It is always nice to discover a rare gem. One that I had the great pleasure of finding just last week is certainly a rarity – a group of dedicated musicians who produce strains that would seem more at home in the jazz clubs of New York City, than in Russia where they ply their trade in. Here for a one evening only performance at the School of the Arts (SOTA) concert hall, ‘Jazz Encounters of the Russian Kind’, the group included the esteemed Yakov Okun on piano, Sergey Golovnya on sax, bassist Makar Novikov, Alexander Mashin on drums and with Anna Buturlina on vocals.
It is indeed rare to find jazz musicians in Russia, I discover from a brief chat with Yakov Okun at the end of the concert that there are only a handful of jazz practitioners in the country. Although trained in classical music, Yakov Okun can boast of a pedigree in Russian jazz – his jazz pianist father Mikhail can perhaps be seen as a pioneer in the Soviet-era Russian jazz scene. The spirit of the early Russian jazz scene during a time when the only way to learn to play jazz required trying to replicate what was heard over American radio broadcasts, does live on in Yakov and the new generation of jazz musicians represented by the talented group that he brought along on what was a first excursion to Asia. Among the group, the highly talented Alexander Mashin does perhaps embody the spirit of the Soviet-era musicians, having learned much of the amazing skills he demonstrates on drums in his late teens all on his own.
Attending a jazz concert is always a foot-tapping encounter for me, and it was no different through the thoroughly enjoyable concert, which I am sure the thin audience it attracted must have also done. The 75 minute concert started with a repertoire of Soviet-era pieces which Okun, Novikov and Mashin – the original members of the MosGorTrio, combined to good effect with Golovnya who gave a masterly performance on saxophone. The second part of the concert brought Anna Buturlina to the stage during which she lent her delightfully smooth voice to familiar American jazz favourites.
This first fleeting encounter with Russian jazz was one that certainly deserved a much bigger audience than it attracted. It does however promise more. The two men who brought the group in, Mr Michael Tay, Executive Director of the Russia-Singapore Business Forum and Singapore’s former ambassador to Russia; and Mr Evgeny Tugolukov, Managing Director of RusSing Holdings, have a shared passion for jazz. It is also their hope that this can serve as a platform to develop Singapore’s jazz scene. With the increased visibility for a genre of music that is hard to tire of that the efforts would certainly bring, it can perhaps also be that platform that will help the two fulfill a vision of seeing a regional jazz festival take root in Singapore.