International Society for Jazz Research

Jazz in Austria

Historische Entwicklung und Diskographie des Jazz in Österreich

During the roaring years after World War I the waltzing Viennese first made contact with a particular kind of dance music – slightly influenced by jazz – which was played by the orchestras of Dajos Bela, Marek Weber, Bernhard Ette, Paul Woitschach and similar groups. As a consequence the conservative public which mostly refused new and strange art directions, called all that music jazz which was played with a saxophone or a banjo. So-called "Jazz Orchestras" like those of Charlie Gaudriot, Hugo Gottwald, Ernst Holzer or Frank Fox played the "Tiger Rag" as well as tangos and medleys from operettas.

There was a small jazz centre in Max Glasl's "Weihburg-Bar" between 1922 and 1934 in which you could meet negro musicians such as Arthur Briggs and Eddie South. Unfortunately, there are no recordings from this period except some titles on the Polydor label with Ernst Holzer who then had the leading soloists Josef Hadraba and Gustav Voglhut in his band.

In the thirties the Casa Loma Band and Jack Hylton's orchestra were the models for numerous dance bands and only a small group of musicians and record collectors knew what was going on. Now also famous American soloists starred in Vienna.

Curiously, activity in playing this kind of music grew up during the regime of the Nazis which forbade the playing of jazz. At the house of pianist Jeff Palme regular jam sessions took place and often more than forty musicians played there: foreign workers from France or the Netherlands, soldiers on the leave like young Hans Koller, Jews in hiding and native Viennese. Many of these musicians could work at the "Europasender des Reichsfunks" where Paul von Beky led a big Orchestra. Pianist Roland Kovac, then still in his teens, wrote his first arrangement on "Topsy" for this band. Another jazz centre during the war was the "Steffel-Diele" in Vienna where Herbert Mitteys and Ernst Landl met with Rudi Kregcyck, Bob Pauwells, Vittorio Ducchini and Arthur Motta.

After World War II jazz slowly became popular and many Viennese musicians could work in the clubs of the occupation forces. The most important groups at this time were "Horst Winter's Tanzorchester", the "Wiener Tanzorchester", the "Rhythmische Sieben", the "Rudi Kregcyck Band", the "Nine Serenaders" and especially the "Hot Club Vienna" under Hans Koller's leadership.

Although the amusement business promoted a strong rhythmic dance music, pure jazz could not make headway with the audience. Therefore, Koller's "Hot Club Vienna" did not exist more than about three years because they played swing and bebop all the time. Hans Koller who was the first Austrian jazz musician of wider recognition soon went to Germany. Since the cultural institutions and the radio stations were tailing miserably, more and more leading musicians left the country. Vera Auer, Attila Zoller, Roland Kovac, Fatty George and later on Joe Zawinul, Karl Drewo and Hans Rettenbacher went abroad to make their careers elsewhere. The musicians who remained and the few interested people continued meeting. In the fifties the famous "Austria All Stars" formed together and also Fatty George tried to make jazz more popular by playing both dixieland and cool jazz when he returned to Austria. Fatty George's jazz clubs then were the centres of Viennese jazz life for almost eight years and American top artists like Oscar Peterson, Art Blakey, Lionel Hampton, John Lewis, Jimmy Hamilton and many others used to sit in when touring our country for concerts.

The rest of Austria also shared in the growing interest in Jazz. Graz, having only a small jazz circle in 1948 became well known through the Institute for Jazz at the University of Music and Dramatic Arts which is a unique institution all over Europe.

Friedrich Gulda, famous pianist in both classical music and jazz, brought along many American musicians with his orchestras and organized the "First International Competition for Modern Jazz" in 1966.

The establishment of the Austrian Jazz Federation and reforms at the radio stations made the situation much better so that the leading Austrian groups as well as foreign musicians like Art Farmer and Eje Thelin have the possibility of making their living by working in Austria.