Czech Music Three generations of a Prague musical family talk to Radio Prague

31-12-2007 | David Vaughan

The years of German occupation and decades of communist rule that followed have given music a very special role in Czech society. Amid censorship and political manipulation, music became an important and often subversive tool of free expression. The Doruzka family in many ways embodies this unusual history. The broadcaster and writer Lubomir Doruzka was born in 1924, and has been writing about jazz for well over sixty years. He still broadcasts regularly on the subject. His son Petr, born in 1949, has continued the tradition. He grew up listening to the underground bands of the sixties, and today he is the Czech Republic’s foremost expert on “world music”, well known to Radio Prague listeners through his regular feature “Magic Carpet”. Petr’s son David, born in 1980, has returned to jazz and has been lauded as one of the Czech Republic’s top jazz guitarists. A few days ago I went to visit the three Doruzkas at the family’s house on the southern outskirts of Prague, and we talked about their lives and music.

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Lubomir, David and Petr DoruzkaLubomir, David and Petr Doruzka DAVID: “I was able to hear a lot of music from a very early age. There was always music around, so at first I started just hearing it passively, without paying too much attention, but then, when I was about nine or ten, I became really interested in rock music at first, and then blues. Whatever I was interested in was very easy to find somewhere in the house, and I was very much encouraged to make music – to play.”

You started performing with top Czech jazz musicians very early.

DAVID: “Yes. When I was fourteen I started playing in the clubs in Prague.”

And then you went off to study in the United States.

DAVID: “Yes. When I was seventeen I went to a workshop organized by Berklee College of Music in Boston, and at the end of this workshop they were awarding scholarships. I was lucky to receive one, so when I was nineteen, when I graduated from high school, I went to Berklee and studied there for three years.”

And now you’re back home, and you’re recognized here as one of the best jazz guitarists of your generation.

Petr DoruzkaPetr Doruzka DAVID: “I have to say that the Czech Republic is a small country with a small jazz scene, so we have to be careful not to exaggerate!”

Petr, you must be proud…

PETR: “Well, I’m very happy.”

Have you ever written critical articles of your son’s own music?

PETR: “I don’t think this would be a wise thing to do, because I’m not a jazz expert. I think that would be more my father’s job.”

So I’ll turn to you, Lubomir…

LUBOMIR: “Yes. I still remember the old times, when we went on a holiday with David to the Alps. We went to Dachstein on the snow, and we were just repeating the basics of harmony chords. I told him, ‘C-diminished’ and he said, ‘C, E-flat, F-sharp, A’, and so on. And this lasted for the whole half-hour, when we went from the top station of the cable to Dachstein and back again!”

So you were pretty well drilled in musical theory.

DAVID: “Yes. I guess. I’m very thankful for that.”

You have your guitar with you, so I’d like to ask you if you’d mind performing something for us.

DAVID: “I’m going to play a piece that I wrote some seven years ago and it’s called ‘Forever Lost’.” [Music]

You’ve been lucky enough to grow up being able to travel, being able to have access to music all over the world. Your father and grandfather both grew up in very different times. Lubomir and Petr, do you sometimes envy David that privilege?

LUBOMIR: “Well, I wouldn’t say so, because the life I have led has been quite interesting, and it was quite useful for me, I would say. So I wouldn’t exchange this experience for anything.”

Lubomir DoruzkaLubomir Doruzka PETR: “Certainly it’s a good thing to be young again! I must say that life was not so easy during the communist times, but I was lucky to get access to many kinds of music, which was very helpful somehow to survive. It taught me something. It was a good education in behaviour, in music taste, even if it was during the communist regime.”

And was it considered a subversive political activity, listening to the kind of music you wanted to listen to?

PETR: “I think it was very subversive actually. It’s well known that the electric guitar was one of the tools to dissolve the communist regime in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries.”

LUBOMIR: “I had a similar experience a little bit earlier. In 1944 during the German Nazi occupation we started to publish a sort of illegal newspaper called ‘Circular Correspondence’ on jazz. If we had been caught at that, the results might have been very disagreeable, but somehow we were lucky and we survived until 1945, and then it was supplanted by an official magazine called ‘Jazz’, which lasted for one-and-a-half years, until the communist coup d’état in 1948.”

There’s probably no-one in the Czech Republic who knows more about the history of Czech jazz than you do. How did it all start?

Jaroslav JezekJaroslav Jezek LUBOMIR: “To me jazz came accompanied by the squeals of a pig. I grew up in the country. I spent my holidays in a small village, and there was an older cousin of mine who was a student of law at that time. He had a portable record player in his small room, which was open to the courtyard where the pig was. And there was a calf and the local dog who barked. He asked me what I listened to. I was listening just to the pop music of that time on Prague radio. He put a record by Jaroslav Jezek onto the turntable and told me to listen to something like that. That was the first jazz record I ever heard. I followed his advice!”

We’re going to hear some music now. Lubomir, you’ve chosen a piece of music that means something to you. It’s from that period.

Duke EllingtonDuke Ellington LUBOMIR: “I would like to play an arrangement of Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady by Jimmie Lunceford. That was one of our favourite pieces, which I copied from the record. It was quite a lot of work, and of course our band couldn’t just play it, because it was simply too difficult!” [Music].

You were playing in a band at the time. This was actually during the German occupation.

LUBOMIR: “That’s right. I was playing piano and guitar partly. We played some gigs – not for dancing though, as dancing was prohibited at that time. And then, after 1945 I gave it up because I discovered that I was better at writing about music than writing and playing music itself.”

It must have been tragic to see so many musicians disappear during the war, because they were Jewish or were not considered politically “acceptable”. Czech jazz must have struggled to survive that trauma.

LUBOMIR: “There was a story – and I know it was a true story because I met the man - about a guitar player, Vicherek, who sang a vocal chorus of Louis Armstrong’s Super Tiger Rag and he was arrested by the Gestapo right on the stage. He spent the rest of the war in the concentration camp in Wiener Neustadt.”

After the Second World War the return to normality didn’t last very long. Petr, you were born just four years after the war, in 1949. This was just after the communists had come to power, and then as a child you lived through Stalinist rule in Czechoslovakia. The world of your family must have been very different from the political world outside.

PETR: “It was. I remember an afternoon at home when everybody was very upset. I just couldn’t understand what was happening, but later I found out that the reason was that at that time some kind of decree had come into effect that all the pensioners had to move out of Prague just to fill in the space that was left in the Sudetenland after the Germans were expelled. That meant that my grandfather and grandmother had to move out very quickly to a deserted house in the Sudetenland, where actually I spent some very nice times during my childhood.”

What music were you listening to?

Frank ZappaFrank Zappa PETR: “At that time I was six years old, so there was not much… It all changed during the mid to late 60s, when I was seventeen years old. The Beatles started, but then I discovered that there were so many other interesting bands which were not known. The Beatles were the only band the general audience knew, but then there was Bob Dylan, there was Frank Zappa, The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground. In ‘66 and ‘67 these bands were not known. So you had to search for the recordings and it was like missionary work. The first musicians were playing on stage cover versions of songs by Frank Zappa or other – at that time underground – bands, and they were also closely watched by the secret police, because they were playing this subversive music on stage.”

So Petr, let’s hear something that you were listening to at that time.

PETR: “I think it would be good to hear a song by Frank Zappa - Mothers of Invention – which was called ‘Plastic People’. And that was the name that the first important underground band in Prague took as their name.” [Music]

Lubomir, it must have been depressing for you to see your son going through the same kind of experiences that you had seen as a young man.

LUBOMIR: “Yes, certainly. In 1964 I went over to a music magazine called ‘Melodie’, which was dedicated partly to jazz and generally to the pop scene of that time, and those years from ’64 until ’68 were fairly liberal. We could write about lots of things and we had a wide circulation. And then came 1968 and the Russian tanks. I was editor-in-chief at that time and I let through an article about the local star Waldemar Martuska, who sang a song which was prohibited at that time. I let him quote that song. So I was invited to the seat of the censors, and I was told that if something like that was repeated again, the consequences would be very hard. The publisher had to pay a fine of about 30,000 crowns, which at that time was quite a lot of money. Then I just resigned, because I said I’m not going to act as a censor, I’m going to do something else. I went to the Supraphon record company, where I was in charge of foreign trade with copyrights.”

For all three of you the Velvet Revolution of November 1989 must have completely changed your lives.

LUBOMIR: “We knew that something like that would happen but it took us all by surprise because it came rather suddenly. It was rather a nice surprise.”

PETR: “I was very happy, especially because of the children. It happened just at the time that the generation of my children could live through it and rediscover the world. The most important thing was that I knew my children would be growing up in freedom.”

David DoruzkaDavid Doruzka DAVID: “You know, I have to say that for my generation that we don’t even think about it now. We take it completely for granted. I think that’s maybe not the greatest thing. It’s good to think sometimes how it would have been if this hadn’t happened. I think that the reality in this country is still very much affected subconsciously by the forty years of communism. There are many things in people’s thinking, in the way that people live. It’s somewhere deep inside us.”

Eric ClaptonEric Clapton Before we started recording you told me that you grew up learning the guitar to the music of Eric Clapton, which was also the music your father was listening to as a young man, wasn’t it?

DAVID: “Basically all the music I started listening to was music that I heard from my father first, and I really became interested in the electric guitar and Eric Clapton was one of the first guitarists that I liked a lot.”

Petr, I’d like you to choose something by Eric Clapton…

PETR: “It will be ‘Hideaway’ from an LP that was made, I think, in 1966 – Eric Clapton with John Mayall. I think that was a really revolutionary record at that time.” [Music]

And that particular piece means a lot to you, David…

DAVID: “Yes, because it was one of the first pieces that I learned to play myself, that I just transcribed myself on the guitar and learned to play. This must have been around 1992 and at that time there was not a huge selection of guitar books, or transcription books, so I just did it all myself. I think it was a good thing because since then I’ve been transcribing everything myself rather than relying on books.”

David, you decided in the end to become a jazz musician rather than a rock musician. Lubomir, that must have made you rather pleased, didn’t it?

LUBOMIR: “Certainly, because that’s how I started practically, although sixty years ago. Then I switched to something else, and it was very nice to see someone in the family moving in that direction again.”

Petr, you’ve moved a long way from jazz in your interests. In the Czech Republic you are probably the foremost expert on what is now called “world music”.

PETR: “I think it was a natural development, because I started with rock music – with The Beatles, Bob Dylan, but languages change and musicians find expression in other fields, so I think world music was a very natural development.”

It’s New Year. We’re at the cusp of 2007 and 2008. What are your plans for the coming year?

LUBOMIR: “I’m still very happy I can do my radio programmes for Czech Radio and some for German radio too [Lubomir Doruzka has a regular programme in German for Deutschlandradio]. This is something I appreciate very much because in 1946 I started to write about Czech jazz for other European magazines, and I’m glad I can do if for German radio still. And perhaps I might try to round it off with another book about the present state of jazz in this country as well as in the world.”

Lubomir, David and Petr DoruzkaLubomir, David and Petr Doruzka PETR: “For me it’s work as usual – my regular work for Czech Radio: both national radio and Radio Prague. I also plan some travel to places you can hear music which comes from very far away places. My first trip will be Babelmed, a festival in Marseilles in France, where you can hear a lot of music from the Mediterranean countries, including Morocco, Egypt and Turkey.”

David, you’re still early on in your career. You seem to be going from strength to strength, so what can we look forward to from you in the next twelve months?

DAVID: “Hopefully there will be two new CDs released that I recorded this year. One of them I recorded in Prague. It’s with a quartet with a Swedish singer Josefine Lindstrand and with a Polish rhythm section. That should be coming out in spring, and hopefully we shall be touring too with this band in the Czech Republic and some other countries. Then there’s another record I recorded in Spain with two Spanish musicians, Albert Sanz on Hammond organ and Jorge Rossy on drums. So there are these two new projects. That’s quite exciting.”

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