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    Frederick Thomas and First Jazz in Constantinople

     

    On August 31, 1919, or two months after the Anglo-American Villa opened, and only four months after Frederick arrived in Constantinople, he made history.  An ad in Orient News, the authoritative newspaper of the “Army of the Black Sea,” as the British occupiers of Constantinople pompously called themselves, announced the first performance of a new kind of music, one that would become a key to Frederick’s future success:  “For the first time in Constantinople a Jazz-Band executed by Mr. F. Miller and Mr. Tom, the latest sensation all over Europe.”  

     

    A Russian émigré journal’s illustration suggesting what Frederick Thomas’s “Anglo-American Villa” looked like—with a dancer in a skimpy outfit on stage, a band to the left, and civilian and Allied military customers at tables.


    Freddy Miller was an Englishman who did parodies of musical acts and sang humorous songs—his most popular was the stuttering hit “K-K-K-Katie”; while “Mr. Tom,” a black American, was an “eccentric” dancer with an amusing routine.  They were not professional jazz musicians and probably put on a comedy act that included some jazz interludes.  Nevertheless, their performance was a hit, and together with Frederick they get credit for introducing this quintessentially black American music to Turkey just as it was beginning to conquer London, Paris, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, and everywhere in between. 

    As he had in Moscow, Frederick clearly continued to follow new trends in entertainment that were developing in Europe and the United States, and he would import much more real jazz to Constantinople in the years ahead.  Even with his nose for successful innovations, however, he could not have foreseen the way that this jaunty, raucous music would contribute to the revolutionary transformation of Turkish society, or the extent to which he would himself become an unwitting player in the process.

    By the end of the first summer season, the Anglo-American Villa was pronounced a resounding success by the Orient News:

    Far the best evening entertainment in town is to be found at the Villa Anglo Americain, Chichli.  Mme. Bertha and M. Thomas have succeeded in engaging the finest talent for their stage and attracting the most elegant monde to their tables. This enterprising summer effort which has established their reputation is now drawing to an end with this season of outdoor entertainments and we understand that the indoor premises of the Villa are about to be enlarged to meet the needs in winter. There is no doubt that the Chichli Villa will continue to give the best vaudeville in Constantinople. That fine hunting ground for artistes, Bucharest, is to be searched by M. Thomas for new talent for the winter season.

    (To be continued)   

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