Tricky Notes: Playing Jazz behind the Iron Curtain

What an amazing story the Los Angeles Times ran about Steve Hideg, an ordinary man who fled Hungary in 1956 to fulfill his dream as a jazz drummer. He is still as penniless as he was before his escape, but in between he has had 60 marvellous years and at age 85 he is still going on.

Jazz music was banned or barely tolerated during in the 1950s in Hungary; it was too suspicious, too American

After all, how could a real jazz enthusiast possibly be not immune to the harshest “Hate America” Communist propaganda campaigns at the time?

Steve Hideg. Photo: Los Angeles Times
Steve Hideg, 85, carries his drums to a jazz gig. Photo: Los Angeles Times

Much of the Hungarian jazz scene went quasi underground to form a clandestine jazz club, “The Budapest Hot Club”, according to Ernest Nagy, former Consul in the U.S. Legation between 1952 and 1956, himself a great jazz enthusiast. Nagy was a frequent visitor of these semi-secret gatherings, and made a lot of good friends among the musicians.

After the Soviets crushed the 1956 revolution, almost every major Hungarian jazz player fled to Austria, just like Steve Hideg, and ended up in crowded refugee camps. Incidentally Ernest Nagy, still as a Foreign Service officer, was ordered to Salzburg to help operate the refugee camp in the former U.S. military base Camp Roeder.

Nagy made sure to collect his friends from the various refugee camps and help them reach their dream destination: America. Needless to say, all of them continued to play jazz music in the U.S., and many became pretty successful. The most admired among them was probably the guitarist Gabor Szabo, who apparently had a great influence on Carlos Santana’s music. Check him out, he has some amazing, almost psychedelic albums on youtube. Unfortunately, he died early due to drug abuse.

Btw, Ernie Nagy is sure one of the musicians of “The Budapest Hot Club”, a saxophone player, was “an ÁVH sergeant”, but otherwise “a good guy”.

Our own research found that at least another member, a known piano player was also used by the ÁVH as an agent.

Welcome to the jazz scene of the 50s’ Hungary.

Remember that until August 15 you can book your “Spies and Masters” walking tour about the Cold War in Budapest AT HALF PRICE. You may schedule your tour on a later date is well if you want.ó, but you need to finish the booking to be eligible for the discount. You can BOOK HERE.

(We found the story via

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