Skip to content

The Bass Saxophone by Josef Škvorecký

September 25, 2016

tbs2The two haunting, poetic novellas that comprise The Bass Saxophone brilliantly evoke the comedy and sadness of life under the Nazi and Soviet dictatorships. They are prefaced by a remarkable memoir of Skvorecky’s jazz-obsessed youth. Jazz is a symbol of freedom in both these novellas.

In Emoke, which is set in the shadow of the Communist regime, jazz becomes the means by which a jaded young man plots the seduction of a mysterious girl enmeshed in superstition and the occult. Spurned, but fascinated, he is drawn into her tortured existence until catapulted into the final bitter comedy.

In The Bass Saxophone a young Czechoslovakian student living under the rule of the Nazis is lured by his love of jazz – the “forbidden music” – into secretly and dangerously playing in a German band, with bizarre and unexpected results.

tbs3Quotations:

In the days when everything in life was fresh — because we were sixteen, seventeen — I used to blow tenor sax. Very poorly. Our band was called Red Music which in fact was a misnomer, since the name had no political connotations: there was a band in Prague that called itself Blue Music and we, living in the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, had no idea that in jazz blue is not a colour, so we called ours Red. But if the name itself had no political connotations, our sweet, wild music did; for jazz was a sharp thorn in the sides of the power-hungry men, from Hitler to Brezhnev, who successfully ruled in my native land.

tbs– a set of regulations, issued by a Gauleiter — a regional official for the Reich — as binding on all local dance orchestras during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. Get this:

  1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands;
  2. in this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;
  3. As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated;
  4. so-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs);
  5. strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.);
  6. also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches);
  7. the double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions;
  8. plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;
  9. musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat);
  10. all light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.

Return to the home page

Advertisements
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: