According to the English title of the CD, the present recordings are destined to show us the presence of old jazz in old Hungary. However, these recordings bring to us Hungarians not only the old jazz but old Hungary, as well, just for one hour. Looking from a certain distance of time everything seems to have been carefree and nice. But perhaps it was not so. Just as listening to the new record we feel joy which makes us forget all our troubles while making this album, difficulties of arrangements and the problems. Here is the finished product which gives joy not only for us, musicians but the listeners, too.
This record is the third Bohém CD published by the Hungarian Society for Jazz Research & Foundation for Jazz Education and Research in Hungary. The first one entitled Hungarian Rag (TR-HSJR 2004 CD) had the same purpose as this one: to present the Hungarian jazz music in the early years of this century. The present CD is a little different, however. The sheets were issued/circulated and played in Hungary, some of the music is from Hungary but it is mostly American music. These selections were very popular at the time in Hungary, ragtimes, cabaret songs or dance music. A few of them were written by European composers. For example, the masterpiece of Béla Zerkovitz Gyere Josephin!..., [Come Josephine!] made complete by the brilliant lyrics of László Szilágyi. Or Albert Hetényi-Heidlberg who marked all his works by Opus-numbers, as he did with his Ohio (op. 563). He lived mostly in Vienna. Besides the Americans the so-called "domestic" composers who were very popular in Hungary often were not really Hungarians. For instance, to one of the most popular American songs of the era Under The Bamboo Tree a certain Eugen Mátray wrote fine German lyrics under the title Meine Molly! [My Molly]. Both Frank Myer, author of Blue Fox-Trot and the person under the pseudonym of Translateur, author of Mississippi Cake Walk are Austrian composers.The march entitled On The Mississippi by the famous American co-authors Carroll and Fields was written on European (precisely Austrian) influence unanonymously. Only in this track can be heard the instrument visible on the cover of this record: the horned violin. It is named in the literature after its manufacterer as "Stroh-violin" which generates a strange sound by a gramophone-like device. Its loudness certainly exceeds that of acoustic violins so since the '20s dance bands liked to use the horned violin. Besides the horned violin orchestras of the age also used other extraordinary instruments. One of them was the xylophone. The reason for using the cimbalom was very simple: the main propagandists of jazz were the gypsy bands playing all styles, and in those groups the cimbalom was a basic instrument. Through the cadenza of My Gal Is A High-Born Lady we tried to make this world perceptible.
The selections of Howard McKnight have special Hungarian aspects: his songs became very popular in Hollywood by a twin singer duo of Hungarians named The Dolly Sisters. Despite the Dollys who never used their original names (Janka and Rózsi Deli) the Mocsányi-Lakos singer duo working in their native country, made a contribution to the success of many American hits in Hungary. Besides the Gyere Josephin!...,[Come Josephine!] mentiomed above many Irving Berlin compositions were on their repertoire which fascinated the audiences of Europe's best concert halls and night clubs. Alexander's Ragtime Band, Berlin's best known composition does not appear in this selection (although three different versions were made in Hungary in 1912, just one year after its publication) but instead of it there are two, not so known songs, very popular in old Hungary. Both of them are imgeniously composed works where music and lyrics are in perfect unity. Ragtime Violin! and That Mysterious Rag would deserve more attention. The Dolly Sisters made success not only with McKnight compositions. Byron Gay's Vamp Me and Harry Carroll's I'm Always Chasing Rainbows were on their repertoire, too. The latter's speciality is that its theme was converted from the middle section of Fantasie-Impromptu of Frederyk Chopin, the excellent Polish piano-virtuoso and composer, into a jazzy hit by Carroll. The original Chopin fragment is also played in our musical setting.
We didn't aspire for a perfect imitation of the '10s, '20s, '30s, since in order to recall them authentically there are original recordings. We just tried to interpret the old music in today's taste. It's enough to refer to one of the most popular dances of the era, the cake walk, and to one of the most popular music pieces of the genre - Whistling Rufus composed by Kerry Mills and to its closing section. Modern choruses, finesse in musical setting makes the selections up-to-date. Occasionally I altered a few harmonies or melodic turns when I felt they fit better. However, our main ambition was to give a faithful rendition of the era. We rather tried to become one with the archaic spirit of the old melodies than to get lost in the jungle of modern sounds.
Kecskemét, 27th June, 1997
Translated by Attila Márton
Cover text to the CD Bohém Ragtime Jazzband: Early Hungarian Jazz (Pannon Jazz PJ 1023)