In the recent Rifftides piece about Freedom and Josef Skvorecky, I named several jazz musicians from former Communist countries who have risen to the top of their profession. One of them was the Czech pianist Emil Viklický.
The world is small and tightly interconnected. A day or two after the piece appeared, I got a message from Viklický informing me that he knows Skvorecky “quite well” and that he contributed an important element to a masterly–and very funny–Skvorecky novel. Emil wrote:
There is my long letter to him, written in 1974 to Canada, published as a
resolution of novel The Engineer of Human Souls.
The Engineer of Human Souls rambles through life under the Nazis, the Communists, academia and the human condition. In this brilliant roman á clef, the narrator, a Czech professor of literature teaching in Toronto, is Skvorecky once removed. One of the characters from his Czech past is his friend Benno Manes, described by Viklický in his message as “dirty speaking fabulous trumpetist.” Viklický discloses that Manes’ had a counterpart in real life.
Skvorecky of course changed all real names to fictive names. It was necessary back in 1974. The letter describes the death of Pavel Bayerle, bandleader, trumpeter, a close friend of Skvorecky. I was in army big band in October 1971 when Bayerle died of heart attack on the stage while conducting the band in Russian-occupied army barracks in Olomouc. Bayerle was 47 then. My letter to Josef remained in the novel practically intact. Skvorecky received my letter just when he was finishing Engineer.
Skvorecky changed Olomouc army barracks to Bratislava Russian barracks. In Russian barracks, we often played longer improvisations mostly ending in aggresive free music. It was our kind of protest. We knew that Russian listeners didn’t like it that way.
As it appears in the book, the letter mentions a singer, Miluska Paterjzlova; a guitarist named Karel Kozel, “a big handsome fellow with a green Gibson;” the MC, Private Hemele; and a trumpeter called Pavel Zemecnik who helps the letter writer, “Desmosthenes,” pull the stage curtain closed when Benno Manes dies as he is conducting. They were fictional names of Viklicky’s real bandmates.
Real singer name was Helena Foltynova, lately married as Helena Viktorinova, still singing some backgrounds for pop stars now. She was Marilin Monroe type of beauty, at the time simply stunning. Guitarist real name was Zdenek Fanta, his Gibson was dark red colour. Private Hemele is well-known actor Jan Kanyza; Trumpeter, who closed yellow curtain from the other side, was Petr Fink. Bayerle died in the 5th bar of letter D of his own song.
From the letter about Benno Manes’ death in Skvorecky’s novel:
The last thing I remember, and I’ll never forget it, was how he was lying there in that empty hall on an empty stage, with his huge belly completely purple, and dark grey trousers, and you couldn’t see his head for the stomach, and all around there was yellow bunting, that awful yellow bunting. Yellow and purple, maybe the bust of some statesman behind it but all I could see when I looked into the hall for the last time was that ghastly purple stomach and the yellow bunting. Then we left for Prague.
I thought you might be interested in how your friend died.
They went on to become friends, the novelist emerging as a major literary figure; the pianist about to leave the army, devote himself to jazz and become one of Europe’s most famous jazz musicians. Viklicky adds:
When my quartet played in Chicago in 1991, Skvorecky came down from Toronto and stayed with the band for a few days. I think he was fascinated by musicians’ talk, because he stayed through rehearsals as well. Backstage slang in ’91 was probably different than back in the ’40s when Skvorecky was young. But he seemed to love to listen to it. And maybe put it into his next novel.
Yes, the world is small and tightly interconnected.
Petter Pettersson says
Re The Bass Saxophone, I seem to remember reading somewere that the novel had been put into a play and performed at some theatre (stateside or Canada?). I don,t know if the author himself or someone else did the script for that performance, but I would like to know more about it, because after reading that piece, I suggested for a friend of mine involved in a regional theatre group that they ought to consider doing something with the Bass Saxophone and perform it at one of our jazz festivals.
He was interested, but then I could’nt find the
piece on the theatre performance.
Anybody here know anything about this?
Otto Kristen-Krcka says
I regarded myself as a friend of Pavel Bayerle and I also knew his
family. I worked under Pavel in AUS and we recorded some of my songs in Pilsen radio studios. That time I was a member of vocal trio,The pastel Trio with Tony Nerad and his wife Zdena. Pavel was a very nice and special person.I believe that he somehow knew that his time on this Earth is limited and as a result he burned his candle at both ends. He pushed himself and needing to stay alert he sometime used uppers to keep going.We all tried to slow him down, including his lovely wife,but to
no avail. I still remember vividly being at their place in Prague,when
Pavel was taken to hospital,and how we were trying to calm his
wife. Many times I still think about him.