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Larry Vuckovich’s love affair with the movies began in his native Yugoslavia. The California-based jazz pianist, 84, recalls joyfully watching productions such as Wintertime, a 1943 musical romp featuring ice-skating Olympian Sonja Henie and performances by the Woody Herman band, and 1944’s Bathing Beauty, which starred swimming champ Esther Williams and swung young Larry’s socks off when the Harry James band played “Trumpet Blues.” But the screen genre that seems to hold the most resonance for Vuckovich is film noir. These shadowy dramas, popular in the 1940s and ’50s, involved high stakes, dark portents and moral dilemmas, all of which were reflected in their moody, often jazz-centric scores. The pianist paid homage to this cinematic influence with his recordings Street Scene (2006) and High Wall: Real Life Film Noir (2008). For Vuckovich, the central conflicts of film noir were more than an abstraction. While he was watching Victor Mature or Richard Widmark navigate seemingly impossible odds on the big screen, there was someone in his own life who had triumphed in similarly no-win situations: his father. Living in Montenegro during the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia, Milutin Vuckovich supported the underground resistance. Serbian guerrillas ferociously battled the Nazis, delaying their march on Moscow by six weeks, when freezing winter weather acted as yet another defensive force against the German invaders. Villagers, including Vuckovich Sr., hid hundreds of Allied airmen who had been shot down while bombing Romanian oilfields in 1944. The Vuckoviches stashed a pilot in their home until he could be spirited to safety. “When the flier was there, they didn’t tell me, because little kids can’t keep a secret,” says Vuckovich from his home in Napa Valley. “So my [older] brother brought him food in the attic for two weeks. But as they say in film noir, there’s always somebody who likes to rat on people to win points. And when the Nazis knocked on the door — three officers — my father kept his cool. They said, ‘We understand you have strangers.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I have three.’ ‘What?!’ ‘Yeah, the three of you!’ They searched everything, they didn’t find him. When they left, he was shaking. They told me later about it. But we have letters from the flier. He was from San Antonio, Texas, and he sent us letters and a photo.” After the war, Vuckovich’s father fell afoul of the Tito government and was deemed an enemy of the state. But the family made it out of Yugoslavia and settled in San Francisco when Larry was in his teens.Vuckovich couldn’t believe the abundance of jazz in his new home city. Once, he went to see a movie — the title of which he’s long forgotten — at the Paramount Theatre. Of course, he has no trouble recalling Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, who performed right after. “I walk in, I watch a movie and here comes this band,” he says. “I remember the piano was white. I said, ‘Who is this guy with two bass drums?’ That was Louie Bellson. I come again a couple weeks later, and up on the screen, you have airplanes going, from a newsreel, and Lionel Hampton and his band playing ‘Flying Home.’ ”In addition to the remarkable San Francisco jazz scene of which he’d later become a part — working with Jon Hendricks, Clifford Jordan and Lucky Thompson, among others — Vuckovich also fell in love with film noir, recognizing the parallels in his family’s perils. Films such as Cry of the City, TheDark Corner and Asphalt Jungle fired his imagination and appealed to his sense of justice. “I liked film noir because it had a cross-section of people,” he says. “You see the dark side of American life, but you see a wide range of characters. You see some really decent people who always stick to their beliefs, no matter what.” Here, he relates back to his father’s difficulties after the war, when some of his neighbors were called on to testify against him. “Some of the people you couldn't buy. [The government] wanted them to talk against him. No. Others will sell you for a nickel. So in film noir, you've got all of that."