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1999 год

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Learning To Svingevat  

Wynton Marsalis weighs in from the stage of Rachmaninoff Hall at Moscow's Great Conservatory. "Blues is the soul of jazz," he tells the cramped audience at the first show of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra's fall tour last October. Russians know the blues. Then there is the Russian soul, that palpable yet indecipherable aspect of character to which those who harbor it proudly allude.

"And jazz must swing," Marsalis says. "That is how it commu¬nicates." Swing? Well, two out of three isn't bad.

Jazz was outlawed in the former Soviet Union, and Russian author Maxim Gorky had condemned the music as bourgeois. The ability to svingevat, or swing, has since evolved in a pattern of suppression and reemergence that began to ease by the late '70s. When the Iron Curtain was drawn back in 1991, a vibrant scene began to emerge. The scene still has its growing pains, however.

"Russia has three generations of jazz musicians now," says Mikhail Ivanov, 36, a pianist who performs with his brother, Alexei, 34, a bassist.

The first generation comprises musicians who were permitted, then sanctioned to perform interpretations of jazz during the communist regime. They built an underground jazz scene, learned riffs from bootlegged reel-to-reels, fought through scrambled radio signals and accepted smuggled reeds from Westerners. The second generation came of age during perestroika, having straddled oppression and freedom. And the third generation is still evolving-never having to endure the hardships of the first generation.

"Moscow isn't New York," Mikhail says. "But we're half there." The Ivanovs are second generation. Both brothers were classically trained in their home town of Kursk. They have been to Europe, where they won the 1989 International Jazz Competition in Belgium; a year later they became the house band at the Brussels jazz club L'Estaminet.. In 1997 they came home, and have been hustling ever since. They cut a CD with the best jazzman in Russia, tenor saxophonist Igor Bytman. They play regularly at the city's Pizza Express, which features 12 hours of live jazz daily. Six nights a week they occupy the stage at M-Bar, a cozy restaurant notched into Petrovsky Monastery.

Their fans are the sredny klass, or middle class. Their taste is not for straightahead jazz as Americans know it, Mikhail says, but lyrics in English on top of American melodies with jazz elements. This new listening base has fostered a surge in jazz venues in Moscow and St. Petersburg. However, in the wake of the banking crisis and devaluation of the ruble on Aug. 17, 1998, listeners have withered in number-and many club owners and musicians fear that the evolution of the music in Russia will run parallel to the crashing economy.

The roots of Russian jazz run shallow. After all, it is an import, and practitioners of the music are sometimes its worst enemy.

"I have a big advantage here because I played in the States," says Bytman, 36, who left St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) in 1987 to study at Boston's Berklee College of Music, before moving to New York. One of a paucity of young jazzmen prior to his departure, Bytman returned to Russia recently, having recorded with Grover Washington Jr. and performed with Pat Metheny, Dave Brubeck and Eddie Gomez, among others. His presence is coveted by promoters. He headlined last summer's Moscow festival, Jazz at the Olimp, the slickest jazz promotion in the country's history. He has some pessimism about the rejuvenated scene.

"[Musicians] are all negative. If I say, «You sound good» they say, 'C'mon, stop this American bullshit» Bytman says. "In every jazz musician we have a jazz critic. They judge everybody, but by one standard. They don't have fun. One half of them is playing, and the oilier half is listening."

Perhaps such a paradox is inherent in a country versed in the more restrained tenets of classical. Other visible jazz performers, such as tenor saxophonist Nikolai Panov and the group Jazz Gallery, draw from Prokofiev, Scriabin and Tchaikovsky. Arkady Shokhlyopin flirts with both genres on French horn.

Vladimir Danilin stands as a stalwart of the first generation. The gaunt, gray-haired accordionist, who gave up the piano four years ago, leaks soul as he sits in a chair in a worn tux, earning awe and loyalty from listeners with his black Weltmeister.

«When we started to play jazz, we had very little information. We listened to Voice of America through a jammed signal, and some rare LPs.... The new generation doesn't have any of these problems, what with video, audio and instructional books» says Danilin, 52. "I am trying to play jazz-not some commercial compromise-and still survive. I am a guardian of jazz."

When Danilin fronted the Jazz All-Stars on a fall Tuesday at the Moscow club Zemlya Ptits, or Birdland, he had another first-generation leader with him, guitarist Alexei Kuznetsov. Also gray and in his 50s, Kuznetsov wrought honey tones from his Gibson in his clipped, chopped style; he is growing with the music, too, and holds free workshops for younger jazz guitarists Wednesdays at the city's renowned music store, Accord.

The third generation, defined in part by alto saxophonist Evgeny Strigalev of St. Petersburg and pianist Yakov Okun of Moscow, can be found at open jam sessions like those at the Jazz Art Cafe in Moscow.

"The Moscow style is more jazz-rock, more commercial. [In St. Petersburg] the cost of living isn't as high, and the clubs attract people who harbor a true sense of jazz," says Strigalev. In St. Pete, the better jazz musicians will still sit in for pleasure. One of the city's three jazz clubs, JFC, goes live every night.

"Musicians in Moscow don't have a real relationship with the music," Strigalev says. 'They are preoccupied. Here, you can travel on the subway and still think about music."

Competition between the two cities is long-running, as chronicled in the magazine Jazz Quarter, published in Belarus but circulated throughout Russia and the Baltics.

Still, the best jazz musicians in Russia have difficulty surviving on the music they love. Radio stations broadcast soft, mainstream jazz. And while the year-round, open-air markets like Gorbushka in Moscow lay out a variety of jazz offerings, the majority are simply pirated versions of the originals-and fetch, on average, between $3 and $5 per disc. So those musicians who record rarely, if ever, see royalties.

"I hope the scene is going to be better," Bytman says. "But younger jazz musicians still really need to go to New York."

Bryon MacWilliams