Jazz is a living language, as maddeningly rhapsodic as the hungarian language Budapest… One of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and the ancestral home of several influential composers.
This legacy includes Franz Liszt, Zoltan Kodaly, and Gyorgy Ligeti, whose music was used extensively in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey . I felt a special affinity for Bela Bartok’s music at about the same time that my interest in jazz began. This leads to the topic of my article; jazz on stage. The concert experience is fundamental to the enjoyment and appreciation of this, or any music. My initiation to jazz began in early adolescence. I was raised in my father’s nightclub, THE ROMAN ARCH, located across the street from the Atlantic Ocean in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
At that time bands were often booked to perform from Wednesday thru Sunday. These bookings would sometimes extend for months, in order to allow the band to build a following. I often think what an anomaly this is today. My father was sailing against prevailing winds, as rock music was omnipresent.
Our music was popular, but with arrangements by musicians schooled in everything from Broadway to jazz. Throughout the years, these musicians contributed to my musical appreciation.
My uncle who immigrated from Naples, Italy, had a restaurant adjoining our club. A chef working there lent me a stack of Herbie Mann and John Coltrane records. Mr. Mann’s music failed to reach me. Coltrane’s music, however, made an impact. I did not really understand it, but I FELT it.
At some point, I met an aspiring singer named Fred Farrell who was friends with band members performing at our club. Fred lived in the same apartment complex as my father and I, after my parent’s divorce. As a result of my interest, Fred brought me to RICHARD’S LOUNGE, a jazz club located in Lakehurst, N.J. (the site of the Hindenburg disaster). Richard Stein, the owner, was a drummer who had performed with Peter Nero.
Richard brought top talent down from New York City to his club. At that time, clubs would have an area for under-age non-drinkers, and Richard had a sofa section for this purpose. This is where I initially sat with tea, and where my musical education really began. For a number of years, until Mr. Stein sold the club, I experienced some great musical situations. Chico Hamilton comes to mind, but foremost are two artists: Woody Shaw and David Liebman. Shaw was simply one of the great, and in my opinion last, of the trumpet innovators.
I was privileged to bring my 1st girlfriend to Richard’s for the Steve Turre/Junior Cook Sextet featuring Shaw. Trombonist Turre has been a member of the Saturday Night Live Band for many years. He can be seen playing conch shells on the show, and I can remember him excitedly showing me these shells at Richard’s.
I saw this band twice, once with David Liebman sitting in on tenor contributing a terrifying solo that resulted in the drummer’s ride cymbal collapsing off the bandstand. Later, I saw Shaw perform here in California. Dig Shaw’s reimagining of the march from Zoltan Kodaly’s HARY JANOS SUITE on Larry Young’s UNITY Blue Note record.
David Liebman’s band LOOK OUT FARM are a special memory. I saw Lieb at Richard’s many times both during and after his tenure with Miles Davis. I witnessed his band’s metamorph- osis from acoustic to electric instruments, returning to acoustic music toward’s the end of the band’s existence.
Lookout Farm also toured Europe extensively during this time. Liebman witnessed Coltrane perform in N.Y.C. on dozens of occasions. The intensity of Lieb’s quartet was palpable, analogous to what Liebman himself experienced on Coltrane’s bandstand. Liebman’s music is part of that lineage, and I am grateful to have caught his fire.
Without the sophisticated, appreciative peoples of Europe and Asia, this music would be a dead art today. So much of American music from every genre has been thankfully preserved for television or radio broadcast in Europe.
These documents that have been stored sometimes for decades are only now being released on DVD or CD. As an example, I have just ordered the new release MILES DAVIS-THE BERLIN CONCERT DVD from a 1969 European tour. For me, Davis’ playing that year is arguably at it’s most powerful apogee. One of my favourite recent jazz recordings is Ed Thigpen’s SCANTET #1.
Thigpen died on February 24 this year, and had been living in Copenhagen since 1972.
His drum work had been hailed throughout Europe, but he could not get arrested Stateside. I must also make mention of the superb audio quality of recordings that originate from Scandinavia.
Click here for some great tips on Jazz in Budapest
If Hungarian jazz is what you want to hear, know and love, then this site is your first stop. The Society itself was founded by a group of prominent musicians with the help of the Ministry of Hungarian Cultural Heritage.
Over the years, it has evolved from focusing on the establishment of an acceptable performance venue for Budapest Society members to encompass assisting with the promotion and production of jazz concerts and festivals around the country.
Hungarian jazz musicians from the Society who are performing internationally also get their due here. Artist’s profiles, contact information and publicity photos to help you get to know the local luminaries of jazz are all on offer, as are some links to other organizations whose activities support the growth and success of the surging Hungarian jazz scene. Budapest jazz-scene literacy is a click away.
Text: Tony Bellucci, Illustration: David "Mucci" Fassett