Trudi Baess, pianist who survived a post-war backlash
In the 1980s she had a Thursday night residency at the Old Eagle in Camden Town
10 November, 2017 — By Mike Baess
TRUDI Baess, who with her fellow pianist husband Claus was a well-known figure in the post-war trad-jazz pub scene in and around Camden and Islington, has died at the age of 97.
Trudi, who also worked as a private beautician across north-west London, overcame the devastation of the Second World War and austerity of the post-war years, to carve out a life through sheer hard work and never giving in to adversity.
Her gritty determination made her an inspiration for many younger women who got to know her and befriended her over the years through hearing her fascinating story. Although of Danish heritage, she was born in Flensburg, north Germany, and grew up, with her younger sister, Inge, a few miles from the Danish border. It is a part of Germany that, over the centuries, has swung back and forth from Danish to German control and vice versa. Trudi, who was just 19 when the Second World War broke out, had married that year and two years later had a son, Werner.
But she was abandoned by her husband and left to become a single mother during quite probably the worst period of the 20th century. A good-looking woman, Trudi caught the eye of a British officer serving in Germany after the war ended who brought her to live in South Mimms, Hertfordshire.
But, despite suffering a war, she now also had to face the wrath of many people who would not forgive the country from where she came. This made life very difficult for her and she was cast out by her new husband’s family who ultimately turned him against her and she was once again abandoned. With Germany still in ruins Trudi thought it best to try and find work in England and through her outgoing and likeable personality, made friends with a beautician who found her work and taught her how to make a living.
Hers was the perfect example of how war does not discriminate but how it wrecked the lives of ordinary people on both sides. It made Trudi an internationalist and she went out of her way to make friends with people from all walks of life, all religions, all races and all countries of the world.
In the mid-50s she met Claus, a former German prisoner of war and gifted jazz pianist and they fell in love, moved into a flat in Belsize Park and had a son, Mike. Claus taught Trudi to turn her basic classical piano knowledge into vamping the popular songs of the day and, through a mutual love of music, found a way to entertain and scratch a secondary income, playing five nights a week at pubs in Clerkenwell and Islington.
As Trudi’s confidence grew, so did her reputation, and she found work at pubs such as the Alwyne Castle in Highbury and Islington; the Royal Star in City Road, Old Street; and the Horseshoe, Clerkenwell. The height of her piano-playing years came when she was asked to perform at The Savoy in The Strand in the 1970s. In the 1980s she had a Thursday night residency at the Old Eagle, Royal College Street, Camden Town and would often sit in with Claus at the Load of Hay, Haverstock Hill.
She is survived by her son Mike. Trudi’s funeral is on Tuesday November 21 at 12 noon at St Peter’s Church, Belsize Park.