machata.ch

loukash.com

Funky Czech-In

An introduction to Czech and Slovak pop music from the sixties, seventies and eighties with a touch of funk, soul, disco and jazz.

Interlude: Popmuseum

2007-12-19

Although it might seem that Funky Czech-In has fallen into a sort of cozy winter sleep, the opposite is true and there’s quite a lot of activities going on behind the scenes. For example: since two weeks I am an official member of the “Museum and Archive of Popular Music Association”, a.k.a. popmuseum.cz. One of the benefits for me will be, among others, the access to their archive in Prague with an almost complete collection of Czech music magazines from the 1960s–1990s as well as a large photo archive. And what more can make a bigbít researcher like me even happier than that…? Yes, you guessed it: buying records! Last week I’ve managed to transport about 30 kg of pure Czechoslovak vinyl home to Basel by airplane, and there’s still another fresh 15 kg stored in our family flat in Prague.
Of course, there’s some really tasty funky stuff in the pipeline, yum!
Stay tuned!

Popmuseum Prague

A part of the exposition at Popmuseum Prague (photo © 2007 loukash.com)

I keep on singing

2007-09-01

Eva Olmerová & the Prague Big Band – Zpívám dál
from 7″ single “Georgia”, 1980, Panton 81430053
conducted by Milan Svoboda, produced by Josef Novotný

OlmerovaEva_Georgia_ZpivamDal_aSP_128
original SP sleeve

It wouldn’t be appropriate to simply call Eva Olmerová a jazz singer, although the majority of her recorded material falls more or less into that category. But she also loved to sing blues, gospel, pop and even country & western music. Born in 1934, in her teen years she began to sing with dixieland groups in Prague’s coffee houses. Her professional career started relatively late in 1962, when she’s been discovered by composer Karel Mareš, the dramaturge of the Semafor theatre, who was looking for an Eva Pilarová replacement. At that time Olmerová recorded her first hit Jsi jako dlouhý most (You’re Like A Long Bridge) which eventually won the popular song contest “In search of a song for the weekday”.

However, Olmerová’s career probably had more downs than ups. The communist regime always kept an eye on her family, particularly because her grandfather used to be an assistant of the last democratic president Edvard Beneš. In the 1960s and 1970s she’d been regularly prohibited from performing. She also spent more than two years in jail: in 1958 for smacking an insolent police officer and in 1972 for a car accident while driving drunk. And the latter incident reveals that her other enemy was her own lifestyle; alcohol and medicament abuse often turned her unreliable both on stage and in studio…

Olmerová’s undisputed highlight was the debut album Jazz-Feeling, recorded in 1968 for Supraphon’s export subsidiary Artia, which made her quite popular abroad. (I will revisit it more thoroughly in a future Funky Czech-In entry next year.) In 1969 she’s been even asked by Ella Fitzgerald to join her world tour after both ladies jammed together on a river boat party in Prague! Yet the communist regime didn’t allow Olmerová to travel, not even inside the Eastern Bloc. Nevertheless, in 1974 Supraphon/Artia released another English-sung export album with traditional dixieland tunes, recorded between 1969 and 1972 in numerous sessions. But afterwards she slipped into obscurity for the rest of the decade.

She’s been “rediscovered” in the late 1970s by a young generation of jazz-rock musicians. Her new mentors were the keyboarders and bandleaders Milan Svoboda and – particularly in the early 1980s – Michael Kocáb, who both obviously appreciated Olmerová’s dirty voice as well as her untamed attitude. In 1979 she recorded two singles with Svoboda’s Pražský big band (Prague Big Band). Her later collaborations with Kocáb’s studio orchestra or with JOČR were documented on further 45s as well as on two nice pop-jazzy comeback LPs: Zahraj i pro mne (Play It For Me, Too), which in fact was her debut album (!) for the Czech market in 1981, and Vítr rváč (The Wind The Thug) two years later.

I’ve chosen Zpívám dál (I Keep On Singing) not only for its funky atmosphere, but especially because of its programmatic Czech title. While Olmerová likely didn’t deliver her best vocal performance ever from the technical point of view, in her voice you can truly feel the pain as well as the heavy weight of life that she had to carry on her shoulders. The tune is an arrangement of Clive Westlake’s ballad Only Once with Czech lyrics by Ronald Kraus: I keep on singing / Even through the veil of tears / My song is my medicine / My song is a soft muffler / I keep on singing / For all who wander aimlessly through the dark / For the love that I know / For those who are alone / I keep on singing for myself. As for the backing band, an article about the Prague Big Band is in the works and I will post it later this fall, so stay tuned.

Czech music critics have often compared Eva Olmerová to afro-american singers like Bessie Smith or Billie Holiday – not only for the blues in her voice but also for the blues in her life. One of the critics even wrote that she was the only Czech world-class female singer in the pop/jazz genre. But in any case, at her zenith she was never given a chance to introduce herself to the world in the first place.

She passed away in 1993 of liver cirrhosis. Jitka Zelenková sang at her funeral. And now, go and get her records. You’ll find Zpívám dál on the CD compilation Blues samotářky (Blues Of A Loner).

I don’t want to have

2007-08-18

Jitka Zelenková & The Gondolán Brothers Group – Já nechci mít
from 7 inch single “Čekej a neplakej”, 1969, Supraphon 0430818

Gondolan_CekejANeplakej_JaNechciMit_bSPSupraphonDrawingGrey_128
original SP in a generic Supraphon sleeve

Jitka Zelenková was born in Brno in 1950. Her father was a symphony orchestra conductor, her mother sang with the Philharmonic Choir Prague. After winning several amateur singer contests, in 1968 she got an engagement at the renown Rokoko theatre in Prague where she performed with Waldemar Matuška or with Hana & Petr Ulrych. In 1973 she began to work as a background singer for Karel Gott. However, apart from recording a few singles as a solo artist and despite winning further awards at various Czechoslovak pop festivals, her solo career didn’t really took off before the end of the decade when Supraphon released her first solo album.

Multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer Antonín Gondolán was born in 1942 in Slovakia but his family moved to Bohemia two years later. At the age of merely 15 he got his first professional job with the Gustav Brom Orchestra. In the 1960s he studied double bass at the Prague Conservatory. In the mid 1960s he became a member of Prague’s Apollo theatre orchestra, Karel Gott’s backing band lead by the Štaidl brothers, with whom he also toured the USA in 1967. Back in Prague he founded a family combo with his brothers František, Jiří and Vojtěch, later joined by their teenage sister Věra on vocals (the Gondolán family were 12 siblings in total). In the late 1960s the group enjoyed big success at home and abroad, performing with major Czech pop stars like Gott, Waldemar Matuška or Helena Vondráčková. They played a unique blend of pop, beat and jazz with strong Romani folk influences. Apart from recording a couple of single sides on their own, they also used to back other singers on records. However, the family group disbanded in the early 1970s after most members with the exception of Antonín emigrated. He worked again as a freelance musician with Gott’s backing group (alias Ladislav Štaidl Orchestra), among others, until 1982 when he eventually exiled to West Germany as well. From then on he concentrated on playing jazz in general and double bass – his main instrument – in particular. In 1992 he returned back to the Czech republic. In 2004 he finally had the opportunity to release his long overdue first solo album with his folk-pop-jazz compositions.

If you are a regular reader, you might remember that I have a personal connection to the Gondolán family. One of Antonín’s sons, Roman, who unfortunately passed away last year, used to be a friend of ours in the mid 1980s while I lived with my family in Bern, Switzerland, and he also used to play drums in my band then. Additionally – and the reason why Roman came to Bern in the first place – his uncle Jiří (George), the original drummer of the Gondolán group, lived and still lives in Bern, too.

As a side note: Last week I’ve been in Prague (again!), so I’ve contacted Antonín Gondolán in order to do some research for this article. We met in the Reduta jazz club. He was supposed to have a gig with his combo that night, but his regular piano player has already left the country for studies in the United States. Thus Mr. Gondolán was forced to improvise in order to fulfill the contract. He decided to perform an ad-hoc repertoire of jazz standards as well as a medley of gipsy folk songs solely with his sister Věra Gondolánová, accompanying her on piano and on guitar. Well, to be honest, he’s not exactly a virtuoso on these instruments, yet Věra is such an outstanding and professional singer that she managed to turn this initially slightly chaotic jam session duet into a truly remarkable and unique event…

Antonín Gondolán with his sister Věra on the Reduta stage, August 11, 2007 (photo © 2007 Lukáš Machata)

Antonín Gondolán with his sister Věra on the Reduta stage, August 11, 2007 (photo © 2007 Lukáš Machata)

Já nechci mít (I Don’t Want To Have) was penned by Antonín Gondolán with lyrics by Pavel Vrba. According to Mr. Gondolán, it was recorded spontaneously during a session with Jitka Zelenková. It’s hard to place the tune inside a particular genre drawer – I’d call it perhaps “gipsy soul”. Whatever, in my opinion this is one of the most soulful original songs that has ever been written and recorded in former Czechoslovakia. The track appeared as the flip side of Gondolán’s biggest hit ever, Čekej a neplakej (Wait And Don’t Cry), which is more of a pop-beat tune sung by Antonín himself. The original single sold about 150,000 copies. Já nechci mít has never been reissued yet, but it’s planned that it should appear on a new Gondolán CD scheduled for release next year.

Recent posts

2017-07-08: In memoriam Dr. Gui, the funky drummer
2017-02-12: In The Game Preserve
2016-02-17: Interlude: Vampi Czech-In, parts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7
2009-09-19: Interlude: Vampi Czech-In, part 1
2008-08-31: Mercy Mercy Mercy

Categories

Archives

Tags

Apollobeat | Barnodaj | Bezinky | Blues Five | Blue Swede | Bohemia | Brom Gustav | Combo FH | Crystal | Discobolos | Energit | Etc. | female vocal | Fermáta | Flamengo | Flamingo | Framus Five | Golden Kids | Gondolánové | Hammel Pavol | Hammer Jan | Hronec Braňo | Hála Kamil | Hála Karel | Impuls | instrumental | Jazz Q | JOČR/TOČR | Komety | Koubková Jana | Kratochvíl Martin | Kratochvílová Jana | Krautgartner Karel | Kubišová Marta | Laufer Josef | Lipa Peter | Mahagon | male vocal | Marsyas | Martha a Tena | Matadors | Meditating Four | Mefisto | Mini jazz klub | Mišík Vladimír | Olmerová Eva | Olympic | ORM | Petrů Jana | Pilarová Eva | Plastic People | Plookers | Pražský big band | Pražský výběr | Progres 2 | Prokop Michal | Prúdy | Přenosilová Yvonne | Rath Guido | Rottrová Marie | Schelinger Jiří | SHQ | Sodoma Viktor | soundtrack | Spálený Petr | Strawberry Jam | Svoboda Karel | Svoboda Milan | Svobodová Eva | Táska Stano | Týfa Václav | Ulrychovi | Varga Marián | Vejvoda Josef | Velebný Karel | Viklický Emil | Vlach Karel | Vondráčková Helena | Vulkán | Zelenková Jitka | Čech František | Černoch Karel | Černocká Petra

RSS feed

Posts | Comments


Disclaimer

The audio samples are presented as a “specimen” to encourage readers to buy the artists’ albums. Many of the tracks presented herein are available for purchase in MP3 or FLAC format at supraphonline.cz.

Copyright

All written content is © 2006– by Lukáš Machata (Lou Kash). Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. If you’d like to use portions of my articles, please contact me first.