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Hungarian Bebop: an African-American and European Cultural Exchange

by admin on April 13, 2017

In 2002, Budapest Music Center Records released a CD called Hungarian Bebop, a collaboration between the all-Hungarian Mihály Dresch Quartet and American avant-garde saxophonist Archie Schepp. The CD blends Hungarian and American aesthetics effortlessly. The quartet’s instrumentation consists of a horn player, a violinist, a double bassist, and a drummer. The the album’s transatlantic lineup caught my eye while I was visiting Budapest. Upon my first listening to the CD, I was pleasantly surprised by how well Archie Shepp blended with the Hungarian quartet. The music had a unique style, despite Shepp and Dreschs’ very different musical characters..

The six songs on the album are all written by the Mihály “Misi” Dresch, with the exception of the fourth track, “Steam” by Archie Shepp. The CD’s linear notes are comprised of two excerpts; one written by Shepp and the other written by Dresch. Shepp writes from an American perspective, describing the process of learning about Hungarian musicians and their culture. Dresch, on the other hand, writes from the perspective of a European player’s surreal experience of building a personal and professional relationship with one of his American idols. Upon reading both passages, one learns how their relationships and music grew as they played with and learned from one other. Dresch warmly writes, “It took us a few days to get closer to each other, but thereafter he called me Misi and that meant a great deal to me – I never dreamed of being on such good terms with him” (Dresch).

One striking commonality in both of the passages was agreement on the artist’s place in society and culture. Shepp ends his passage by saying he thinks “music has social and cultural impacts beyond the practical expression of music itself,” and that he “agree[s] with Misi’s concept that music brings people together in their search for universal dignity, […] expressing makind’s search for a better life in a better world” (Shepp). I also found it interesting how Shepp wanted to follow and add to the quartet’s sound rather than lead the quartet to a more American or familiar sound. Even more interesting is how the two men talk about the racial and cultural differences and its impact on the music they created. Shepp references the Brisith invasion of “Negro-blues to create a new form.” He continues: “What we did was combine Hungarian folk and European academic music with afro-jazz elements in a way that really swings” (Shepp). On the other hand, Mihály Dresch described the text of a Hungarian folk melody to Archie Schepp as being “akin to the basic mood of the blues.” According to Dresch, “Archie laughed and said yes, with the difference that a black man would have added ‘but I was born, damn it” (Dresch). I am glad that the two men mentioned the cultural and racial differences because it is an important (and often excluded) factor in the creation, production, and consumption of music.

by Ben Mercer

Work Cited

Shepp, Archie and Dresch, Mihály. Linear Notes. Hungarian Bebop. Budapest Music Center Record, 2002. CD.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gabrielle April 25, 2017 at 12:42 pm

This seems really well researched. It came across as very confident, you really sound like an expert on Hungarian bebop. I agree with Christian, the direct comments helped me connect with the article, and shows that you found some solid sources.


Christian T Smith April 25, 2017 at 12:24 pm

I think that you’re topic was super original, and I really enjoyed it for that and many other aspects. I found your description of the style to be very thorough and to match the example well. I think that you’re inclusion of the Archie Shepp quotes and descriptions really helped to shine light on the thought process behind the album, and it helped give context to the stylistics that were apparent in the music.


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