From the web site of San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club of California comes a transcript containing what may be the most unexpected question ever asked the head of a country in a public forum. The club’s speaker last November was Václav Klaus, the president of the Czech Republic. At the end of a question and answer session covering the European Union, Turkey, Iraq and the nature of elections in his post-Communist nation, this was the exchange:
Q: If you could be any jazz pianist, who would you be?
A: I will never be a jazz pianist in my life. Nevertheless, I think that jazz music for us is very important, and I must say that in the early 1960s, the beginning of jazz clubs in the Czech Republic, in Prague, was part of the culture of revolution which brought about the 1960s and the Prague Spring and all of that – so jazz plays a very important part in our lives.
Klaus thinks jazz is so important that in February of 2004, he initiated regular concerts of the music at Prague Castle, the Czech counterpart of the White House. With his selection of honored performer at the first of those concerts, he disclosed his levels of taste and sophistication in jazz. Klaus’s choice was the veteran pianist Emil Viklický, who appeared with his regular sidemen, bassist František Uhlíř and drummer Laco Troop. The Italian trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti was guest soloist. It was as if George W. Bush were to personally arrange for a concert in the East Room by Kenny Barron’s trio, or Bill Charlap’s, with Tom Harrell or Clark Terry sitting in for a few tunes.
I’ll pause while you collect yourselves.
That Prague Castle concert was recorded. Shortly after a recent tour of Japan, Viklický sent Rifftides a message about the concert’s aftermath, a new concert honoring another famous Czech musician, and a quaint story about Paul Desmond. I have edited his message only lightly in order to retain its charm and the sense of his voice.
The decision to issue recorded material on the CD came directly from President Klaus just shortly after the concert. The funny thing was that the president was leaving for China /official State visit/ on that very night!!! at 23.30. We have played an encore “The Slow Boat to China” about 22.10 and Vaclav Klaus was still sitting in the first row and enjoying himself tremendously. He really is and always was a true jazz lover for many years. I remember him in seventies as scientist/economist visiting SHQ band of Karel Velebny in Reduta Jazz Club. Karel Velebny was a key figure of czech modern jazz – everybody was in his band — George Mraz, Jan Arnet, Jan Konopasek. I have stayed with Karel´s band from 1974 up to his death in 1989 – just shortly before the collapse of communism.
There is a new CD coming out from Prague Castle – George Mraz’s 60th
birthday. Multisonic asked me to help with mixing and arranging things since George himself is not here in Prague. I will push Multisonic owner, Mr.Karel Vagner, to have better distribution for abroad.
While siting in plane from Nagoya for many hours, my 66 years old drummer Laco Tropp told me a story about Paul Desmond from Berlin festival in 1965: Paul have played there with Brubeck´s quartet and have met Czech musicians backstage. He was very curious to meet them and was hanging with Czech musicians quite a lot of time. Admiring especially their sense of humor. Especially Karel Velebny was a great personality / puns and jokes all the time/. Paul went to bars and restaurants with Czech guys, drinked beers with them, mostly talking with Karel. Laco Tropp is not very good in English, so he didn’t understand topics of the conversation. But he said Desmond really spend hours with Czech guys. Karel Velebny was quite OK with languages, unfortunately we can’t ask him anymore. Paul and Karel were very similar types – fragile, glasses, clever, mostly smilling, very good with words…