Gábor Gadó Modern dances for the advanced in age
Perhaps there is some social judgement in this musical memoir, but that is not important. I have to refer once more to Hrabal: he makes something holy from whatever moves him. The Hrabal smile, which transcends the minor things in life, is very close to me. (...) Like the Poles, we Hungarians are into self-flagellation, which is of course related to the way history has treated us. (...) But with the Czechs, for the most part, instead of a tragic worldview irony flourished, in which fundamentally dramatic situations are embraced by a delight in the beauty of life. The smile that peaks out from behind Hrabal’s realism is what I have tried to project onto my memories of socialism.
About the album
All compositions by Gábor Gadó except track 1 by Júlia Majláth / Tibor Kalmár jr., track 4 by Jimmy Kennedy / Michael Carr / Tibor Polgár and track 7 by Henry Mancini / Johnny MercerRecorded at the Tom-Tom Studio, Budapest on 05-06/07/2003
Recorded and mixed by Attila Kölcsényi
Cover art by Meral Yasar based on photos by Gábor Bachman
Portrait photos: István Huszti
Art-Smart by Meral Yasar
Produced by László Gôz
Executive producer: Tamás Bognár
The recording was sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, the National Cultural Fund of Hungary and the Artisjus Music Foundation
Jacques Denis - Jazzman **** (fr)
Francois Marinot - Le Monde de la musique **** (fr)
Franpi - Sun Ship (fr)
Mathias Bäumel - Jazzzeitung (de)
Mathias Bäumel - Dresdner Universitäts Journal (de)
Juan Carlos Abelenda - Tomajazz.com (es)
Angelo Leonardi - All About Jazz - Italia **** (it)
Dionizy Piatkowski - Era Jazzu (pl)
Matisz László - Gramofon *** (hu)
Rakk László - Rockinform (hu)
Gábor Gadó: Modern dances for the advanced in age
The album is available in digital form at our retail partners
The Hrabal smile
I was less than thirteen when I played with my band at a dance course in a community arts centre in Pécs. It was no ordinary band: it included a surveyor, a disabled diabetic, a car mechanic and a butcher. It was the golden age of the beat generation, and like everyone else, I played the guitar, even behaving like a real showman on stage. To make a living, though, we were forced to play at weddings. There we played Hungarian nóta (old popular songs), the songs of the Swabian and Serbian inhabitants of the region, and of course for young people the hits of the day. Then from the mid-seventies I worked in the catering industry. There was a centralised dispatching system: musicians playing light music were sent from a national centre to a suitable venue. Here there was an opportunity to play salon music and hits from Broadway. In 1980 I came to Budapest, to the jazz department of the Bartók Conservatoire, the only place in the country where jazz (which, being a form of western music, was just about tolerated) could be studied. During my years of study I became a professional accompanist to famous performers.
I accompanied Teri Harangozó in the first song on the disc countless times; at the time it was one of the most popular hits. It’s a wonderfully simplistic song, but I tried to uplift its simplicity a little with a kind of loving reticence. The second song quotes from Hrabal’s book Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, and the title of the album also refers to this. You can hear cha-cha-cha in it, just as in the next you can here blues, rock and roll, and waltz.
The basic material for Down South is not my own, but was a world hit at the time. From my childhood on I have played it umpteen times, and the memory of this always conjures up for me a restaurant in the mining town Pécsbánya where I probably had to play it the most often, because the song was the miners’ favourite.
Budapest, Budapest conjures up a toy-town, a town of illusions, and is a nostalgic souvenir of this town, often frivolous and unfaithful, and yet loveable.
Direct humour is used only in the sixth song: at the time I wrote it, the “three tenors” went on stage for the first time. By using bel canto material as the basis I tried to poke fun at the impossible commercialisation of art.
The last song is a Broadway hit, a sickly sweet, tear-jerking melody, and I haven’t altered its naivety. For me it is the embodiment of the eternal American dream in our region.
Perhaps there is some social judgement in this musical memoir, but that is not important. I have to refer once more to Hrabal: he makes something holy from whatever moves him. The Hrabal smile, which transcends the minor things in life, is very close to me. Although he was a qualified lawyer and was incredibly cultured, for a long time he was a manual worker, like Béla Hamvas in Hungary. Like the Poles, we Hungarians are into self-flagellation, which is of course related to the way history has treated us. For example, look at the Poles Bruno Schultz or Witkiewicz: their worldviews are both tragic. But with the Czechs, for the most part, instead of a tragic worldview irony flourished, in which fundamentally dramatic situations are embraced by a delight in the beauty of life. The smile that peaks out from behind Hrabal’s realism is what I have tried to project onto my memories of socialism.
As told to Miklós Dolinszky
Translated by Richard Robinson
Footnotes for the monograph The Hungary of the sixties
Afternoon rendezvous This programme was started by the Hungarian Radio to counterbalance the Free Europe Radio’s Teenager Party. It broadcast mainly Hungarian songs, but as time progressed it featured more and more western performers.
amateur dramatics movement The roots of the ~ went back a long way. Literary theatres had been created mainly for the recital of poems, and they were full of life. Some amateur theatres even competed with professional ones, so talented were the performers – and they played pieces which could not have been put on in professional theatres.
apartment-sharing In the fifties regulations were made about the size of apartment appropriate for a family of a given number. Private apartments not inhabited by the owner, or which exceeded the size for the number of people living there, were nationalised. The nationalised old, large bourgeois apartments were divided between various families, who shared the bathroom. Some apartments were shared between four or five families. The owners of large apartments took in an acquaintance as their ‘apartment-sharer’, so as not to have a stranger invade their privacy.
black import From 1963-64 an increasing number of people were able to travel to the west. The poor supply of goods in Hungary, the “shortage management” and the rarity of western imports made it possible for people to sell goods brought back from journeys to the west and not available in Hungary at unrealistically high prices. Cosmetics and fashionable clothes brought the greatest profit to the ~ agents. Those who ran the risk of smuggling were able to make a handsome profit if they undertook to import a large quantity of certain types of goods.
black train In common parlance this was the name of the railway routes in which folk from the villages would commute to the capital to earn their living in industry or construction. The ~ was extremely crowded at weekends, and drunken disorderliness, brawls, vandalism, and fights between folk from different villages were frequent occurrences, sometimes ending in knifings.
brigade diary The book, normally an attractively bound hardback, was created by (–›) socialist brigades, in which the brigade would keep a log of all the events they had undertaken to carry out in the socialist brigade movement. Beside a solemn description of the events, the ~ also contained the documents that proved the event had taken place (e.g. theatre tickets, a photograph of a trip, etc.). The finest ~s were produced by the socialist brigades in which one of the members (or a member’s wife) was good at drawing.
“catering music” From 1958 Wurlitzers began to spread faster and faster, first in Budapest and then throughout the country. At the same time, there was live evening music in more and more venues. In the catering industry there were places where the music simply “accompanied” the meal, while elsewhere one could dance to it. As the number of music venues increased, more and more excellent musicians had the opportunity to earn money. For live music, a 30% so-called ‘music surcharged’ was generally added to the prices shown on the menu. Most music venues required a tie; in some restaurants the porter would rent ties for 10 Ft.
communist Saturday Unpaid work copying the Soviet model, and introduced in Hungary after the working week was reduced to five days. The ~ was usually linked to carrying out some task for the community, e.g. building a school or kindergarten, creating a park, but in many cases the factories and plants used the communist Saturday to make up their backlog in meeting the work plan targets. One of the most astounding examples was when a professor of surgery was forced to build a garden, thus making it impossible for him to operate for months, because blisters formed on his hands. Participation in the ~ was “naturally” voluntary, but those who did not go later missed out on pay rises, premiums, bonuses or (–›) SZOT referral.
dance music festival The sixties was the decade of television in Hungary, and the number of people renting a TV increased one hundred-fold in ten years. Alongside the (–›) “Who can do What?” talent contest the dance music festival held in 1966 enjoyed the greatest popularity. Although in theory it was a song contest, in reality the performing singers became the main focus, and a singer who had success with one of the songs laid the foundations of a life-long career. Today’s critics are divided on the issue: without doubt there was a preponderance of soothing, sentimental songs, but many songs presented to the public then are still successful today. At the second ~ Teri Harangozó appeared with the song Szeretném bejárni a Földet (I\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\' d like to travel round the world).
dance school Under Stalinism, this inter-war institution was seen as a vestige of petit-bourgeois values. Before the 1956 revolution, organised dance tuition took place only a few ~ left from before the war. However in secondary schools dance classes were organised on Saturday afternoons, where dance teachers could supplement their income. By the sixties, both in Budapest and throughout the country ~ were flourishing (in private apartments), and for the 14-20 age group provided an opportunity to have a legal party. Especially popular was the Saturday evening dance (for which a special entry fee had to be paid). Jobless musicians, often quite excellent ones, set the feet tapping, usually with a piano and drums.
diplomat’s shop (dollar shop) A shop run for diplomats and Hungarians with special status, in which goods not in commercial circulation in Hungary could be obtained with western currency. The main turnover of these shops was alcohol, cigarettes, watches, jewellery, chocolate, and fashion accessories. Hungarian citizens returning home after a prolonged assignment abroad, who had obtained the right to shop in the ~, spent the money they had saved there, and privately sold the rare merchandise (obtained cheaply) at a significant mark-up.
Evening University of Marxism-Leninism A form of political training operated by the party committees in the counties and towns for those already in work. Workplaces were given quotas defining each year how many people had to be sent to study at the ~. Workers frequenting the ~ received study leave, so this form of training was often chosen voluntarily by folk who merely wanted to enjoy the 28 days’ extra holiday a year.
factory feast The feast days considered most important by the authorities were held at workplaces too. The ~ was held on the day before the public holiday, in the factory ‘culture house’ or in the factory’s hall for cultural events. These feasts contained a speech during which bonuses (money) were distributed, followed by a company party, with entertainment (food, drink, and often live music) provided by the company. On 1st May, labour day, it was the ‘done thing’ for workers to take part in the processions even in small towns, and afterwards hot dogs and beer were served.
forbidden films Films made in Hungary were only shown in cinemas to the public after a complex censuring procedure. Amongst the ~ were films which could be shown to a small circle of professionals. Other films were not allowed to be distributed through the normal channels to cinemas, but the authorities permitted their screening in closed film clubs, and thus they enjoyed a wider public. The strictest category was reserved for films whose copies were shut inside strong-box, and even the artists who created them were not allowed to see them.
“fusi” (a type of moonlighting) Illegal work done for private purposes, or for money, as a way of supplementing one’s salary, and which factory workers carried out using the company’s materials and machines. The products created as a result of ~ had to be smuggled out of the factory to be used or sold.
goulash communism An ironic but appropriate term for the conditions in Hungary. The consolidation under Kádár (a communist leader) was minimal, but resulted in continuous growth, and a levelling out between the various levels of society. In order to help people forget the retaliation after the 1956 revolution, the country gradually got into debt, and the desire for small holiday homes, refridgerators, cars, and officially scorned “petit-bourgeois values” became pervasive.
illegal art exhibitions Artists who were not permitted to hold shows in the state exhibition venues because their art differed from official expectations got round the permit procedure by holding exhibitions of their works in clubs, the lobbies of companies, private apartments or studios. The ~ was often disguised as some other event in the publicity leaflet of the institution organising it, and so information spread only by word of mouth.
miners’ day Every level of the working class organised a celebration for the various important trades each year. There was builders’ day, miners’ day, printers’ day, etc., on which workers from the given trade took part in large-scale events. After the celebratory speeches and distribution of awards a whole-day family celebration with a May-Day kind of atmosphere started, which for the men very often lasted until they were drunk. On these designated days music could be heard all around, with a folk orchestra on one stage and a “jazz band” on the other. On the central stage, usually the “fine artistes from the capital” gave a floor show.
night-lodger The lowest grade of shelter, in which the ~ did not even have a room to themselves, and paid the landlord for the privilege of sleeping in a room shared with another person or people. In extreme cases the ~ shared even his bed with others. (For example, when his partner worked on a different shift.)
socialist brigade, ~ movement At workplaces, brigades were formed of those who carried out the same work. These brigades competed with one another, and were evaluated by defined criteria. The brigades that performed best were awarded the title socialist brigade, which conferred many privileges. The ~’s activity was gauged with the brigade diary, in which the members of the brigade kept a log of their work and free-time activities. The most astounding wastes of ~ time were in areas where there was no sense or real content to the work being done in a brigade. The members of the brigade knew exactly how to lie so that the authorities would think they were the vanguard of the collectives.
suspension The mildest form of official sanction from the authorities against intellectuals who had created some work that displeased the authorities. In practice the ~ meant being banned from appearing in public. The list of writers condemned to ~ lay in every chief editor’s desk. There were cases when the party ordered the ~ for a defined period, and communicated this to the writer. In most cases, however, the person in question only found out about the ~ by no longer finding openings to publish, make films, act, etc.
Szabó Family One of the most popular programmes on Hungarian Radio. This serialised radio play was for years believed by many to be a documentary programme, and they reacted appropriately. The “committed” writers and editors of the ~ used the unexpected huge popularity of the programme to exert an indirect political influence on the audience, which numbered several million. Every day at work people would discuss what had happened in the radio play.
SZOT referral (SZOT = National Council of Trade Unions) To spend time in a holiday resort was at once a right, a privilege and a way of blackmailing the worker. Larger factories and ministries had their own holiday resorts; smaller factories and companies had the opportunity to ‘refer’ their workers (pro rata) to the resorts owned by the trade union of the sector. A nominal sum was paid for the ~, and formally this was the price of the summer holiday, but in reality the person with the referral received many times the value of the amount paid in. There was a serious contest for the ~, because for the majority of the population this was the only way to take a holiday.
tourist passport The ~ was valid in Western Europe, and could be claimed every three years, provided the Hungarian National Bank provided the meagre sum ($70, later $100) necessary for the journey from the annual tourist provisions allocation. Only those considered utterly politically reliable could hope to obtain a ~. The maximum time one was allowed to spend abroad was 30 days. Those who spent longer abroad, or travelled to countries other than those for which they had permission, were barred from foreign travel for five years.
car allocation The name of the form in which vehicles were purchased right up to the change in political system in 1989. First, half of the price of the desired car had to be paid, and then, depending on the brand and type, several years elapsed before the car was actually delivered (in the case of a Trabant often five years!). A car bought in this way carried a three-year prohibition on further sale. One peculiar phenomenon of the “shortage economy” (as opposed to a consumer society) was that the price of a three-year-old car was more than that of a new one, because it was worth the buyer paying an unrealistic price in order to get the vehicle quickly.
“Who can do What?” (talent contest) In 1962, in the heroic age of Hungarian programming and broadcasting, the first “Who can do What?” was organised, and took on national importance. At this time, there were only 325 thousand television sets working in Hungary, and yet the whole country was overcome by ~ fever. The contest was organised for amateur or semi-amateur young artists in various categories, for example, song and dance, folk song, folk dance, poetry recital, instrumental music, and other stage shows, including conjuring. Millions watched the semi-final and the finals, and during the finals the streets were deserted. Around the country people gathered together to watch the finals in community centres, pubs, and in larger towns in the flat of someone who owned a television.
workers’ hostels Large industrial state enterprises and construction sites ran ~ capable of accommodating several hundred people. Depending on the financial resources of the company, the workers slept in two-, three-, or four-bed rooms, and only commuted back to their families every two or three weeks. Amongst these people, who came from differing cultural and social backgrounds, but were forced to live together, drinking was common, and conflicts developed into fights.
workplace audience organiser The ~ sold in the workplace tickets and season tickets for the theatre, concerts, circus and other events, for a commission. A significant proportion of tickets for cultural institutions were sold via the ~s. Often tickets were not to be had at the box offices of theatres and concert halls, but with the right connections the tickets could be obtained through the ~. The ~ sold the tickets in work time, and the bosses not only overlooked this, but positively encouraged it as a social, cultural activity, even though a commission was paid for this work.
work-shy public menace Law-decree No. 8 of 1962, article 214, paragraph (1): Any person capable of work, who leads a work-shy lifestyle, shall be sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. In line with the false ideology of total employment, it was unacceptable to the system for somebody not to have a job. In theory it was unthinkable for somebody to obtain an income without work (e.g. from return on capital) and to live from that.
Translated by Richard Robinson