For more than a century, the Nes has been home to music and theater that pushes Amsterdam’s cultural boundaries. In the 20th century, it hosted a jazz performer who was acclaimed by Nina Simone, a neurologist who researched multiple sclerosis, and a resistance hero honored by Yad Vashem. His name was Boy Edgar.
Boy was born in Amsterdam to an Indian mother and an Armenian father whose extended family were traders across present-day Indonesia, India, and Iran. He discovered jazz shortly after he lost his father at age 15, and it became a passion that would last his entire life. While he was studying medicine at UvA, he performed jazz in the evenings, eventually becoming trumpeter, arranger, and leader of a band called “The Moochers.”
When the Nazis invaded, he stopped playing publicly. He continued to study and graduated medical school in 1943. He married a Jewish woman, and they worked together to smuggle Jewish children from Amsterdam to hiding places in Gelder. After the war, he began researching multiple sclerosis, which his wife was suffering from. He got a Ph.D. for his work in 1955, but sadly, his wife died of the disease in 1958.
In the 1960s, he hit a musical heyday. He founded Boy’s Big Band, which is known as the first Dutch big band to play entirely jazz. He regularly appeared with international jazz stars, eventually receiving an Edison Award for his work. He also vigorously pursued his medical career. For the next two decades, he taught and researched at American and Dutch universities, became a huisarts (GP), and created several jazz projects. When he died in 1980, a friend remarked: “If you consider everything he’s done, you can add another twenty years to his lifespan.”