Harry Frommermann (tenor buffo), Ari Leschnikoff (first tenor), Erich Collins (second tenor), Roman Cycowski (baritone), Robert Biberti (bass), Erwin Bootz (piano)
I’ve slowly been going through Spotify, listening to every artist listed in 1001 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. Some of the albums, of course, I’ve heard. Others, I’ve heard about. But there are many who I’ve never heard before. All are pretty good, and occasionally, there’s one that blows me away. That was my reaction to the Comedian Harmonists.
The group was formed in 1927, by Harry Frommermann, a German who wanted to create a jazz/pop vocal group like those he had heard from American bands. Frommermann held auditions and soon got together five others to start performing.
The group quickly became a success. It has an unusual and pleasing sound, as the melody switched off among the men, as they sang with terrific close harmonies. Here’s an exampe: Wochenend Und Sonnenschein (“Weekend and Sunshine,” though the tune might be familiar to you).
But as the 1930s rolled on, the Comedian Harmonists ran into a problem: The Nazis came to power. Three of the members were Jewish, and the pianist was married to a Jewish wife. Something had to give, and it was the Comedian Harmonists. They were forbidden to perform in public. Fromerman, Cycowski, and Collin fled Germany and tried to establish themselves as a new group, but the politics of the time made it impossible. Those that remained behind also took on new members and continued to perform for a time, but when the war broke up, the group was forgotten.
Luckily, though, some remembered. A documentary on German TV in 1977 by Eberhard Fletcher revived interest and CD have gathered together their songs. They still have the power to delight after all these years.