Saturday, February 17, 2007

Zasu

I made a small discovery.

Today, I went to the 40th California International Antiquarian Book Fair, which is held every two years in San Francisco. The fair is the largest rare book show in the West. I've gone many times. Generally speaking, I like to go and just browse. I rarely make a purchase, as the first editions and autographed copies are beyond my budget! Nevertheless, its fun to look. Today, for example, I saw nice copies of Charlie Chaplin's My Trip Abroad (1922) and Sessue Hayakawa's The Bandit Prince (1926) - each in their original dustjacket! I also found a remarkable illustrated book from 1930 called Modern Picture-Houses and Theaters. I will try and track down a less expensive copy of this latter book for myself, as it looked very interesting.

While walking the aisles, I also came across a Louise Brooks item I had never seen before, or even known about. Actually, it was my wife who spotted it first! I was about to leave a booth, having seen all I thought I wanted to, when my wife said, "Did you see that?" No, I hadn't. And there was a vintage Louise Brooks item staring me in the face. Wow!

A New York dealer was offering two sets of Czech sheet music dating from the late 1920s / early 1930s. One set of sheet music - containing about 12 pieces and dating from 1929, measured approximately 9" x 12". The second set, a miniature version of the first - dated from 1931 and measured approximately 4" x 5". Each group, seemingly, contained the same set of songs. And contained within each of these sets was a song called "Zasu" (described as an "English vocal waltz") which featured Louise Brooks on the cover. I was flabbergasted! I offered to buy the one sheet - but the dealer was only selling them as a set. He wanted $4800.00 for the lot, and that was far too much for me.

From what I was able to find out, the sheet music was from the Liberated Theatre, an avant-garde theater company located in Prague. "Zasu" - as I believe were all the songs in the set - was composed by Jaroslav Jezek - who is today considered one of the great Czech composers of the inter-war period. (Jezek is sometimes spoken of as a Gershwin-like composer, as Jezek was influenced by jazz and composed in both the popular and classical styles. Coincidentally, there is an exhibit about Jezek closing at the end of the month at the National Museum in Prague. ) Besides being composed by a famous Czech composer, each of the song sheets were strikingly designed by Frantisek Zelenka - an equally acclaimed Czech artist. Thus the premium on these vintage items. A famous composer + an acclaimed artist + their ephemeral nature and rarity = extraordinary value.

I was desperate to obtains some sort of visual documentation of this item, and asked the dealer for a photocopy or scan of this single piece, but he would make no promises.

Later in the day, I did some internet research on Jezek, Zelenka and the Liberated Theatre. And, after a little looking around, I did manage to track down a Czech compact disc featuring a vintage recording of "Zasu" with the composer at the piano. I ordered a copy. When that disc arrives, I hope to place the song on RadioLulu. And perhaps the CD will reveal a little but more about the song and any connection to Louise Brooks which may exist.

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