Jan Arnet

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Jan Arnet, who played on some 50 recording sessions between 1959 and 1970, is considered the first Czech bassist to establish himself on the picky-picky American scene. This puts him ahead of both Miroslav…
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Jan Arnet, who played on some 50 recording sessions between 1959 and 1970, is considered the first Czech bassist to establish himself on the picky-picky American scene. This puts him ahead of both Miroslav Vitous and George Mraz, fellow countrymen who are part of the reason jazz fans are always suggesting someone "Czech" out a great new player. Punning aside, this area of the world's rich musical traditions often seems to be in the blood of its children, nurtured by a serious emphasis on education, typical of which was Arnet's access to studies on both violin and trombone beginning in 1945. In 1957, he finally switched to bass and continued studying music theory. While the latter subject no doubt took many serious evenings of research, becoming a bassist was apparently a quite spontaneous development. It started when the bass chair in a local combo opened up because the bassist was thrown in jail, one of the only two reasons a gig opened up in Czechoslovakia at that time, the other being someone's death. Arnet found out how to tune the instrument from a retired orchestra violinist, and the job was his.

His recording career began in the '60s, at which time the big band of Zdenek Bartak and combos led by Karel Velebny, Jan Konopasek, and Milan Dvorak were all involved in various album releases once having passed under the microscope of the Communist party. Arnet also utilized his composing talents to move forward, becoming the leader of the National Czech Jazz Orchestra and assuming all responsibilities from management to repertoire while the ensemble officially represented its nation on tour throughout Europe.

Arnet was able to step out further by 1965: He toured countries such as West Germany and France and collaborated with American players such as baritone bopper Leo Wright and tenor torch Booker Ervin. This was heavy company indeed, company that encouraged him to come to America. The saga of his trip is worthy of a book in itself, Arnet actually smuggling both his wife and child into West Germany hidden inside a bass drum. In 1966, the bassist had moved to the U.S.A., where he began working not only as an instrumentalist but as a producer, arranger, and conductor. He collaborated with drummer and bandleader Elvin Jones, saxophonist and arranger Tony Scott, guitarist and fellow East European vagabond Attila Zoller, and of course a variety of saxophonists who demanded he play endless choruses of changes to back them up, from Sonny Stitt to more gigs with Ervin. He popped in and out of drummer Chico Hamilton's interesting ensembles twice, first in 1967, again five years later.

In the late '60s, he occupied what might be the supreme rhythm section position in all of jazz, playing bass with Art Blakey, the friendly neighbor at the drum set. A fine example of this bassist's playing on a typical night with a great band is Jazz Messengers '70, recorded on a tour of Japan. Only a few years later, Arnet left his life as a performing musician and bassist behind him completely, although not his love for jazz. In his later years, Arnet has been active as a writer and lecturer on jazz, and is sometimes heard as a Voice of America commentator. To make a living, however, he changed to the world of finance and has served as director or executive director of international organizations including the City University of New York and the Asia Society.