Russians Launch New Jazz Festival In Cyprus
♪ The island of Cyprus in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea has been inhabited since time immemorial. The north of the island, the Republic of Northern Cyprus with its Turkish population, is now an entity not recognized by anyone but Turkey, but the southern part, the Greek-speaking Cypriaki Democratia—that is, the Republic of Cyprus—is a member of the European Union, part of the Euro zone, and the first country in Europe to which, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, thousands of Russians have rushed in force—many for vacations, some seeking permanent residence. 30 years later, about 40 thousand residents of Cyprus, out of 800 thousand of the total population of the Republic, speak Russian. In Limassol, the second-biggest city in Cyprus (after the capital of Nicosia,) about 10 per cent of the population is Russian-speaking.
Limassol is located in the very south of the island. With some 240 thousand of permanent residents, it is a large cultural center, and an important resort and tourist zone. On November 2—3, 2019, a new jazz festival was held for the first time in Limassol—more precisely, a pilot edition of a festival, which the organizers would like to establish as an annual event.
The pilot version was called the Limassol International Festival of Jazz and Popular Music, abbreviated Limassol International Jazz and Pop Festival. In 2019, one hundred years have passed since the birth of one of the most famous vocalists in jazz and traditional popular music—Nat “King” Cole (1919—1965.) It was his centennial the first jazz festival in Limassol was dedicated to. Held at the Amara Concert Hall, located within the eponymous hotel which acted as one of the sponsors of the music event, the International Festival of Jazz and Popular Music in Limassol was conceived and produced by the Creative World Foundation, headed by Vyacheslav Zarenkov, a philanthropist and a major music lover. The fund was chartered back in 2012: it supported exhibitions and plein airs of Russian artists abroad, restoration of churches and monuments in Russia, books publication, staging of theatrical performances, and filmmaking. In Cyprus, the Creative World has been producing the CypRus Greek-Russian Orthodox festival since 2017.
The jazz festival in Limassol is the fund’s latest project. Since the Creative World is based in St. Petersburg, Russia, a significant part of the pilot edition roster are the musicians associated with the St. Petersburg jazz scene, one of the most important jazz communities in Russia. The history of jazz in St. Petersburg started 92 years ago when, one year after the first-ever American jazz band toured the newborn Soviet Union, the first Leningrad jazz ensembles played for the public in 1927. Petersburg is a citadel of jazz tradition on Russian soil, a vibrant jazz community rich with club life and outstanding artists who work on the Moscow, European, and American scenes. Petersburg jazz community was the main personnel supplier for the first festival in Limassol.
The central protagonist of the festival was the People’s Artist of Russia, the founder and artistic director of the St. Petersburg Jazz Philharmonic Hall, multi-instrumentalist David Goloshchekin. A perfectly logical decision: David is not only the famed veteran of the St. Petersburg traditional jazz scene, he is also leader of said scene in recent decades, both in ideological and organizational sense. At the same time, he is a popular performer in Russia who invariably sells large auditoriums, and a number of traditional jazz-oriented festivals in Russia book Goloshchekin year after year—and, it seems, he has never disappointed his Russian fans with his brand of the original jazz tradition in its fundamentalist quality.
David Goloshchekin told Jazz.Ru Magazine that he was very interested upon receiving an invitation to perform in Cyprus, and after two days of the festival in Limassol, he was convinced that the new festival has a significant potential and warm, open-minded audience. Out of his instrumental arsenal (Goloshchekin professionally plays piano, electric organ, violin, vibraphone, flugelhorn, tenor saxophone, double bass, and drums), the People’s Artist chose the violin and flugelhorn (a kind of trumpet with a lower and rounded sound) for his performance in Limassol—the most different instruments, with different specifics of sound, different phrasing, different aesthetics of improvisational thinking.
Goloshchekin performed with a mixed line-up, of which his constant musical partner, the outstanding St. Petersburg jazz guitarist Gassan Bagirov, stood out. He has been working with David for over 20 years. An experienced mainstream jazz performer, Bagirov is a recognized master of a rare improvisational ability: real-time simultaneous unison vocal and instrumental improvisation: Gassan improvises complex, sophisticated single-voice melodic lines on his guitar, while simultaneously singing the same lines.
The world of traditional pop music was represented at the festival by St. Petersburg singer Yuri Okhochinsky. However, jazz aesthetics are by no means alien to him. Back in the late 1990s, he performed at the St. Petersburg Jazz Philharmonic, headed by Goloshekin, a concert dedicated to the memory of Frank Sinatra, and Goloshchekin also performed in this concert. This is how David defined Okhochinsky’s singing:
“Yuri Ochochinsky is a rare performer of romantic style in traditional pop music. Possessing a beautiful and unique timbre of his voice, he is also endowed with high artistry, which makes his concerts an aesthetic phenomenon and sharply distinguishes him from the circle of contemporary performers of popular song.”
Okhochinsky is the Russian successor of the line of the so-called crooners, performers of romantic songs, such as Andy Williams, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck. One of the greatest of those was Nat King Cole, whose centenary the Limassol festival was dedicated to.
The American participant of the festival, jazz trumpeter and singer Ilya Serov, has a direct relationship to St. Petersburg. He was born in Saratov, Russia, and received his music education at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he studied classical music. As a classic trumpeter, Serov played in a number of Petersburg orchestras, but his love of jazz prevailed. After browsing the St. Petersburg jazz clubs every night, the 21-year-old trumpeter eventually moved to the U.S. 12 years ago, and settled in Los Angeles, where he continued to immerse himself in the American jazz environment, including playing with smooth jazz star, saxophonist Dave Koz. Serov’s new album “Back in Time” (2019) features the legendary percussionist Poncho Sanchez, saxophonist Eric Marienthal, pianist Roger Kellaway, and other American jazz luminaries. Serov also presented a strong American line-up in Limassol, which included the Philadelphia-based double bass player Max Kraus, who recently lived in Los Angeles and played in the renowned arranger Bill Hollman’s big band. The quintet was completed by drummer Ryan Shaw, guitarist Shane Savala, and session keyboard player Nick Petrillo.
A special place in the festival program was taken by the Belarusian group, Apple Tea. Under the leadership of bass player Igor Satsevich, this Minsk fusion band has been working together for more than a quarter of a century. Their restrained but energetic version of modern European jazz-rock with rich use of ethnic motifs gained wide popularity in their native Belarus, but the group is also well known in Russia, where, for example, in 2015 they toured the Jazz Province Festival chain of major cities in the central part of the country with the program of their seventh album, “M1”. But original music is only part of what they do: in Belarus, they regularly perform as the backing band with traveling British or American jazz vocalists, such as Chanda Rule, Sharon Clark, Gregory Porter, and the late Kevin Mahogany. Of course, Apple Tea played with them the mainstream jazz material. At the festival in Limassol, Belarusian musicians also not only presented their own music, but also backed several soloists, and on the second day of the festival they took part in the final, massive jam session.
Of course, at a jazz festival in Cyprus the host country was also represented. True, the local jazz scene on the island is still at an early stage of development: as of 2019, there was only one jazz club, and it was located in the capital, Nicosia. The Cyprus Association of Jazz and Blues accounted for 121 professional jazz musicians on the island—some of them, by the way, living in Limassol: many of them Cypriots, others worked on the island permanently, but kept a varied citizenship of the USA, UK, Greece, Poland, Russia (for example, pianist Leonid Nesterov, who regularly organized concerts of Russian jazz musicians in Nicosia) and even of such not-too-jazzy countries as, say, Lebanon. But at the first test festival in Limassol, it was decided to present one of the most famous Cypriot singers in Europe. Hovig Demirjian is a 30-year-old Cypriot singer of Armenian descent. Under the artistic name of Hovig, he represented Cyprus at the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest, where he took only 21st place out of 26. However, he is popular in his country, and since he studied jazz vocals, he could easily negotiate with American musicians from Ilya Serov Quintet and sing several numbers with them.
There was one more singer in the program of the festival, the 25-year-old Natalya Okhochinskaya from St. Petersburg. Like Hovig, she also participated in another event organized by the Creative World Foundation in Cyprus—the aforementioned Greek-Russian CypRus festival—earlier in 2019, Unlike at that event where she sang with her father, Yuri Okhochinsky, n Limassol the young vocalist sang alone, accompanied by Russian, Belarusian, and American musicians.
The founder of the festival, the president of the Creative World Foundation, Vyacheslav Zarenkov, explained why jazz was chosen as the main focus of the new festival in Limassol: “Jazz is an international culture that unites the whole world. The rich and the poor listen to jazz music, regardless of religion or color.” It is true. In the early decades of its history, jazz quickly spread around the world. Where cultures influenced each other and mixed, enriching each other through mutual influence, jazz was performed at every crossroad in the world: by the late 1920s, it was played not only in New Orleans, Chicago, or New York, but also in Cape Town and Shanghai, in Leningrad and Bombay, in Seattle and Copenhagen, in Sydney and Havana. No matter what turbulent times jazz experienced in different countries and in different eras, its development and movement around the world has never stopped. In the 21st century, jazz continues to spread to new audiences; generation after generation, new artists join the ranks, new clubs spring up, new festivals appear. It is significant and important that Russian nationals were involved in the emergence of a new jazz festival in the extreme south-east of the European Union, and jazz found its way to the listeners in Cyprus through the efforts of the organizers and artists from Russia.
The second Limassol International Jazz and Pop Festival is scheduled in Cyprus for October 2020.