Armstrong is said to have inscribed a photograph of himself with the comment 'to the White Armstrong, from the Black Rosner', and given it to Rosner. When the Nazis came to power he began the long journey east that would not see him return to his German homeland for another 40 years. Landing in Warsaw in 1939, Rosner soon headed a popular jazz orchestra and married the daughter of famous Polish Yiddish actress, Ida Kaminska. Not long after, the two fled further east to Bialystok, freshly liberated by the Red Army. However, the Nazi cultural purges which sought to destroy all artistic works of Jewish origin, and the later destruction of WWII generally, would serve to ensure that little trace of Rosner's music or memory survived in Germany. Once in the Soviet Union, Rosner's career rose to unprecedented heights.
Thanks to jazz fans in the higher ranks of Stalin's army, Rosner achieved considerable fame. At one point, Rosner's orchestra was commanded to appear in an empty theatre and told to play. Not seeing a single person seated in the massive hall, Rosner and his orchestra played a whole show. He was later told that Josef Stalin himself had been watching from the balcony.
With this seal of approval, he and his musicians were given a train and dispatched all over Russia to perform for soldiers, travelling as far as Uzbekistan, raising jazz's profile in Russia. But with the dawn of the cold war in the immediate post war period, American 'cultural influences' became increasingly suspect in Soviet Society. Rosner was arrested and declared a "peddler of depraved Western music" and an "enemy of the state" in late 1946, as well as being accused of espionage, when he attempted to flee the Soviet Union for Germany without permission. A few months later, he was sentenced to 10 years in a Siberian labour camp for treason. Rosner's reputation followed him, and the camp commander soon ordered him to assemble a band. In difficult and exhausting conditions, Rosner continued to maintain an orchestra, but at some cost to his own health and well being.
Stalin's death on Purim (a major Jewish holiday which celebrates overcoming oppression) in 1953, meant freedom for Rosner. He returned to Moscow and his music, and again achieved significant fame in Soviet society as a popular musician, although much of the music he was able to play was subject to the censorship of the authorities. The sound developed was a distinctly different genre of jazz from other swing band leaders of the era, incorporating elements of Eastern European and Yiddish musical traditions. His unique arrangement of the jazz standard 'Caravan' for example, popularised by Duke Ellington, has a hauntingly eastern quality not evident in more familiar arrangements. Much of Rosner's most easily available recordings owe more to the European classical and Russian folk traditions, than to what is commonly considered jazz. In 1973, he was allowed to leave the Soviet Union, at the specific request of visiting American President Richard Nixon.
This came at some cost to his legacy, as the Soviet authorities then sought to remove all traces of his cultural contribution from the record, and wipe his legacy from history. As a result, recordings of Rosner are difficult to obtain, and he is largely unknown in the Soviet Union. He returned to Germany in 1973, but did not continue his musical career, dying in obscurity and poverty in Berlin in 1976. Read more on Last.fm.
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