This biographical article is part of JAZZ.FM91’s supplementary research component to expand on The Journey to Jazz and Human Rights documentary podcast series. Click here to find out more.
Adolph Ignatievich Rosner, known professionally as ‘Ady’ Rosner or ‘Eddie’ Rosner, was born on May 26, 1910, in Berlin, Germany, to a Polish-Jewish family. At six years old, Rosner was sent to Stern’s Musical Conservatory in Berlin. There, he studied classical music, before shifting towards a passion for the jazz scene. In 1920, Rosner left the conservatory as a violinist and entered the High School of Music in Berlin.
During the 1920s, Rosner’s career as a musician was cemented when he took up playing the trumpet. During his teenage years, Rosner took on the nickname ‘Eddie’ and began playing with other Polish musicians who part of Marek Weber’s orchestra. Rosner was a particularly unique musician as he was able to integrate his knowledge of classical music with jazz. After playing with a variety of bands in Berlin, by 1930, Rosner joined the successful ‘hot-jazz’ band, The Syncopators, led by Stephan Weintraub. His talent was quickly rewarded – after playing with the band in shows across western Europe, the group renamed itself ‘Eddie Rosner and The Syncopators,’ and by 1934, Rosner had become famous for playing two trumpets at the same time.
Throughout the 1930s, Rosner played numerous shows with The Syncopators on the transatlantic steamer, New York. Here, he entertained passengers sailing between Hamburg and American seaports. By this time, Rosner had made several recordings with the band, and hoped to one day start a career in America. By the late 1930s, Rosner had corresponded with American drummer Gene Krupa, who he anticipated might open the door for him. However, like so many other people, Rosner’s life was completely shaken by the Second World War. According to an article in the New York Times, when the Nazis took power in Germany, Rosner was touring with his band. Being of Jewish decent, he knew that returning home to Germany was not a viable option. After being denied a residence permit in Belgium, Rosner relocated to Poland where he eventually opened his own club, “Chez Adi,” in Lodz.
In 1939, Rosner was forced to flee as a political refugee once more – this time, with his Polish wife, the singer Ruth Kaminska. Together, they settled in Belostok and formed the Belostok Jazz big band, which eventually became known as the State Jazz of the Belorussian Republic of the USSR. Between 1939 and 1941, Rosner and the band toured throughout Belarus and the Soviet Union. According to historian Frederick Starr, Rosner was well received by the USSR because he had been playing in Europe. Starr highlights that before and during the Nazi occupation of the Soviet Union in 1941, Rosner’s performances were “often broadcast over the national radio of the Soviet Union,” which received the highest accolades, even from Josef Stalin. Accordingly, Rosner was appointed as the leader of the Soviet State Jazz Orchestra, with whom he recorded versions of Caravan and St. Louis Blues.
As stated in the episode, after the end of the Second World War, Rosner was no longer liked by Josef Stalin (who now saw Rosner’s success and popularity as a threat to political stability), and consequently, Rosner spent the next decade imprisoned in a gulag prison. Here, he often preformed for the prisoners, and did not give up on his passion for jazz.
After gaining freedom from prison in the 1950s, Rosner established a Russian big band that toured the Soviet Union and made several recordings between 1954 and 1971. While the band received publicity through films and concerts, the Soviet press and critics were instructed to “avoid mentioning him in publications and critical works.” Authorities restricted him from performing in major concert halls in the Soviet Union.
By the early 1970s, Rosner suffered from poor health. Sensing that the end was near, he applied to Soviet authorities for permission to immigrate to his birthplace and was allowed to return to Berlin in 1973. He did not earn any royalties in the Soviet Union, and passed away in poverty three years later.
Caravan is an American jazz standard that was originally composed by Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington, and first performed by Ellington in 1936. The song was taken at a slow tempo, emphasizing the subtle shadings of the leader’s arrangement. Numerous recordings of Caravan by Ellington exist because it essentially “remained in his playbook for the rest of his career, with the potential of being performed during any given concert.” The piece found favor right away with other jazz musicians, with broadcasts or recordings by Benny Goodman, Bunny Berrigan, Charlie Barnet and many others. Rosner was no exception.
Mike Zwerin. “Eddie Rosner Revival Fills In Gaps in the Soviet Memory: First Ghost Band in Russia” Jan. 30, 2002. https://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/30/style/IHT-eddie-rosner-revival-fills-in-gaps-in-the-soviet-memory-first-ghost.html.