The prehistory of Jazz Hungary probably dates back to the 1860s, when the first minstrel toupes toured then Austro-Hungrian monarchy. By the 1890s there was a regular theatre circuit serving the Somossy Orpheum at Budapest, featuring acts such the black eccentric duets of Jackson & Joseph, or Brooks & Duncan, and also song-and-dance troupes like the Ethiopian Serenaders. The ground was therefore well prepared when, in 1896, a series of special events was organised to celebrate the 1000th anniversary og the foundation of Hungary: the famous Barrison Girls introduced a wider public to the new dances at Budapest's "Városliget" (Town Park).
The new rhythms and dances caught on. Henry P. Vogel's cake-walk "Neger Hochzeit" (Negro Wedding) was published in 1903 by the journal "Zenélő Magyarország" (Musical Hungary), and other important American compositions were published by "Geró Zenenűkiadó" (The Geró Music Published House), Budapest.
The year 1912 saw the presentation of the operetta "Gésak" (Geishas) in Budapest, which featured Irving Berlin's tune "Alexander's Ragtime Band", Hungarian lyrics by István Weiner. This song enjoyed tremendous popularity - no fewer than 7 different editions of the sheet music were published -while a locally vocal version by' Erno Kiraly& Hermin Solti gets this anthology off to a start. However, genuine local ragtime compositions were not published until several years'later: Albert Hetényi-Heidlberg's "Lilly Rag" dates from 1918, and the excellent Hungarian ragtime pianist Aladár Székely published his "Pension Rag" in 1919, followed by his outstanding "Skeeper Rag" in 1924. Székely continued his career in the United States, where his compositions were handled by Leo Feist.
Very unfortunately there were no recording facilities in Hungary up to the 1930's and Hungarian artists had to travel abroad for recording purposes. A gipsy band led Béla Berkes, for example, recorded several ragtime titles in Berlin, some of which were even issued in the United States. Appropriately "Alexanders Ragtime Band" commences this anthology.
The 1920's saw visits by several important orchestras and shows, most notably Sam Wooding's "Chocolate Kiddies" in 1925, a 35 member ensemble featuring singers, dancers, and outstanding jazz instrumentalists. Other groups worth mentioning were the Palm Beach Five, Billy Arnold, Herb Flemming and Benny Peyton from the United States; Teddy Sinclair's Savoy Orpheans, Jack Hylton, and Edgar Adeler from the United Kingdom: the Weintraub Syncopators from Germany; etc.
The 1920s also saw the emergence of the Hungarian jazz pioneer, drummer, and bandleader Chappy, whose real name is Jenő Orlay-Obendorfer. He was engaged by American Arthur Briggs to provide the rhythm in his Savoy Syncops Orcestra. Chappy's drumming can be heard to advantage in the band's 1927 recording of "Whoo-oo? You-oo! That's Who", vocal by a young Al Bowlly.
Speaking of vocals: A group of Hungarian singers known as "The 5 Songs" recorded with the Weintraubs, mentioned above. They ranked among the most prominent vocal on the continent, alongside the "Abel Quartett", the "Kardosch Sänger" and the "Two Jazzers". the latter group, composed of László Mocsányi and Tibor Lakos, recorded a total of more than 400 sides in Berlin, Budapest, and Bucarest. Their rendition of "Bimbambulla" combines attempts at scat singing and instrument imitation.
There were actually quite a lot of Hungarian musicians and orhestras touring all over the world during the 1920s. Among these "The Jolly Boys" went on a tour of Germany in 1928, then spent the summer of 1929 at Copenhagen's "Arena". While there they had the good luck to be able to record four titles, one of which -"Kom, lad os danse" - is included here as an example of "hot" dance music of the period.
It was always quite easy to buy the latest American gramophone records in Hungary. During the 1920s up to the 1940s the records reached the shops of Budapest within four months after the original release in the USA. Besides, many records were pressed locally under licence. The most popular bands, judging by the sales, must have been those led by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Nat Gonella, and Django Reinhardt. Thus, Hungarian musicians were influenced by listening to records as well as by meeting touring musicians.
Bandleader Ede Buttola anglicised his name and called himself "Eddy Buttler". His original 6 "Jolly Boys" were gradually enlarged to a ten-piece orchestra. This group, in 1938, recorded the swinging evergreen "Bei mir bist du schön" for the newly founded Hungarian record company, Radiola. This recording features a vocal by English trumpeter/singer Len Hughes. Soon afterwards Hughes left Buttler to organise his own recording orchestra, a big band which he was to lead for about 20 years. this anthology present his 1939 recording of "Hold Tight - Hold Tight". Len Hughes made Hungary his permanent home. He died there in 1971.
Besides Buttler and Hughes there were many other orchestras playing jazz and hot dance music. Apart from the studio bands of gramophone companies (Radiola, and also Odeon), there were up to 10 regular big bands around. One of these was directed by pianist/arranger Lajos Martiny, represented here by a swinging version of "Mama Don't Allow Me Play Jazz". It is interesting to note that there were quite a lot of Anglo-Saxon vocalists in Hungary at the time: Nina McKinney, Rosie Poindexter, Diana Clayton, Edna May, Sadie Hopkins and, above all, Anita Best. Anita Best recorded prolifically and she contributes the vocal on "Mama Don't Allow". (Despite English sounding stage names, girl singers such as Anita Suli, Edna Cooper, or Ann Captain were actually Hungarians).
It is generally known that many outstanding violin virtuosos can be connencted with Hungary, and Budapest. In actual fact, the fabulous American violinist Edddie South studied at Jenő Hubay's master school in Budapest. After hours he used to play jazz with his own band at the "New York Kávéház" (Café Restaurant New York). He even chose Hubay's composition "Hejre Kati" as his band signature tune. Clarinetist/tenorsax player Pál Herrer was a member of the Eddie South band for a while. While Eddie South was in Hungary, Budapest witnessed the emergence of a whole generation of technically highly qualified "hot" violin players, most of whom doubled on guitar, clarinet, or saxophone. Gábor Radics for instance had been playing violin and sax in Josephine Baker's orchestra. This LP highlights Radics on violin and Herrer on accordion in a 1942 version of Joe Venuti's "Magic Violin".
Radics was a member of Chappy's orchestra and led several combos his own. Other important violinists were Elemér Kiss, Lexi Rácz, Bertalan Bujla (who recorded with Teddy Stauffer's Swiss orchestra - an example is on HQ 2011), Mátyás Csáyi, and László Radics. The former can be heard on "Suzy", the latter on "Mama Don't Allow".
Since his early days with Arthur Briggs, Chappy had toured widely with his own band, playing as far away as Batavia. His amazing autobiography was published in 1943 as "Dzsesszdobbal a világ körül" (i.e. "With Jazzdrums Around The World"). Upon his return to Hungary he organised another big band. This band occasionally presented so called "drum battles", involving two to three drummers. Among his many recorings were "Hooray For Hollywood" (1943), and "Daddy" (1942).
At that time Chappy conducted the band, leaving the drum chair to younger musicians. The drum solo on "Hooray For Hollywood" is actually performed by "Api" Weisz. The vocal on "Daddy" is by Charlie Short, which is the nom de plume of Hungarian Károly Kurcz. Charlie Short was also a capable bass player and he contributes to trio recordings by Antal Gorody; "Liza" and "Nobody's Sweetheart" are excerpts from medleys. Antal Gorody, in turn, was also a singer; he made many recordings with the orchestra led by Lajos Martiny. to complete the list Hungarian vocalists, mention must be made of Kató Fényes. His "Stuff Like That There", accompanied by the Durium Orchestra, already dates from the post war period.
As explained before, Hungary boasted a surprisingly large number of capable orchestras during 1930s, making it difficult to select only 16 tracks for this anthology. However, there is no doubt that Filu must be included. Filu (real name: Fülöp Schenkelbach) was already present on the Jolly Boys' 1929 recording. After WWII he organised his own orchestra, waxing numerous records between 1946 and 1949. They were obviously closely styled after the current American bigbands. "Hey-Ba-Be-Ri-Rop" is an homage to Lionel Hampton, while the "Golden Wedding" is performed with a bow to Woody Herman.
The next selection features another drum solo, this time Tommy Vig. The orchestra was organised for the Motion Picture Export Association Inc. And was therefore called the Mopex Orchestra. This band played at the "Városi Színház" (to-day: "Erkel Theatre") before and between shows of American movie films. Metro-Goldway-Mayer also belonged to the Mopex chain. The company organised a jazz competition. The show was stolen by Tommy Vig, son of violinist/reedman György Vig, at that time only nine years old! Chairman of the jury was Chappy, who also directed the band. The event was preserved on two extremely rare on the Mesterhang label. "Dob-párbaj" (credited to Chappy) is reissued on this LP.
The anthology closes with a rendition of "Suzy" as played by the orchestra of Mihály Tabányi, and featuring Mátyás Csányi on violin.
Cover text to the LP Jazz And Hot Dance In Hungary 1912-1949. Harlequin HQ 2015 (1984)