Sorry, my Polish is a little rusty..
Forty years ago today, the world lost a little swing in its step.
The swing belonged to a remarkable jazz musician named Adolph “Eddie” Ignatievich Rosner. Rosner was known for playing two trumpets at once and was hailed internationally as “The White (or Polish) Louis Armstrong,” partly because of his true gift at the St. Louis blues–among other jazz standards.
Born in 1910 into a Polish Jewish family in Berlin, Eddie Rosner made a creative fusion of his classical music education with the newest beat of jazz. After playing with several bands in Berlin, he joined “The Syncopators” in 1910, led by Stephan Weintraub, and toured around Western Europe. In the 1930s, he was in Eddie Rosner and “The Syncopators”. By 1934 he had gained acclaim for his trumpet playing and ability to play two trumpets at once. During his tour of Europe in the 1930s the French celebrated his work and he was featured in many magazines
There Eddie Rosner entertained the passengers cruising between Hamburg and various American seaports. By that time, Rosner had made several recordings of his trumpet playing with the band, and planned on starting a new career in America. To help that he corresponded with the famous American bandleader and drummer Gene Krupa. At that time, Eddie Rosner was considered the best jazz trumpeter in Europe and was compared to the American trumpeter Louis Armstrong.
By 1934 he had gained acclaim for his trumpet playing and ability to play two trumpets at once
“It didn’t help being a Jew playing Negro music,” he once joked. “Even if your name was Adolph.” “It didn’t help being a Jew playing Negro music,” he once said. “Even if your name was Adolph.” In 1939, in Warsaw, he married Ruth Kaminska, the daughter of Polish actress Ida Kaminska.
His career and life could have been in jeopardy after the invasion of Poland by the Nazi Germans on September 1, 1939, but he soon fled occupied Poland and escaped from the Nazis on the outbreak of the Second World War. In September 1939, Eddie Rosner and a group of musicians from his band crossed the newly established German-Soviet border and came to the city of Białystok in what was then the western part of Belarus, which became part of the Soviet Union. Eddie Rosner was initially welcomed by the Soviet authorities and was allowed to perform in the Soviet Union which at that time embraced jazz. He even led the State Jazz Orchestra during the war, getting lavish treatment from Stalin himself.
All that changed after WWII. Jazz was outlawed. Rosner was caught by the KGB, charged with “anti-Soviet” treason and sent to a gulag prison camp for eight years. He performed for guards and started up a 64-piece ensemble that was very popular once he was freed, but he never recovered from imprisonment.
After the war everything changed. By 1946, Stalin became increasingly hostile to Jewish people and also to foreigners. In that year Soviet censorship had all foreign art and music banned, and even the leading Russian musicians, like Sergey Prokofiev and Dmitry Shostakovich were censored. Rosner fell into disfavor and planned to emigrate from the Soviet Union. He was arrested by the Soviet KGB in the city of Lvov in the Ukraine as he was trying to cross the border with his family, charged with “anti-Soviet” treason and sent to a Gulag prison camp in the Far East with a ten-year sentence. For the next eight years Rosner continued to perform in the Gulag camp near Magadan, and was allowed to use music, or be used, to lift the spirits of other prisoners of the Soviet Gulag. He performed for guards and started up a 64-piece ensemble that was very popular once he was freed, but he never recovered from imprisonment.He was released in May 1954, more than a year after Stalin’s death.
In the mid-1950s, Eddie Rosner founded and led one of the most famous Russian big bands. His band was touring about the Soviet Union and made several recordings from 1954 until 1971. In 1956 Rosner and his jazz band were filmed in the popular Soviet comedy The Carnival Night, gaining further popularity among the movie fans. However, the Soviet official press and critics were instructed to avoid mentioning Eddie Rosner in publications and critical works, authorities also restricted him from performances in major concert halls in the Soviet Union. During the 1960s Rosner and his jazz band were gradually pushed into obscurity, although intellectuals and knowledgeable public were aware of Rosner’s musicianship and artistry, and he remained popular among jazz fans for a while.
By the early 1970s Rosner suffered from poor health. Sensing that the end was near, he applied to the Soviet authorities for permission to immigrate to his birthplace, and was allowed to return to his native Berlin in 1973. He did not earn any royalties in the Soviet Union, and died in poverty three years later. Although during the war he had gained widespread popularity with many of the Allied troops, not just the Soviets, he has since fallen into near obscurity in the West. A 1999 documentary, “The Jazzman from the Gulag” (“Le Jazzman Du Goulag”) by Pierre-Henry Salfati won the International Emmy Awards, tells the story of Rosner’s life and lead to somewhat of a revival of interest.