Music: No Other Message, but Joy for People

Read the exclusive interview with Igor Butman – the project producer and the National Artist of Russia – for the journal “UNESCO Newsletter”

Vestnik: Igor, it is known that thanks to your efforts and perseverance St. Petersburg has been chosen as the capital of Jazz-2018. Tell me, please, how the idea to organize the UNESCO International Jazz Day in that city came about. I.
Butman: In 2012, I arrived in Paris at an invitation of UNESCO for the first gala concert within the framework of the International Jazz Day. In this festive atmosphere among outstanding musicians who have gathered there to play and listen to the music which I love and play, too, and which takes up a great part of my life, I thought that similar undertaking should be organized in my country, to give our beautiful city St. Petersburg some three to four days of freeand-easy movement and emotions. Besides, I like to organize festivals, invite talented musicians, and I know how it should be done. In Paris, Eleonora Mitrofanova, Russian representative at UNESCO, introduced me to Irina Bokova, its Director General. I showed her my albums and made a proposal to organize similar festival in Russia. She agreed with me. I should say that she feels sympathy for Russia and speaks Russian perfectly. Our next meeting took place in Istanbul in 2013, and after that we met in Paris again. That same year, we again talked with Irina Bokova in Havana, as well as with members of the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz, Herbie Hancock, UNESCO Artist for Peace and Goodwill Ambassador, who also loves St. Petersburg, which he has visited several times, as well as with Quincy Jones, Barry Harris, and Wayne Shorter, who have never been in Russia. Our mutual contacts were not in vain. We have many talented musicians, and quite a few outstanding foreign performers visit our country. Our public likes jazz, both modern jazz, mainstream, and also jazz classics played by Glenn Miller and Oleg Lundstrem orchestras. People come to listen me play, as well as young foreign jazz musicians. In general, interest in jazz is growing in our country. We go on tours, good music schools have opened, and young players emerge in growing numbers. I have recently been present at the final performances of the contest “Grants of the Mayor of Moscow in the sphere of culture and the arts.” There were many saxophonists. I am sure quite a few of them will become talented musicians and organize their own orchestras. They must have prospects for the future, and such events as the Jazz Day, of course, give real opportunities of advancement to our modern music based on jazz.

Vestnik: Why has St. Petersburg been chosen as the venue of the event? Isn’t it because you were born there? And your jazz roots are there.

I. Butman: Yes, it’s my birthplace, my dearly loved city. It was there that I began to play jazz. The first jazz festivals Autumn Rhythms took place there. A great school of jazz has formed in the city, in a way, a jazz family, community, among whose members are such gurus of St. Petersburg jazz as David Goloshchekin, Andrei Kondakov, Kirill Bubyakin, and others. There are also jazz clubs and Jazz Philharmonic, and jazz concerts and festivals Triumph of Jazz are held frequently. Without doubt, St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities of the world, and quite a few musicians dream of visiting it and playing there. We, therefore, decided to point to St. Petersburg in our claim for the Jazz Day in Russia. And we were not mistaken: it won from among 18 other cities of the world.

Vestnik: Despite the fact that Moscow boasts great jazz activity, St. Petersburg is regarded the capital of jazz in this country.

I. Butman: Yes, indeed, the major jazz festivals have taken place there. At present, many developments are going on in Moscow, and it is ahead of St. Petersburg in terms of the quantity and quality of performances, but St. Petersburg remains the cultural capital of the country. We realized that our city had more chances to win, but all the same we had to think it over and assess everything well enough, and, as you see, we made no mistake. The municipal authorities of St. Petersburg presented a well-founded application, cited many arguments in our favor, and were also supported by the Ministry of Culture, the Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO, as well as authoritative musicians.

Vestnik: Is it already known where the gala concert will be held?

I. Butman: Our colleagues from the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz – President Thomas Carter and Vice President in charge of organizational work Michelle Day have come and inspected a hall in the new building of the Mariinsky Theater where the concert was supposed to be held. It is ideal for jazz. When they saw the hall, they said the gala concert would take place there, but what about further functions? The standards of the Jazz Day are very high so that very few cities of the world may correspond to them.

Vestnik: Tell us, please, about these standards. What do you intend to do?

I. Butman: Now we are negotiating with the Mariinsky Theater-2. This is a new building with marvelous halls. We have shown the special UNESCO Commission our classical theaters and concert platforms. But jazz is a more modern art and the theater hall chosen by us fits it better not only technically, but also by style and spirit. Technical equipment plays a no small role, because jazz gala concerts are broadcast online all over the world. Besides, the gala concert and other functions on the Jazz Day program will be televised, for which the most up-to-date equipment is necessary. Apart from the gala concert, master classes and discussions are planned at which we shall be talking of jazz, music, and culture in general. Musicians will meet with students, and also discuss problems facing them.

Vestnik: Who will come to the Jazz Feast?

I. Butman: It is too early to speak of it. We have not seen a list of participants and guests as yet. The program of the main concert and invitation of participants is traditionally in charge of the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz. Herbi Hancock, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and legendary musician will come by all means. I hope that many excellent musicians will arrive – John McLaughlin, Diana Ross, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and other world famous persons. As to our musicians, they will also be selected by representatives of the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz. I have no influence on the festival organizers. In all, I think there will be 70 percent of foreign musicians and 30 percent of ours. The point is that this gala concert is not the benefit performance of any one artiste, it is rather a benefit performance of jazz music as such, and this is why there is the musical director of the entire affair – John Beasley, who decides what compositions are to be played by whom. Naturally, he consults with Herbie Hancock. Special arrangements are made for big and small groups, and each time a new group come to the fore. For instance, a Russian drummer plays together with a Japanese bassist, a German trumpeter, etc.

Vestnik: Does it mean that despite your status as the receiving side you won’t be able to play with your orchestra? Will you play as a guest soloist in any group?

I. Butman: Yes, in Havana this year I played two compositions in a group. I was the only musician from Russia. Till Bronner was from Germany, Takuya Kuroda, trumpeter, from Japan, A Bu, pianist, from China, and drummers from America. Ben Williams played the double bass. All played together and all played solo and were warmly greeted and well spoken of. Much was said about jazz on stage. The Master of ceremony (MC) in Havana was the well-known actor Will Smith, and the famous composer Quincy Jones also appeared on stage and spoke words of greeting. A short speech was made by Irina Bokova. I’d like to emphasize that this is not only an important musical, but also a social event. Russia is a country with a very high cultural level and we gave much to world culture.

Vestnik: It turns out that the receiving side should do a great deal of financial and organizational work.

I. Butman: Yes, we have to do much as far as organization and finances are concerned. The St. Petersburg administration has assumed part of financing, and we search for additional means in various bodies in order to comply with all the requirements of UNESCO and the Monk Institute. Expenses will be quite big, but it is necessary in order to arrange the four-day-long festival. Besides, most musicians who will come shall be paid much less than their usual earnings. As far as I know, UNESCO does not render any financial aid, but only grants the right to use its logo. I think it’s quite correct. It is a very prestigious affair for any country, ours included, to hold such a forum.

Vestnik: What makes musicians agree to take part in this concert?

I. Butman: It is quite prestigious to arrive to the Jazz Day. It is a pretext and opportunity to let the world know about you. Information about the event, articles, TV and Internet news broadcasts will appear in all countries of the world. It’s a great luck for a musician to get to such concert. It is not beneficial financially, on the contrary, a musician gives a present to the art of music, he gets an opportunity to promote jazz and draw more fans to his music.

Vestnik: Apart from the gala concert, what other functions will take place in the city?

I. Butman: Apart from the gala concert, there will be performances arranged by jazz clubs, which are many in the city, and we have chosen the Philharmonic of jazz music, JFC, Shlyapa, Dom 7, and other clubs. Our colleagues – young musicians from Russia and other countries will play there. This will be some kind of a showcase in order to draw the attention to young musicians from great masters, as well as managers, agents, and festival directors, who are usually present at such functions. Shall we be able to organize a real festival of jazz in St. Petersburg? It depends on us. I am sure that many jazzmen will come here from all over Russia. And it’s up to us to arrange a creative dialogue between Russian and foreign musicians. It’s up to us to invite them, give them an opportunity to hear Russian jazzmen and play together with them. The problem is that we are little known in the world, although Russia has been an open country for more than 25 years. People know very little about our pop music and jazz.

Vestnik: And what about the status of our jazz musicians in the world? I. Butman: This is a problem we’re going to discuss. The Jazz Day, then our Forum-Fest Jazz Across Borders, which will take place in St. Petersburg within the framework of a cultural forum, will show the world what we have, and also the great interest of our public in music. As to our musicians, it will be a great luck to get to such event. Most of them do not have international recognition as yet, they are still somewhat shy, but this should be overcome. Besides, if we take certain European countries, there is a government financial support of musicians and festivals. For instance, in Austria musicians get a small fixed bonus from the state regularly.

Vestnik: Let’s come back to our music in the world. Can we call our jazz an “international phenomenon”?

I. Butman: Definitely, yes.

Vestnik: Mr Butman, you are a well-known figure in the world of jazz, your compositions are included in jazz albums, even the most famous. President Bill Clinton likes to hear you, moreover, he even plays your compositions himself. Are there many such lucky devils in Russia? Are Russian jazzmen known in other countries?

I. Butman: Gradually they become known, even popular. There are musicians who have gone to the United States or other countries many years ago and even earned fame in the world of jazz. Take Valery Ponomaryov, our trumpeter, for example, who played in the ensemble of great Art Blakey for several years. He was the first and only white musician in the orchestra. Or the pianist and arranger Nikolai Levinovsky, who was known in America even before he went there, because he headed the Allegro ensemble, famous in Soviet times, which performed at international jazz festivals and concerts. I, too, went to Leipzig with it once. And I am glad that now Nikolai works with my orchestra, comes here more often, and travels with us all over the world. Alexander Sepyagin is an excellent trumpeter, well known in the world of jazz, who has made about twenty records on the famous Criss Cross label. He has been awarded Grammy for a disc he has recorded together with Michael Brecker. He also works much in Russia and is the art director of the Jazz over the Volga festival in Yaroslavl. There are pianists, for instance, Mikhail Tsiganov and Yevgeni Lebedev – the latter is one of the LRK Trio (bassist Anton Revnyuk and drummer Ignat Kravtsov). They have successfully played in Belgium, Japan, and other countries. Of course, mention should be made of Daniil Kramer, who is known abroad as a classical and jazz pianist, and the multi-instrumentalist David Goloshchekin. On the whole, we’re working actively with certain success.

Vestnik: Can we speak of the Russian jazz school?

I. Butman: Yes. We have been at a festival in Rochester in the United States. Our young guitarist came out to the stage and played. I was sitting in the hall beside famous John Abercrombie. “Is it one of yours?” he asked “Yes,” I answered. “Lucky devil.” That was a success. While in Rochester, our trombonist Oleg Borodin played at a jam session and everybody admired his virtuosity and originality. But all this is not enough to win popularity in the world. We have to develop further, prepare more programs, record discs, and make concert tours.

Vestinik: That is what you’re doing as a producer and teacher.

I. Butman: Exactly. And I like what I’m doing. The mastery of young budding saxophonists is growing before our eyes. They have their own ideas, both in life and in music. And this gives us a chance to receive wide recognition in the world. Unfortunately, I’m unable to go to all jazz festivals in the world. Russian jazz gains reputation. For example, I’m going on a concert tour, then Yevgeni Pobozhy, Sergei Dolzhenkov, Vadim Eilenkrig, Andrei Kondakov, Ilya Morozov, etc. follow suit. A need arises to invite Russian jazz musicians, because they play very well, jazz fans like them and await their performances. For instance, our orchestra has twice played at the festival in Ottawa, although it runs counter to their rules. They don’t invite the same groups two years in succession, but we were an exception. There is another reason why Russian players are not often invited to the foreign jazz scene. It is connected with finances.

Vestnik: Do we help drop the market?

I. Butman: In a way, yes. Russian musicians are very good, emotional, technically near-perfect, but they are rather cheap. If we go there, we can really make their market drop, and their musicians will lose job.

Vestnik: Can we speak of the concept of national jazz?

I. Butman: Yes and no. In Sakhalin Island we have recently organized the Sakhalin-Hokkaido Jazz Festival and invited the saxophonist Ken Ota, whom we did not know. Although he was recommended to us and with my due respect for Japanese jazz musicians I was going to listen to him in a highbrow mood. But I became extremely delighted from his playing. The drummer and bassist were simply superb, too. They played interesting compositions with changing rhythms and I’d like to invite them to our Triumph of Jazz festival. National jazz playing can be distinguished by temperament, as it were. Everything changes in music, too. For example, Afro-American musicians have begun playing in the “cool” style, not as hot and temperamental as they used to. They seem to have lost temperament and show more restraint now. National color is inherent in music almost always and it’s deep inside. For instance, they say about Chopin’s music that it is full of Polish color. But this music was composed by a man who lived in his native country only in his young years. The greater part of his life passed mainly in France and naturally he could not but be influenced by various factors – national and natural, even the air and water. Yet, his music is deeply national, Polish. It can be said that there is the Norwegian school of playing music. It is more contemplative. I’d like the marvelous saxophonist Jan Garbarek to come here. He plays improvised music combined with jazz, and his sound is airy and beautiful. There is the Latin American school of jazz, and its Brazilian branch differs rhythmically because it has many percussion instruments, which we don’t have in Russia or Europe. They are played with hands. There is an interesting historical fact. In certain states of America slaves were forbidden to beat drums with their hands. This was why they beat rhythm with their feet. That was how the tap dance came into being. Whereas in Latin American countries, where there was no such ban, phenomenal virtuosos playing drums and other percussion instruments have emerged. The Cuban rhythms differ from the rhythms of Mexico or Brazil. We in Russia have not too many rhythms. But we have our polyphony, intonations, and melodies of our own going down into Russian folk music and music by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. And so, jazz in each country has its own national features. But it should be always kept in mind that the foundation of everything is professionalism, that is, the basic knowledge and skill. As far as our jazz pianists are concerned, their foundation is firmer and higher than that of many jazz pianists abroad, especially in America now. This speaks very highly about our musical education, especially the piano school. If we take pianists, Oscar Peterson and Chick Corea are distinguished by the best sound, they seem to have been alumni of the Russian school of piano playing. And it’s not for nothing that Oscar Peterson was a great admirer of Tchaikovsky, Rakhmaninov, and Scriabine. On the other hand, we study American jazz, learn its best traditions, accumulate what has already been done in the world, and only then search for something new and our own. But Russian culture has made its contribution to the development of this new art of jazz. Let us not forget that George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Vernon Duke (Vladimir Dukelsky) are of Russian origin. We have one culture, and jazz is a world treasure, but not of any one people, it is a mixture belonging to all who play this music. And a musician devotes his entire life to playing the saxophone, guitar, and piano in order to bring joy to people. There is no other message in music except joy.

See Press Coverage of International Jazz Day

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