[Dixielandjazz] Eddie Rosner - Forgotten Jazz Musician
Tue, 04 Jun 2002 09:41:26 -0400
John Farrell asked about ghost jazz musician "Eddie Rosner" Here is his
story. Long, but an intriguing read.
By Mike Zwerin From the International Edition of the Herald
Tribune:PARIS, 7 March 2002 -
Born Adolph and also known as Adi, Eddy and the "White Louis Armstrong,"
Eddie Rosner was acclaimed first in Berlin and then in Warsaw before
being chased out by the Nazis. "It didn't help being a Jew playing Negro
music," he said: "Even if your name was Adolph." He fled to the USSR,
where he became a star, a convict, and eventually a deserter. An Eddie
Rosner revival is underway.
A memorial concert on December 14th at Moscow's prestigious Tchaikowsky
Hall was described (on the telephone from the Russian capital) by its
producer Alexey Batashe, as a, "glittering event. The legendary Eddie
Rosner Jazz Orchestra triumphantly played his famous hits of '30s and
'40s. All the Rosner legacy was scattered and exterminated. His name was
forbidden twice in Soviet Union. Even now, it is still concealed,
slurred over, veiled, hushed-up. No scores nowhere could be found. We
had them transcribed from old 78s. This is first authentic ghost-band in
Russia, like Glenn Miller and Count Basie."
Entrepreneur, historian, broadcast media host and founder of the Moscow
Jazz Club, Batashev started the Rosner revival in the early '90s when he
dedicated a festival in Kazakhstan to the trumpeter's wife, who had been
exiled there under Stalin. It was followed by tributes in Moscow, and on
Radio Free Europe, and last year Pierre-Henri Salfati's documentary
film, "A Jazzman From The Gulag," won awards on the festival circuit.
Rosner was born in Berlin in 1910 and was a teenaged classical trumpet
virtuoso before joining the successful German hot-jazz band Weintraub's
Syncopators in 1930. His rare talent was quickly rewarded. When the
Nazis took power, he was touring Western Europe with his own band. After
his application for a Belgian residence permit was turned down, he moved
to Krakow and then Warsaw. Between 1933-1939 his 13-piece Polish swing
band, described in Salfati's documentary as "wildly popular," was held
over for lengthy engagements in nightclubs like Gold and Peterburgski.
They concertized in Monte Carlo, Benelux and Scandinavia, and shared a
bill with Maurice Chevalier at the ABC Theater in Paris. He opened his
own club Chez Adi in Lodz.
Rosner hired the best players and arrangers available. It was a swinging
band and he was taken seriously as an improviser. Physically, he
resembled a Continental version of Xavier Cugat and wore a matinee-idol
pencil moustache like his hero Harry James. He corresponded at length
with Gene Krupa. It was said that he learned to speak English like a New
York taxi driver. American musicians he had met invited him over but he
thought his future lay in Europe. Touring Italy in 1934, his band
crossed Louis Armstrong's, and there was a trumpet "cutting contest."
(Armstrong won.) Afterwards they exchanged publicity photos dedicated,
in turn, to the "White Louis Armstrong" and the "Black Eddie Rosner."
When the Germans occupied Poland, he fled once more. He and his young
Polish wife, singer Ruth Kaminska, escaped first to Soviet-occupied
Byalistock and then Lvov. The orchestra he formed this time was heard
and admired by Pantelomon Panomorenko, First Secretary of the
Belarusyian Communist Party, a jazz fan. In his excellent book Red Hot -
The Fate of Jazz In The Soviet Union, S. Frederick Starr explains what
happened next: "Arriving with his bodyguards at Rosner's dressing room
after a performance in Minsk, [Panomorenko] proposed that the newly
arrived band be named the State Jazz Orchestra of the Belarusyian
The trumpeter was named "Honored Artist" of that Republic (now Belarus).
After his band gave a command performance in what appeared to be an
empty theater, Rosner's manager received a message that Stalin, who had
been in the balcony, liked it. During World War II, "Stalin's band" (led
by a German Jew, remember) toured the Soviet Union from Armenia to
Siberia in their own railroad sleeping car to play for the armed forces
and party apparatchiks. From time to time they rode flatbed trucks and
tanks to the front lines. Rosner earned as much as 100,000 rubles a year
(an average worker earned about 2,000.) The Rosners were given the use
of a four-room apartment furnished with Afghan carpets and a grand piano
opposite the Kremlin.
According to Frederick Starr: "It is doubtful that any jazz musician on
earth has ever been recompensed more generously within his society than
Eddie Rosner in the Soviet Union during wartime." His band played
standards like "On The Sentimental Side" and "Midnight in Harlem." Two
men in a camel-costume would cross the stage during Juan Tizol's
"Caravan." Rosner was a survivor in more ways than one.
Then the wind changed and it all disappeared. After the war, he was
arrested for peddling decadent, depraved capitalist music and sent to
Siberia. The camp commander, a fan ever since hearing an exceptional
Rosner concert in Omsk, allowed him to form an inmate band. Rosner
recouped some of his veteran sidemen and taught other prisoners how to
play jazz. Sometimes they made their own instruments. His new orchestra
was on the road performing for guards and officials at camps throughout
the Gulag until he was freed in 1954, after Stalin died.
In Moscow, he built a 64 piece ensemble which became one of the most
popular variety acts in the USSR. But the joy had gone out of it, one
setback followed another. He was increasingly unhappy, bitter and
frustrated. His name dropped into a second Soviet
memory-hole when he decided to return home to Berlin, where he died poor
and forgotten in 1976.