‘On the Sunny Side of the Street: A ‘Ghetto Swinger’ in Australia’ by Andrew W Hurley

Issue 4 excerpt:  Essay

‘On the Sunny Side of the Street: A ‘Ghetto Swinger’ in Australia’
Andrew W Hurley

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Holocaust survivor and jazz guitarist Coco Schumann’s story is the focus of Hurley’s essay.  Here’s a taste.

… As the Cold War heated up, West German politicians were also raising the prospect of rearmament. Chastened by all these developments, Schumann and his family began to seriously evaluate the idea of emigrating.

Australia was not their first choice. The Schumanns did not consider themselves Jewish enough for Israel (which, in any event, had only just been recognised by the British and was in a rather precarious position, security-wise) and a green card for the United States was out of the question: Some time earlier, convinced that the path being embarked upon in East Germany was the only one which could overcome the scourge of National Socialism, Schumann’s mother had joined the Communist Party. That was enough to rule out an American visa for her son, and so an assisted passage to Australia it was, in exchange for which the Schumanns signed a contract to work for two years in whichever job the Australian government designated to them. For Coco, that job was to be tending boiling vats at the Jam Factory in South Yarra. Hardly a dream job, but at least it was in a large city where it would not be too difficult to find other like-minded musicians.

As soon as possible, he went in search of opportunities to perform. Here in Melbourne too Schumann led a charmed existence. Before long he had found a regular engagement as a musician at the Oran Coffee Lounge in St Kilda, which now replaced the Jam Factory as his employer. Other contacts were quickly established with émigré musicians like Heinz Gehl, Andre Schuster and the famous accordionist Leo Rosner, a Jew who had been on ‘Oskar Schindler’s List’ and whose character appears briefly in Steven Spielberg’s film. Schumann recorded with Rosner’s Gypsy Band and also went on a national tour with it. However, jazz was his first love, and when the opportunity presented itself to perform at Melbourne’s Downbeat Jazz Festival in 1952, he leapt at it.

Andrew W. Hurley holds a degree in Law and a PhD in German Cultural Studies (University of Melbourne), and is a lecturer in German Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney. He has also published on German and Australian cinema and is currently working on an ARC-funded project on representations of music in recent German literature and film.

A taste of the music…

Accordion player Emil Ludvik (1917 – 2007) was one of the most gifted arrangers, band leaders and jazz musicians in Czechoslovakia. In 1939 he founded his first “Hot Kvintet”, which was the hard core of his later big band. After the war, Ludvik wrote music for many Czech movies. Ludvik’s arranger and trumpeter (you can hear him on this video) was the fabulous Fritz Weiss who founded the legendary “Ghetto Swingers” (with Coco Schumann at the piano).

Or go straight to YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6dqjNCOWuM