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Review: Studious Book of Slovak Jazz misses true pitch

Did you know that Slovak drummer Jozef "Dodo" Šošoka has the largest collection of folk instruments in Europe (150)? Or that pianist Braňo Hronec was the first person to play a Hammond organ in Czechoslovakia? Or that American jazz great Gil Evans once said that the Slovak Gustav Brom Big Band was "...the best European orchestra I've ever heard."? Or that practically every second accomplished Slovak jazzman has, at one time or another, played with Liza Minnelli?
Set against the backdrop of a communist system that discouraged the art form's existence, the history of Slovak jazz should be the stuff of an intriguing book. Unfortunately, The Book of Slovak Jazz, as it bravely calls itself, isn't that book.


The Book of Slovak Jazz
photo: Spectator archiv

The Book of Slovak Jazz

Price: 250 Slovak crowns
Available at:Music Forum (Palackého 2), Pavian Music - Artforum (Kozia 20), Slovenský Tatran (Michalská 9), Ex libris (Michalská 4), Hudobný fond (Medená 29)
Rating: 4 out of 10


Did you know that Slovak drummer Jozef "Dodo" Šošoka has the largest collection of folk instruments in Europe (150)? Or that pianist Braňo Hronec was the first person to play a Hammond organ in Czechoslovakia? Or that American jazz great Gil Evans once said that the Slovak Gustav Brom Big Band was "...the best European orchestra I've ever heard."? Or that practically every second accomplished Slovak jazzman has, at one time or another, played with Liza Minnelli?

Set against the backdrop of a communist system that discouraged the art form's existence, the history of Slovak jazz should be the stuff of an intriguing book. Unfortunately, The Book of Slovak Jazz, as it bravely calls itself, isn't that book.

To be fair, the book is meant to be an uncritical almanac and not a good read. Published by Music Centre Slovakia to promote Slovak jazz abroad and provide information about Slovak jazz musicians, it has far more dry data inside its black covers than colourful anecdotes, which are themselves presented in concise fashion.

The bulk of the book's 100 pages are devoted to 49 in-depth musician profiles, listing, in bullet format, their education, awards, career highlights, and discographies. A short analysis of the artists' approaches to playing are also included. Sometimes these are insightful, sometimes not. The reader can almost hear trumpeter Juraj Bartoš's "vital and rich tone, characterised by vigorous attack in high pitches", but is puzzled by the unique demands of Andrej Šeban's trio, which require him to "improvise in solo performance during evening concerts." Aren't all jazz musicians required to improvise during evening concerts?

What are the criteria for making this list? The question is left for the reader to answer. No dead musicians are among the 49 presented. Neither is living legend Erik "Boboš" Procházka, a Buddhist monk and one of Europe's finest harmonica players. While he is known more as a blues musician, so is singer Silvia Josifoská, found on page 40.

The most fatal weakness of The Book of Slovak Jazz, at least for native English readers, is its linguistic gaffes. There are spelling and tense blunders, ("Jozef Šošoka...at present time have pripared album"), and flaws in the translation ("1990-91: lived in Reykjavik in Island"). Sometimes the author employs esoteric terminology ("...distinguished by long rapid phrases in quavers and semiquavers) but botches the colloquial (the repeated use of the word 'funky' as a noun).

While not an articulate ambassador for Slovak jazz, The Book of Slovak Jazz is useful for those interested in knowing more about Slovak jazz musicians. It also includes a list of jazz festivals (including contacts) and a brief history of Slovak jazz.

It should be noted that the author of The Book of Slovak Jazz, Yvetta Kajanová, and those that worked to get it published, were presumably making do with scant money and resources. They are friendly, enthusiastic people. Like the underpaid and underappreciated jazz community they document, they appear to be trying their best.

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