Central Gazette of the Socialist Party (S. F. I. O.)
Tuesday, 11 July 1951
Jazz in socialism
From our regular correspondent
Until recently, being a jazzman in Yugoslavia was by no means a harmless occupation. Maxim Gorky’s statement that jazz is “the music of fat and greasy capitalists” is well known. That is why the local government from the very beginning favoured the partisan marches, the songs in honour of Marshal Tito and classical music. However, in recent years, fun tunes have also emerged. Especially popular are the ones composed by Darko Karajlikj, author of the very cute song Why Are You Sleepy, Cho, which everyone here whistles. There is also the charming hit singer Voin Popovikj, who performs with the band of Spasa Milutinovikj.
During the German occupation, and later on in the new Yugoslavia, jazz was thought to spread debauchery and strengthen animal instincts. Marshal Tito himself expressed a very unfavourable opinion on this music genre. On the other hand, the American Reading Room, located on Knez Mihajlova Street, in the heart of Belgrade, has been lending jazz music records to anyone interested since the country’s liberation. Passing by, I noticed a large crowd in front of its door. However, the lucky ones with the record of Duke Ellington or Harry James in their hands also receive the Bulletin, a propaganda text which is otherwise strictly forbidden by the government.
A saxophonist, who didn’t want his name published, told me that it was the only way for local musicians to get acquainted with jazz. A few years ago, on his way out of the Reading Room, he was arrested by the UDB secret police. However, he was lucky because he was imprisoned shortly before the Inform Bureau passed a resolution. Prisons soon became reserved for a much more serious clientele than musicians were, in whom suddenly no one was interested.
After the clash between Stalin and Tito, things changed radically. Jazz reached the dance halls of the houses of culture, and immediately afterwards the nightclubs. I was lucky to be led through Belgrade‘s nightlife by a great jazz connoisseur, the British press attaché Lawrence Darrell. In bars like Lotus or Crystal, as soon as “Midnight Nocturne” or “Fantasy” are over, acts that are shy striptease attempts, high-quality jazz players come onto the podium to gather fans. The local jazz session often lasts all night.
Thus, Belgrade has suddenly become the centre of, until recently, the strictly forbidden music. Vojislav Bubisha Simikj founded the Big Band Dinamo, and there are the orchestras Edinstvo, Fisdur, Snezana, as well as the interesting Hawaiian jazz sextet. Names that dominate the jazz scene are the pianist Vasilie Belosevikj and the jazz drummer Rade Milivojevikj Nafta.
Coming out of the Lotus Bar early in the morning, as the solo of Moody’s Mood for Love was coming from its depths, my English companion said to me: “Doesn’t the sound of this whispering saxophone sinking remind you of the night cry of a betrayed man?”
(Excerpt from the novel Belgrade Trio by Goran Markovikj, 2021, Avant Press)
Translated from Serbian: Aco Perovski