The Russians have landed

4 10 2012

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.

Jazz Encounters of the Russian Kind.

Yakov Okun being introduced – although classically trained, his father boasts of a father which was a renowned jazz pianist from the Soviet-era.

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.

Alexander Mashin who is a member of the MosGorTrio an extremely talented self-taught drummer.

Makar Novikov on bass and Sergey Golovnya playing the saxophone.

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.

Anna Buturlina a leading Russian jazz vocalist lent her voice to the second part of the concert.

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.

Another of Anna Buturlina and Makar Novikov.

All that Jazz: New Orleans and the Preservation Hall

28 06 2010
There is nothing that can describe sitting in the humid air of the dusty floor of a packed hall in an old Spanish colonial building set in the main square in the Vieux Carré and listening to feet tapping strains of the brass, woodwind, bass, piano, and percussion instruments that could only be associated with the fabulous sounds of the southern brand of jazz, all for a sum of two U.S. dollars. I suppose there is nothing that can aptly describe New Orleans as well, where the Preservation Hall Jazz Band performs every evening since 1961 to packed audiences in a setting that could only be that of the temple of southern jazz. New Orleans is a city that is unique in many ways, atypical as North American cities go, a collection of the influences of her former French and Spanish masters, before becoming coming under control of the U.S. with the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon for a sum of $15 million. In New Orleans, we see architecture that is inherited from the Spanish, a joie de vivre inherited from the French, in a setting that perhaps feels more like the Caribbean that a city on the North American mainland should.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band performing to a packed hall.

The Preservation Hall on St. Peter Street (off Jackson Square) was founded in 1961 and is the temple of southern jazz.

Wandering around the streets of the French Quarter or Vieux Carré filled with buildings that date back to the era of Spanish rule in the late 18th Century with the characteristic wrought iron balconies and inner courtyards, one can’t escape from the sound of music that constantly fills the air. In and around the Vieux Carré which is centered on Jackson Square, the former Place d’Armes, one often sees a piano or two being wheeled around. Music is very much a part of street life in a city that is synonymous with hearty celebration and cuisine: the Mardi Gras and Jambalaya. It is a city that is both magical as well as being mysterious, being associated with practices such as Voodoo, where walks around the old cemetery is a must for the visitor as much as sitting on the floor of the Preservation Hall is. It is a city that continues to fascinate me and one that I would love the opportunity to visit again.

Music is everywhere in New Orleans.

The wrought iron balconies of the Spanish influenced buildings that line the streets of New Orleans.