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Brief History of Jazz in Russia
April 1, 2008 13:54

Leonid Utesov

Jazz sprang up in the USSR in the 1920s, when it was flourishing in the USA. The first jazz orchestra of Russia was founded in 1922 in Moscow by poet, translator, dancer and theatre worker Valentin Parnakh and was titled The RSFSR First Eccentric Orchestra Jazz Band of Valentin Parnakh. The first professional jazz band to go on the air and release its music record was the Moscow Orchestra of pianist and composer Alexander Tsfasman. Early Soviet jazz bands mainly specialized in performing fashionable dances, such as foxtrot and charleston.

Jazz started gaining wide popularity in mass consciousness in the 1930s, first of all in connection with the activity of the ensemble that accompanied famous actor and singer Leonid Utesov . The comedy Vesyolye rebyata (The Happy Guys) (1934) starring him is a story about a jazz musician and has a corresponding soundtrack composed by Isaak Dunayevsky. Leonid Utesov jointly with Jakov Skomorovsky formed an original style of theatre jazz based on blending music with drama and operetta, with vocal turns and performance element playing a significant role.

'Marsh veselyh rebyat' (Performed by Leonid Utesov)

Remarkable contribution into the development of Soviet jazz was made by composer, musician and bandleader Eddie Rozner. He started his career in Germany, Poland and other European countries and then moved to the USSR where he became one of the pioneers of swing jazz in the USSR and the founder of Byelorussian jazz. Important role in popularization and development of the swing style was also played by Moscow bands headed by Alexander Tsfasman Alexander Varlamov in the 1930-1940s. The All-Union Radio Jazz Orchestra under conductorship of A. Varlamov took part in the first Soviet television broadcast. Oleg Lundstrems Orchestra is the only band that has survived since then. Presently well-known, this big-band was among the few and the best jazz ensembles of Russian Diaspora performing in 1935-1947 in China.

'1001 takt v ritme jazza' (Performed by Jazz-Orkester Eddie Roznera)

Alexei Kozlov
      Soviet authorities displayed quite ambiguous attitude towards jazz: Russian jazzmen, as a rule, were not banned, though jazz as such was severely criticized in the context of overall criticism of Western culture on the whole. In the late 1940s, the period of fighting cosmopolitism in the USSR jazz was going through particularly hard times, when bands performing western music were subject to persecution. When the Thaw came, repressions of musicians stopped, yet disparagements went on.

'Diksi-li' (Performed by Jazz-Orkester Alexandra Varlamova)

In the 1950-60s the orchestras of Eddie Rozner and Oleg Lundstrem renewed their concert activities in Moscow; new jazz bands sprang up, the most remarkable of them being orchestras of Iosif Vainstein (Leningrad, now St. Petersburg) and Vadim Ludvikovsky (Moscow), as well as Riga Variety Orchestra. The big bands brought up a whole galaxy of talented arrangers and solo improvisers, whose creative work promoted Soviet jazz to a brand new level and brought it closer to the world paragons of jazz.

'Old Circus train' (Performed by Oleg Lundstrem)

Development of chamber and club jazz in all the diversity of its stiles started (German Lukyanov, Gennady Goldstein, David Goloshekin , Nikolai Levinovsky, Vyacheslav Ganelin, Alexei Kozlov, Roman Kunsman, Nikolai Gromin, and others); first jazz festivals, nowadays in plenty, came to be held back then.

'Belye nochi' (Performed by David Goloshekin)

You can learn more about Russian jazz on the specialized web site -

Look also: Russian Music

 Russian Wiki


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