It was late 1940s and early 1950s, the darkest of the Stalinist era, when jazz became not just a part of my life but a life-long passion. This was an impossible passion in politically suppressed Hungary where “corrupt” Western culture was totally banned—just listening to a jazz record may have ended me in jail.
But I was lucky—I grew up in the southern town of Szeged just a few miles from the Yugoslav border. Closing windows, doors and keeping the volume low (while pressing my ears to the grill of the radio) I could pick up four Yugoslav radio stations: Zagreb, Belgrade, Subotica and Novi Sad. They broadcasted jazz often: big bands, small combos, everything they could obtain from the West, and I loved them all indiscriminately: Harry James, Duke Ellington, Gene Krupa, Charlie Byrd and so on.
We owned a small Bösendorfer baby grand which served me on my classical piano training my mother insisted on, but soon I found a jazz piano teacher and learned jazz piano—I became the center of parties. However, I knew I wasn’t talented enough to become professional so I remained a devoted listener.
By George Erdosh