers" had forbidden us to
play "Anglo-American plutocratic music". A break in the development accured
during the years from 1949 to 1953 when it was not proposed to play "decadent"
Western music: in these years only dance music and popular hits were allowed. From 1954 it
was once again possible to organise jazz groups, to play real jazz again, except for the
"cool" form and rock n roll which, it was claimed, was cosmopolitan and thus
undesirable. As a result an aspect of Anglo-American jazz music remains unknown in Hungary
- the period of be-bop and the subsequest cool and modern developments.
In the past many well known Hungarian musicians have become
internationally known, and this process has continued in recent years. I will mention some
who are living elsewhere, far from their home. Georg Cziffra, today recognised as one of
the most brilliant classical pianists, was a jazz musician for about fifteen years,
playing in bars and cafes: his superb technique was always most at home in the classical
sphere. Another pianist who has gone on to gain some international acclaim is Georg Feyer,
who also played for some years in bars and restaurants. His last appearance in Hungary was
at the Academy of Music in Budapest in a concert in which he was featured playing a
Tchaikovsky piano concerto. He was determined to show, before leaving Hungary, that he
would become a classical pianist, but his Vox records, although excellent of their kind,
show that he has remained a light musician. Lajos "Lulu" Solymossy was perhaps
the finest of all our pianists and for many years he played in the bar of the Hotel Duna
in Budapest, leaving in 1957 for good, since when he has worked in Helsinki, Vienna and
other European centres. The fourth of the well known pianists was Anton Gorody/Goitein,
also a singer, who now works on an ocean liner. It can be seen from this that Hungary has
given the world a number of well known pianists, but readers may be interested in knowing
what has happened at home.
Leader of Hungarian jazz life for the moment is the Magyar Radio
Tanczenekar Dance Orchestra of the Hungarian Radio, whose leader is Imre Zsoldos, also
well known as a trumpeter. This band was a guest last year at the jazz festival at
Boileau, but the critics quite truthfully designed it as a dance band and not a jazz
group. This policy stems, of course, from the official attitude that the object of the
radio band is to play dance music, because "wild jazz", rock n roll, etc.,
should not be encouraged amongst the younger people. The official policy does not mean,
however, that other people do not like to hear hotter forms of music, and some groups and
musicians like to listen and learn anything that is new: some, in fact, are playing cool
music as well. The bar of the Hotel Astoria is the meeting place for these musicians to
exchange news, ideas and melodies. The group that plays here is the Modern Jazz Quartet,
whose leader, Cornelius Kertész, studied in the U.S.A. What follows is a list of the
leading jazz and popular musicians in Budapest, but as jazz life is vitually confined to
our capital city this is also a list for Hungary as a whole.
Attila Garay, a pianist who leads his own group, studied at the musical
academy. Two years ago he made a tour of Turkey and had a meeting with Dave Brubeck. His
idol is Erroll Garder and this can be clearly heard in his music.
Vilmos Körmendi likes the traditional jazz idiom and he has formed a
small group drawn from members of the Radio Orchestra which plays far better, from a jazz
viewpoint, than the band itself.
Lajos Martiny, another pianist-leader, recently toured in Munich and
favours the swing style. His drummer, Julius Kovacs, could become the best on the
Eugene "Chappy" Orlay, who combines the functions of bandleader,
drummer and composer, is a veteran of Hungarian jazz who at times has led the finest band
in this part of Europe. His great favourite is Count Basie.
Joseph Szabo, pianist, and "Bubi" Beamter, drummer and
vibraphonist, are developing into a very good team and have been playing for a number of
years in the bar of the Hotel Duna, Budapest. Szabo is also a composer who wrote a hit
number titled Eiffel Tower.
Another good combo is the one that goes under the name of Nagy jr.-Maday:
the first-named is a good all-round musician on a number of instruments, while Maday, a
pianist-composer, is also one of our best arrangers.
Mihaly Tabanyi also leads an excellent group, but remains the star
himself: he plays the accordion and is a real virtuoso on this instrument. He is also a
songwriter whose hit - In the morning, at noon, at night - is one of the best of its kind
over the past few years.
The leading singers in Hungary are at present Lehel Németh and, from the
ladies, Elisabeth Kovach and Susanne Vadas. One should not forget the composer who has
written a great many hits which he sings to his own piano accompaniment - Eugene Horvath.
In the past few months Budapest has had many guests from Western Europe
who gave a series of concerts with great success. The star of these was the
Italian-Austrian-Swiss singer Vico Torriani, who was previously unknown to us. Teddy
Palmer, Jimmy Mackulis and Ines Taddio, all from Vienna, also appeared in concerts. As can
be seen, there were no real jazz musicians or instrumentalists amongst our visitors. In
the reverse direction, the Radio Orchestra appeared at a festival at Leipzig in Eastern
Germany known as the Festival of Dance and Light Music, and were a great success, being
considered by many to be the best musicians appearing.
The leading hits from the U.S.A. and England are played officially some
one to one and a half years after their appearance in their native countries. This has
been the pattern with such numbers as Volare, Come prima, Buona sera, etc. But the latest
numbers are well known from listening to Radio Luxembourg and the VOA programmes: the name
of Willis Conover is well known to us and his two-hourly programme of jazz music, heralded
by the signature tune Take the "A" train makes him regarded as a friend to all
jazz enthusiasts. The favourite musicians here are Louis Armstrong and Erroll Garner on
the jazz side and such artists as Louis Prima, Connie Francis, Cliff Richard, the Platters
and Russ Conway in the popular field.The best way to be conversant with the latest
musicians and songs is to make tapes from radio programmes, as records are not imported
and can only be obtained as presents from friends in other countries. Such records are
widely distributed between many collectors and tapes and records are frequently exchanged.
During the past three or four years some orchestras have visited Hungary:
from Czechoslovakia the Karel Vlach band and Dalibor Brázda's orchestra, From Yugoslavia
the orchestras of Radio Belgrade and Radio Zagreb, from Poland some excellent small
groups. Instrumentalists are greatly favoured by Hungarian jazz enthusiasts, but singers
appear to retain the leading popularity. A great success was attained by Elisabeth Charles
from Poland, a partly coloured singer whose style is very similar to that of Western
Hungarian popular hits are available on Qualiton records, although not
quite so speedily as one would like. For this reason the fans prefer to have their own
tape recorder and to make their own tapes of what interests them.
To summarise: Hungarian musicians and fans like jazz very much, and manage
to keep in touch with new directions, new themes, etc. Despite difficulties they all
strive to build up a good collection of records and tapes. This means that these people
are utilising every possibility of finding contact with others who like jazz, whether
professional or amateur: our mutual hobby uniting all lovers of jazz music.
Jazz Monthly, June 1961.