Death and the part-time trombonist

In the course of a piece on the French economic wonder, the lifestyle des intermittents du spectacle, and (anti-)Americanism, Adam Gopnik writes that when “the country and its joys can be shut down by part-time trombonists …, something is wrong, or at least ridiculous.” Mr Gopnik underestimates the threat posed to global security by trombonists. In Collaborators and renegades in occupied Shanghai, Bernard Wasserstein writes of Evgeny Mihailovich Kojevnikoff, alias Eugene Pick, alias Hovans, alias Doctor Clige:

Pick’s circle of more than forty paid agents, informers and associates constituted a Who’s Who of the foreign underworld in Shanghai. They included the hit-man Nathan Rabin, a former member of the ‘Purple Gang’ in Chicago who had a sideline as a professional trombonist. An American intelligence source described him as 5′ 9″, strongly built, with a ‘Polish face, crude expression’ and a swagger. The report stated that Rabin was:

… one of the most notorious Japanese gang members in Shanghai, extortionist and blackmailer. Killer when drunk. His sole aim with the Japanese: obtain as much money as possible by criminal means and hide behind Japanese officials.

That sounds like a trombonist, and probably a part-time trombonist. The predominantly Jewish Purple Gang is usually said to have been Detroit-based, but, strangely, 333 pages of FBI files available here don’t seem to mention a gangster called Rabin. And, although the post-war Oscar Rabin band is still quite well-known, principally for the sax mouthpiece anecdote, neither am I getting any ghits for a 30s Michigan-based trombonist called Rabin.

Other prominent Shanghai residents in the early 30s:

name occupation
Dr Albert von Miorini Abortionist, brothel-owner, sexual extortionist
Hermann Erben Monkey expert, narcotics dealer, “doctor”
Hilaire du Berrier Shady Franco-American journalist, aviator, pimp
Don and Dolly Dancers
Mr Steptoe “British Secret Intelligence Service representative”
Princess Sumaire Nymphomaniac Indian dwarf model
“Captain” “Eugene” “Pick” Shaven-headed Cossack murderer, blackmailer, vodka drinker, drama student

The Gopnik article is via Prentiss Riddle. Shanghai is up for another appearance soon (possibly), with some extracts from memoirs of the German diplomat, Erwin Wickert. Wickert was based in the city as WWII got going, and later returned as ambassador to Beijing. He wrote an unforgettable account of the firebombing of Tokyo which I translated into Catalan last year but never got round to posting. Maybe this year.

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