Steve Hideg strikes via his small East Hollywood condo with tiny shuffle steps, as if to keep away from a fall. His slacks are creased, his shirt pressed. It doesn’t value cash, he says, to carry your head excessive.
Hideg, virtually 86, is blind in a single eye and deaf in a single ear. He’s carried that burden since a childhood damage, when he and his household took cowl within the cellar of their residence as bombs thundered down on Budapest. Recently the great eye isn’t so good, so he retains an enormous magnifying glass useful, however Hideg has greater challenges than that.
His lease is roughly $1,000 a month, and his Social Safety revenue is about $900 a month.
“It’s a complete miracle how he exists,” says one pal.
The key is disciplined austerity, occasional assist from buddies, and a as soon as-weekly job as a jazz drummer — a job that feeds Hideg’s soul. When the DWP shut off his energy briefly, Hideg borrowed a tenting mild from a pal. A $300 fuel invoice gathered mud till a buddy coated it.
“Hiya, my angel,” Hideg referred to as out in the future to a lady who knocked at his door and delivered a tray of meals from St. Vincent Meals on Wheels.
Typically, that’s his solely meals in a day.
California is strong in numerous methods, its financial system ranked amongst these of the richest nations on the earth, and but hundreds of thousands wrestle to outlive the double blow of flat wages and excessive housing prices. It’s the good Golden State paradox, an escalating calamity and public coverage failure with no fixes on the close to horizon because the retiree inhabitants explodes.
And but Hideg, unbowed, has risen above all of it by remaining trustworthy to a dream and honoring a unique measure of prosperity. As one pal of his put it, in his thoughts, he’s a wealthy man.
Istvan “Steve” Hideg was hungry, shoeless, scared, courageous, a toddler of warfare. He was 10 years previous in 1943, when his father was killed on army obligation. Hideg and his mom, brother and sister struggled by means of bleak, lean years of financial and political upheaval, and a meal typically was nothing greater than a smear of lard on a scrap of bread.
“We put slightly salt and paprika on it,” Hideg says. “I type of discovered easy methods to survive.”
It’s a talent, or perhaps a mind set, that has endured.
“Even when I’ve just one meal in a day,” Hideg says, “I’m by no means hungry.”
As a teen, Hideg labored on the concession stand of a Budapest movie show and ducked in, at each alternative, to catch a glimpse of the movies. There, in black and white, was a world he’d by no means imagined.
“I noticed Louie Armstrong!” Hideg says of the jazz big. “He sang ‘Jeepers Creepers’ to a horse!”
That was within the 1938 film “Going Locations.” One other American basic, the 1941 hit “Solar Valley Serenade,” made Hideg ache with want to develop into a musician and to flee iron-fisted postwar Hungary. In “Serenade,” the Glenn Miller Orchestra performed “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and the swinging “Within the Temper.”
“Whewwwww, that did it for me,” Hideg says, nonetheless jazzed 70 years later. “I fell in love with this entire nation and its music. To me, it was the sound of freedom.”
His brother purchased him a snare drum just like the one Hideg had seen within the village his mother and father grew up in. There, with no newspapers and scant communication with the surface world, the drum was a siren name to villagers who gathered to listen to the messenger ship the information of the day.
Hideg studied the strikes of drummers Buddy Wealthy and Gene Krupa, acquired a job in an electronics manufacturing unit and joined all three of the corporate bands. He later turned a full-time musician and labored with a circus band for some time, however the songbook wasn’t to his liking and the federal government deemed Western music the enemy of the individuals.
In 1956, blood spilled as Hungarians revolted towards Soviet management. Hideg and his spouse, a pianist, risked execution as they fled Budapest beneath cowl of darkness. They sneaked previous Russian infantry and escaped first to Austria after which New York Metropolis in early 1957. Hideg received a job as a janitor, and after work he’d race to Birdland and different Manhattan jazz golf equipment to see his heroes.
In 1961, he and his spouse loaded up their previous DeSoto and headed west, flat broke, stopping at bars alongside the best way to play for meals and fuel cash, Hollywood or bust.
He hustled, schmoozed, frolicked on the musicians’ union, began on the backside.
And he made it.
A younger man who had grown up with so many restrictions was enjoying a type of music with no guidelines.
Within the good years, there was the Steve Hideg huge band and Steve Hideg and The Continentals. When TV recreation exhibits had stay music, Hideg performed within the “Fact or Penalties” band. He toured for a number of years with Pat Collins, a hypnotist with a well-liked present. He performed in Florida and put in a number of years in Vegas.
He by no means made nice cash or performed with massive stars. However to his personal astonishment, Hideg was dwelling out his fantasy within the metropolis that had manufactured the dream. He developed a expertise as a contractor, stringing collectively bands for all events. In his scrapbook is a replica of a verify he received after enjoying a party for Dustin Hoffman.
There have been struggles alongside the best way — no musician will get by way of the grinder unscathed. When Hideg’s spouse turned unwell they usually couldn’t afford to pay for her care, she went again to Europe to reside with household in Austria, the place she died younger. Hideg himself fought by way of most cancers and now battles macular degeneration.
He by no means married once more, which made it simpler to seize street jobs once they got here up and he was younger sufficient to deal with the toll. He has lived in the identical condominium now for 25 years, a time during which the marketplace for stay music — particularly huge band and straight-forward jazz — has withered. Hideg was getting by simply high quality when he served as reside-in supervisor at his condo constructing, however he acquired too previous for the job a number of years again, and the payments hold coming.
However his delight is undiminished.
“I didn’t come to this nation to be a burden on the state,” says Hideg, who has resisted signing up for a lot of entitlements out there to seniors.
He selected the musician’s life, he says, and has no regrets. If he has a message for others, Hideg tells me, it’s that doing one thing you’re keen on will serve you nicely. And one other factor: Don’t hesitate to ask associates for assist should you want it.
“He’s not a shy man, nevertheless it’s not straightforward for him” to simply accept cash, says Hideg’s longtime buddy Laszlo Cser, a retired musician and L.A. Metropolis School professor. “Recently he’s extra prepared to go alongside.”
Louis Kabok, an area bass participant who knew Hideg in Hungary, fled at about the identical time. He says his good friend’s excessive spirits within the face of hardship and advancing age don’t look like an act.
“To inform you the reality, I by no means met one other individual in my life who has his type of angle,” says Kabok. “He simply has an concept of the best way he needs to stay his life, and he’s doing it.”
Certainly, for all his troubles, Hideg glows. His silver hair is as thick as his Hungarian accent. His grin is younger, timeless and broad, the grin of a person who’s in on a secret.
No matter day it’s, the weekend is coming quickly, and Hideg lives for Friday and Saturday.
He can’t bang the skins within the quiet environs of his condo constructing, so each Saturday, he stays drummer match with a two-hour exercise at Stein on Vine in Hollywood, the legendary music store the place he jams with grey-bearded buddies and it’s the Nineteen Fifties yet again.
Higher but, Hideg’s Friday night time gig is arising, and he is aware of, doubtless, that the music he loves will stay perpetually.
Phillip Williams, a pianist and singer, met Hideg at a celebration six years in the past and requested if he needed to take a seat in together with his band on Friday nights at Callender’s Grill. That’s a excessive-finish, mid-metropolis Marie Callender’s with stay jazz a number of nights every week.
Hideg has been with Williams ever since.
The Hungarian octogenarian they name “Cool Cat” is old skool in his respect for the artwork and the viewers. Earlier than his gig, Hideg showers and shaves, places on a go well with, cinches the tie and arranges the pocket sq. hanky good, like one of many execs within the huge bands he as soon as noticed within the films.
“I really like preparing, I really like carrying the drums, I really like setting them up, I really like every part about it,” Hideg tells me.
He drives to work in a 1992 Mazda van that Williams gave him when his previous Aerostar conked out, and he’s smiling when he walks into the restaurant and begins establishing.
Sometimes, a number of terrific native musicians drop by and sit in with the band. WIlliams is aware of the lyrics and music to a whole lot of songs and performs what strikes him, from pop to critical jazz, and he generously options every of his sidemen. He likes calling “Satin Doll” as a result of there’s a brief solo in it for Hideg, who’s twice the age of the others within the band and all the time appears to be having twice the enjoyable.
On an up-tempo quantity, Williams motions for me to circle behind the piano so he can whisper me one thing.
“Take a look at this man go,” Williams says as Hideg faucets out a chic patter, by no means loud, by no means showy, driving the groove good and all the time within the service of bandmates and the music.
“That is including minutes to his life,” says Williams. “I really feel like I’m his physician.”
Within the quiet of his condominium, I had requested Hideg if he worries about something. What if the lease goes up? What if his good eye can’t be saved? What if he can’t drive for much longer?
“I reside my life by three rules I discovered as a Boy Scout. Religion, hope and love,” he stated earlier than reminding me he has every little thing he ever needed.
“And I can’t consider I’m nonetheless doing what I really like.”
His wrestle is actual, stated Hideg.
“Nevertheless it’s an exquisite wrestle.”