There are several themes at play in Josef Skvorecky’s short story “The Bass Saxophone,” including the idea of wonder and enrapture at music, which was near and dear to the author’s heart. However, the main theme in this work, and many of Skvorecky’s works, is the idea of rebellion—in particular, rebellion through expression.
This short story shares a book with the story of two young people who fall in love and rebel against the ruling Nazi and communist parties, maintaining an illicit romance. Therefore, the idea of rebellion is at the forefront of these works. This story explores a different kind of love, however, and that is one that encompasses a passion for music, specifically jazz. The narrator of the story is obsessed with jazz, rebelling against the Nazi party in the town of Kostolec by listening to American jazz records and dreaming of playing the music. The Nazi chancellor of the town, Kuhl, had already confiscated some of his records prior to the events of the story, but when the narrator sees a bedraggled man in the road carrying a bass saxophone, he is enraptured.
Knowing that he may be heard by the nearby angry Kuhl, the narrator can’t resist playing the saxophone. This is one of his first acts of rebellion, but it is soon followed by more drastic ones. Fortunate to not be discovered by Kuhl, the narrator runs into the remainder of the unconscious saxophone player’s band, who ask him to play with them. This is both an act of dangerous rebellion and a dream come true for the boy, who jumps at the opportunity.
Knowing that if he is recognized by any member of the assembled group of Nazis in front of whom they’ll playing, he and the band will be in dire trouble, he continues. His passion and excitement of the music overwhelm him, and he plays in spite of the danger. He is eventually confronted by the bedraggled man and eventually reprimanded by Kuhl for listening to the music.
The narrator gets away with his exploits, but the theme is of rebellion and passion throughout. The boy, unable to contain his desire to play, engages in some serious acts of defiance, knowing the potential trouble. He rebels against the Nazi party through music.