Czech jazz music loses its First Lady

On Saturday the sad news was announced that "the First Lady of Czech jazz", Vlasta Pruchova, had died in Prague after a long illness. Until a few years ago she appeared regularly at Prague jazz clubs, alongside some of the most talented Czech musicians, and her latest album came out just this year.

Vlasta Pruchova, photo: CTKVlasta Pruchova, photo: CTK Vlasta Pruchova died in a Prague hospital less than a month before her 80th birthday. She was born in 1926 in the Slovak town of Ruzomberok and she made her first appearance in 1946.

During her career - spanning more than 50 years - Vlasta Pruchova sang with some of the most illustrious Czech musicians and jazz ensembles. She became greatly popular in the 1950s and 1960s when she performed alongside her husband Jan Hammer, a jazz musician, composer and also a heart specialist. She also sang with a band co-founded by her son Jan Hammer, Jr. Jan later became an internationally-acclaimed jazz musician. In an interview he gave Radio Prague last summer, Jan Hammer explained how his family influenced his future career.

Jan Hammer, photo: www.janhammer.comJan Hammer, photo: www.janhammer.com "Well, obviously growing up in a family like that, there was barely anything else I could do, even though I almost became a doctor, which is what my father was in addition to being a musician and a composer. But by the time I was about sixteen years of age, my work in the field of music had gotten so good or rewarding that I was pretty much able to support myself, so I decided that it was going to be my career."

When Louis Armstrong appeared in Prague in 1965, Vlasta Pruchova invited him over for dinner and they also had a jamming session together. In 1968 the whole family spent a year in Washington, DC. Jan Hammer, Jr. decided to stay in the United States, where he continued in his successful music career.

Even though Vlasta Pruchova worked in the music business for over half a century, she left only a precious few recordings behind. Jazz music was regarded as "too American" and frowned upon by the communist regime, and also the fact her son, Jan Hammer, lived in the US was used against her by the authorities.

In 2003, Vlasta Pruchova was awarded a high state honour by President Vaclav Klaus, who was her keen fan and a friend. Until a few years ago she still sang live several times a month, having become a living legend of Czech jazz. Vlasta Pruchova will be greatly missed by both Czech jazz musicians and fans.