|Birth name||Vlasta Průchová|
|Born||July 12, 1926
|Died||June 16, 2006 (aged 79)
Prague, Czech Republic
|Genres||swing, vocal jazz|
Vlasta Průchová (12 July 1926, Ružomberok – 16 June 2006, Prague) was a Czech jazz singer. Since the second half of 1940s she gradually built up her leading role on the Czech jazz scene. Průchová is the mother of renowned Czech-American pianist and composer Jan Hammer.
Průchová was born to Czech parents who worked in Ružomberok, Slovakia at that time. She was baptised by the Slovak priest Andrej Hlinka. At the end of 1938, the family was forced to leave Slovakia, and they resided in Prague.
Following the World War II, Průchová gained first experience with jazz music. At the Filmové žně (Film Harvest Festival) in Zlín she attended the performance of the "ensemble of swing stars" Elit Club. Among the members of the band was also her future husband, Jan Hammer Sr. She later visited their performances also in the Prague palace Metro, where the band played in the "swing pub" Akvarium. From her youth, she showed a musical talent in singing and Jan Hammer Sr. finally persuaded her to join the band. In 1947, she began to perform in the first Prague jazz club Pygmalion. The band was renamed to Rytmus 47. The same year she married Hammer. Pygmalion was closed in 1949, and following that Průchová sang in a legendary Prague dance-hall Lucerna Palace. At the same time she also collaborated with significant Czech jazz instrumentalists Luděk Hulan, Ferdinand Havlík and others.
In the 1950s, Průchová — as a member of the Karel Krautgartner Orchestra — became one of the most successful participants of the Czechoslovak song competition Hledáme písničku pro všední den (In Search of a Song for the Weekday). In 1952, she was voted the best Czech jazz woman singer in the poll of the samizdat Boptime.
At the beginning of 1960s, Průchová continued her concert career together with her husband, cardiologist and musician Jan Hammer Sr. Their children Jan and Andrea occasionally joined them on piano and drums. Their flat became a place of regular jam sessions with fellow musicians. On one of these occasions, in 1965, she even invited American jazz singer and trumpeter Louis Armstrong for dinner, and they jammed together.
In 1968, during the dramatic events of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, the whole family moved to USA. Jan Hammer Sr. received a one-year research fellowship in Washington, and Jan Hammer Jr. began to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Their stay in the USA was entirely legal, however, the return to the Czechoslovakia brought them considerable problems. Jan Hammer Jr. remained in the United States, but his father's career in medicine was stopped. Similarly, their daughter Andrea wasn't admitted to study at the Prague Conservatory. The one-year stay in a Western country was too suspicious for Czechoslovak communist régime.
Vlasta Průchová was affected by communist state too. Although she was allowed to perform in the Prague clubs, she was prevented from making new recordings for more than twenty years. She was forced to find a new band for her performances at clubs and regional jazz festivals. Thus began her cooperation with young exponents of the Czech jazz scene, Emil Viklický, and later with pianist Zdeněk Zdeněk.[6 ]
Jan Hammer Sr. died on 2 May 1989, a few months before Czechoslovak Velvet Revolution. His wife Vlasta Průchová appeared on the stage also afterwards, in 1990s and in the early years of the new millennium. She died on 16 June 2006 in Prague.
Průchová was one of the pioneers of the Czech jazz singing. Her musical style encompasses various genres from jazz standards and swing to bebop. In 1950s and 1960s she also influenced the style of the Czech pop music with her specific phrasing and diction. She represents a part of the continuity of the Czech jazz in the second half of the 20th century.[7 ] In her later years Průchová rarely changed her repertoire, she is considered an exponent of the "classical jazz singing".
Czech musicologist Lubomír Dorůžka titled her "a key person of the Czech jazz singing" in one of his specialised jazz publications.
Antonín Matzner and Igor Wasserberger compared her to American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald in their book Jazzové profily (Jazz Profiles). Průchová even adopted a part of Fitzgerald's standard repertoire.
Vlasta Průchová next to her musical activities appeared also in film. In 1951 she played a singer in the crime film V trestném území (In the Penalty Area). In 2001 she appeared in the documentary Milý společník aneb Blues pro Luďka Hulana (A pleasant Companion or Blues for Luděk Hulan).