THE BASS SAXOPHONE by Josef Skvorecky


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Jazz-mania has figured large in Skvorecky's other translated work--jazz, the zealous love of a Czech who'd never seen a black person but completely dug the blues. To some extent, the devotion has even determined Skvorecky's style: long riffs, heroic solos. In Emoke, one of the two novellas yoked here, a young widow sworn to mysticism and parapyschology is wooed unsuccessfully by the intellectual narrator during a state-organized vacation. Though she won't give him a tumble, Emoke is the very antithesis of the contemporary Czech ""subman""--a triumph of bourgeois belly and empty-headedness. Like an East European Kerouac, Skvorecky wails against the death-in-life of convention. The Bass Saxophone is more satisfyingly specific. A young Czech jazzophile encounters a wretched orchestra come to play for the occupying Germans during the war. They've got with them a bass saxophone, that monstrous instrument, and the kid has never seen one before. Though it's forbidden to cooperate with any Germans, the aficionado's fascination is finally too great. Not only does the hero get a chance to blow a little on the horn; he's pressed into service to play it for that night's performance, the regular saxist being indisposed. Put in disguise first, the boy plays the gig: the band is unbelievably bad, but the big lowing grotesque sax opens ""not the gate to art, but to sensation, to euphoria,"" and for an hour the world is liberated. The ultimately subversive power of music is Skvorecky's theme, which he rolls along faster and faster, picking up an exhilarating openness.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1978
ISBN: 0880013702
Publisher: Knopf