EXOTIC JAZZ IMPRESSIONS FROM HUNGARY (1963-65)
Budabeats Records presents four jazz inspired cuts from the early ‘60s. This period is not renowned for quality Hungarian music, however it gave birth to a handful of gems that sound world class, even today. The single features two tracks by Mária Toldy, and one track each by Nadja Beimel and Márta Szirmay. The common denominator is jazz, but it is blended with other styles such as Afro-Cuban, exotica and bossa nova. This bold, adventurous sound transcends the luke-warm clichés of dance music of the time. That’s why we felt it worth it to dust off these tough-to-find recordings and give them a new spin.
The record is available from February 2017 in a custom designed picture sleeve, with two different sticker sets by Recordshack Distribution. The release is limited to 500 copies. You can create your own unique record by using the stickers accompanying the single to lay graphic elements on the label.
By the beginning of the 1950s the totalitarian socialist state had conquered the cultural sphere, just like any other walk of life, controlling all artistic and creative activities. Jazz was seen as decadent music of Western imperialism, which had been the typical form of entertainment for the “sinful” bourgeoisie before the war. The Musicians’ Union persecuted bands that played American or – God forbid – improvisational music by any means necessary. According to a report from that time: “Influenced by tips, [musicians] accommodate the needs of elements with bourgeois taste, or even hostile attitudes. It is not uncommon that they perform Soviet songs and good new hungarian songs in jazz-like arrangements and rhythms. The bands are undisciplined in most of the places. They are often drunk.”
(Executive Committee meeting of the Budapest Council, June 6, 1952)
The loosening up of politics in the early 60s made it possible for the Hungarian jazz scene, that had previously only existed completely illegaly, to step out of the shadows. The Youth Jazz Club of Dália Eszpresszó in Budapest’s city center is considered as the cradle of the local jazz movement. Although the club still operated under the oversight of the Communist Youth Alliance, it offered a chance for jazz enthusiasts to meet every other week. The general opinion of jazz still fluctuated between tolerated and supported, which was of course far from ideal, especially compared to the blossoming jazz scenes elsewhere in the Eastern Bloc. The Magyar Hanglemezgyártó Vállalat – the state owned Hungarian record company – had only one jazz release annually (Modern Jazz Anthology I-X, 1963-1971). In comparison Polish jazz bands could release individual albums, which resulted in a steady output of jazz records. These obstacles caused severe, irreversible damage, however jazz found its way to the wider audience in Hungary as proven by a handful of unique masterworks that are barely known outside of the country. We present four deep vocal cuts from this legacy that blend jazz with elements of styles like Afro-Cuban, Exotica or bossa nova.
Mária Toldy (1938-) prepared for a career as a singing teacher, however the decision-makers in the popular music department of the Hungarian Radio were so convinced by her first test recording that she quickly became one of the most frequently recorded voices. She cut dozens of singles and on multiple occasions took home the winning prize in the Hungarian Dance Song Contest in the second half of the 1960s. She is featured on this release with two tracks. Fázom (I’m Freezing) is a jazz dance tune built around bossa nova rhythms and a tight string and horn section. It was played by the likes of Gilles Peterson (BBC, Brownswood Records) and Gerald ‘Jazzman’ Short (Jazzman Records). Out of the four tracks on this single, Hóbortos Este Volt (Stumbling Moon) is the closest to pop music aesthetics, but its unique arrangement and a virtuoso flute solo lift this tune out of the mass of conventional dance songs.
Nadja Beimel (1937-), a singer of Bulgarian origin, met vibraphonist Károly Beimel on her Bulgarian tour. The tour was such a success that they crossed the border back to Hungary as a married couple. After her Hungarian debut, Nadja regurarly performed in the Budapest Circus as part of the Women in the Amphitheater showcase. She has also performed with the Négy Barát ensemble and the band of Andor Kovács. In the midst of their Scandinavian tour in the early 1970s the Hungarian authorities requested their return home immediately. Because of their contractual duties and their baby who was born in the 1970s they decided to disregard this order. They were sentenced to two and a half years in prison in their absence. As a result they could only visit Hungary after the political transitions in 1989.
Sahara* is a song sung in Italian that stands out from the Hungarian dance music singles released in its time. On the original record it is marked as Afro-cuban, and is accompanied by an Eastern sounding clarinet melody throughout. The Azúr Ensemble was formed solely for the four track recording session in 1963. Its members include Károly Beimel as the leader of the combo (piano, vibraphone), Norbert Duka (bass), János Kékesi János (clarinet, saxophone), Rudolf Koslik (guitar), Mihály Ráduly Mihály (saxophone) – who later went on to join the legendary jazz rock group Syrius – and Tarkői Viktor (dob). The backing vocalists on this record are an entirely strange story: Levente Szörényi és Szabolcs Szörényi, who became known later leading Illés, one of the most important Hungarian rock bands. This is probably their first ever recording.
Márta Szirmay (1939-2015) long deliberated whether to pursue a career as a jazz singer or an opera singer. Her first album – blending jazz standards and evergreens – was released in 1964. It was actually the first ever jazz record released by Magyar Hanglemezgyártó Vállalat. The backing band, Qualiton Jazz Együttes, was the session band of the record company with often changing members, such as Tibor Buvári, János Gonda, Péter Káldos, Attila Sasvári and Tibor Várnai. The bossa nova based Bagira, sticks out from the rest of the otherwise reserved album. It evokes the exotica records that were popular in the US at the time by mixing exotic, Eastern, South-American and African influences. Szirmay later became successful in the realm of opera, and only returned to jazz by the end of the ‘80s.
Studio 11. From 1948, the house band of the Hungarian Radio (formerly known as Magyar Rádió Tánczenekara). Led by Imre Zsoldos and Sándor Dobsa, they were the staple backing group for song contests, radio and television shows. They have also appeared on the „Modern Jazz” compilations and were featured on multiple pop singles with jazzy arrangements.
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