Boy Edgar, a man who most people remember as a musician, composer and big bandleader is actually a medical scientist, doctor and jazz musician. When people wondered how he managed all the different disciplines in his life, he answered:
“I don’t see much difference. Science is only practiced well with an open spirit and creativity, and the same goes for being a doctor, or for playing and creating music”
It is clear that a documentary about Boy Edgar should be a musical documentary, but it could never be just about music. Edgar’s driven and idealistic character caused him to refuse to choose between his talents and focus on one discipline.
The inevitable stress that goes hand in hand with leading such a full life resulted in heavy alcohol consumption. “He was an alcoholic,” says his daughter Jane, “but he was one of those rare cases, who could handle their addiction and he always was a friendly drunk”.
The alcohol triggered cirrhosis of his liver, of which he died when he was sixty-five years old; an impetuous end to his turbulent life, which showed astounding parallels with different crucial points in the history of the twentieth century. The sometimes forceful and restless moments during the interwar, the Second World War, the postwar reconstructions, race riots in America, shifting power-relations in Holland, Dolle Mina’s feminist-activists, hippy and flower-power periods marked and influenced his life. One of his most important musical records, rewarded with an Edison and appointed Record of the Month by leading Jazz-paper ‘Jazzwereld’, carries the symbolic name Now’s The Time.
George Willem Fred. Edgar is born in a well-of family, from mixed Armenian-Indian descent. He was raised by his gouvernant Aunt Dodo. When he is fourteen years old his father goes bankrupt as a result of a decline in stock market strength. His parents are therefore unable to support him financially when he starts his medicine studies in 1932. Edgar’s autodidactic skills on trumpet and piano enable him to finance his studies by playing music at dance nights. Duke Ellington’s orchestra, whom he will befriend in the fifties, is his biggest example. He soon gets a job as a semi-professional in the renowned orchestra The Moochers, of which he rapidly becomes the leader. During his studies his versatile lifestyle manifests itself, which will later come to typify his life.
Edgar creates arrangements and compositions for orchestras without a musical game ban during WWII. He furthermore joins the resistance and saves Jewish children from the Dutch Theatre. His independent spirit induces him to refuse his obligatory military service, because he considers it to be absurd to fight against a people that want to become independent. He is convicted for this rejection and while spending half a year in prison he immerses himself in philosophy. He continues creating arrangements, which were smuggled out of prison. On the radio in prison he hears his own musical work played by the international orchestra The Grasshoppers. When he completed his time in prison he prepares his dissertation as a medical scientist. In 1955 he completes his PHD in neurological research on Multiple Sclerosis, the disease his wife is suffering from. Her illness worsens and taking care of her in combination with his medical work occupies all his time.
He gets remarried two years after his wife dies, and becomes head of a neuro-pathological laboratory. Trumpeter Ado Broodboom (now ninety years old) asks him to compose an arrangement for a radio concert, and whether he is willing to lead a few rehearsals. It becomes so successful that from then on they form Boy’s Big Band. The orchestra develops a unique big band sound that is based on Edgar’s hasty and chaotic compositions. Edgar had a tendency to adjust his compositions on the individual talents of his orchestra-members. The orchestra did television shows, recorded albums and gave many live shows together with grand American solo-artists like Eric Dolphy, Johnny Griffin and Nina Simone. Edgar’s social skills had a positive influence on their access to financial subsidies; he even managed to play at the prestigious Holland Festival. The Big Band’s performance at that festival initiated the start of the acceptance of jazz as an art form in Holland.
In the end of the sixties, during the Provo revolution Edgar decides to move to America to give lectures and do scientific research. He leaves his orchestra behind. For three years he stayed in America, and his life there was filled by his many aspirations too.
Edgar’s family lives with two young children on campus of a conservative university in Warren, Pennsylvania. During daytime Boy devotes his time to his lectures and research, but at night their house was filled with the sounds of jazz improvisation. Befriended American Jazz-artists came over to play jazz, which the white campus-elite considered disgraceful. Why would a wealthy man like Edgar call himself ‘Boy’? Why did he invite all these ‘negroes’ in his home? A very uncomfortable environment, his daughter remarks: “we were being snubbed because of those black people who came over to our house to play music. As a child I didn’t realize these people were famous jazz-legends. I had no idea who Duke Ellington, Paul Gonsalves, or Don Byas was.”
When Edgar returned to Holland the last chapter of his life began. He realizes that a serious career in science would mean he could not play music at the level he desired. He decided that he could not make that sacrifice; his love for music was simply too big.
In 1970 Edgar drives through a part of Amsterdam that is named the Bijlmermeer – a neighborhood where at that moment just one flat was situated: Hoogoord. He wonders whether there is already a doctor’s surgery located. Once he finds out there is not, he decides to become the Hoogoord’s first general practitioner.
The doctor’s surgery is characterized by unconventional and bohemian work ethics. During consultation Edgar plays on his piano, and in between he quickly composes arrangements. General practitioner dr. Kingma, now retired, worked at Edgar’s doctor’s surgery as a starting doctor. He remembers how Edgar worked messy and frivolous.
Edgar’s social skills help him to start a second doctor’s surgery in Duivendrecht. He furthermore forms a part of the staff of the illustrious abortion practice of gynecologist Dr. Wong at the Oosterpark (Edgar himself is emotionally incapable of performing abortions).
After 1759 Edgar witnesses the social atmosphere change in the Bijlmermeer: degradation and menace enhance quickly. His experiences as a general practitioner spike his interest in genetics, biochemistry and congenital metabolic disorders. The spirit of the age influences his musical work too. He wishes to experiment with different, alternative musical styles. It is therefore that he chooses not to continue with Boys Big Band, but decides to set up a new musical initiative: the Boy Edgar Sound. They give so-called tumultuous musical workshop performances in the Shaffy theatre.
His family life goes equally messy: he divorces and lives the last years of his life with singer Gerrie van der Klei. She delivers a musical contribution to the album ‘Music was his mistress’ too. The album was a tribute to Duke Ellington. Edgar probably recognizes himself in the title. The respect and awe that people give him everywhere he goes is best captured in the words that Nina Simone spoke, who in 1971 gave an intense concert with an orchestra under his leading in the Concertgebouw: “I hope your country will recognize him as a genius”.