If you have seen Pandora's Box, especially the notorious wedding reception scene where the Countess Geschwitz (reportedly the first lesbian character in film history) dances with Lulu . . . then you may have noticed the musical group playing in the background. The name of the group, at times cut off by the camera or somewhat obscured by the movements of various dancers, can be spotted on the group's drum kit. They are a six member outfit called Sid Kay's Fellows. And, as it turns out, they were a real musical act of the time.
Founded in 1926 and led by Sigmund Petruschka ("Sid" - pictured center) and Kurt Kaiser ("Kay"), Sid Kay's Fellows were a popular ten member Jewish dance band based in Berlin. The group's depiction in Pandora's Box (filmed in late 1928) predates their career as recording artists. Sid Kay's Fellows, in fact, were most famous as a live act, the houseband who performed at the Haus Vaterland (a leading Berlin night-spot) between 1930 and 1932. In early 1933, they even accompanied the great American jazz musician Sidney Bechet during his recitals in the German capitol. Sid Kay's Fellows also accompanied theatrical performances and played around Germany and Europe, including those in Munich, Dresden, Frankfurt, Vienna, Budapest, Barcelona and elsewhere.
In 1933, at the height of their popularity, Sid Kay's Fellows were forbidden to perform in public by Nazi Party, which had just come to power. The group disbanded, and transformed themselves into a studio orchestra which recorded for the Jewish label Lukraphon. Many of their recordings seem to date from around this time. [Some of these scattered recordings, issued on 78rpm records, can now be found on an out-of-print multi-disc CD set called Beyond Recall: A Record of Jewish Musical Life in Nazi Berlin, 1933-1938 (Bear Family Records, 2001).]
Here is a representative recording by Sid Kay's Fellows. It dates from 1930, and would, I guess, have been similar to the kind of dance music played during the wedding reception scene in Pandora's Box.
Not all that much is known about Sid Kay's Fellows. Under the name "John Kay," band leader Kurt Kaiser had also, at one time, been a member of the famous Weintraubs Syncopators (founded 1924), whose members included Friedrich Holländer. That group appeared in The Blue Angel (1930), starring Marlene Dietrich, a film for which Holländer wrote the music including its famous hit, "Falling in Love Again." I don't know if Kaiser was still playing with the group when they appeared in The Blue Angel. His fate from the 1930s onward is not known.
Sigmund Petrushka (1903-1997) was born Sigmund Leo Friedmann in Leipzig, Germany and grew up in a Jewish orthodox family. In 1933, Sid Kay's Fellows disbanded and he, under the name Shabtai Petrushka, founded a new musical group, while playing with The Orchestra of the Jewish Cultural Society and composing music for various plays. Using pseudonyms to disguise his being Jewish (as noted, there was a ban on Jewish musicians), Petrushka worked as a music arranger for Deutsche Gramophone and UFA films. In 1934, his fox-trot titled "Flying Hamburger" was recorded by James Kok for the Deutsche Gramophone label. In 1938, Petrushka was allowed to immigrate to Palestine, where his sister had been living since the 1920s.
Petrushka went on to a distinguished career: he joined the Palestine Broadcasting Service as composer, conductor and arranger of its orchestra. And in the first decade of the independent State of Israel, Petrushka served as Deputy director of the Music Programs Department of “Kol Yerushalaym” (“Voice of Jerusalem”). In 1958, he was appointed the Director of Music Section in “Kol Israel” ("Voice of Israel”), a post he held until his retirement. Some of Petrushka's recordings from the mid-1930's can be heard on this webpage devoted to Yiddish music.
If you are interested in finding out more, be sure and check out Michael H. Kater's Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany (Oxford University Press, 1992). There are also a few CDs of music from the time, including Berlin By Night (EMI, 1991), TanzSzene Berlin 1930 (Bob's Music, 2004), and German Tango Bands 1925-1939 (Harlequin, 1999).
When Pandora's Box debuted in Berlin in February of 1929, an orchestra playing a musical score accompanied the film. That score was reviewed in at least one Berlin newspaper. The score, however, does not survive. What is also not known is if the music of Sid Kay's Fellows, or any sort of jazz, played a part in the music of Pandora's Box.
On Saturday, July 14th the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will screen Pandora's Box, director G.W. Pabst's once controversial adaption of Frank Wedekind's Lulu plays. Pandora's Box (1929) is the Festival's centerpiece film, and the print which will be shown is a recently restored version screened only twice before. The film will be accompanied by the Matti Bye Ensemble, who will debut their original score to the film.