Alexei Zoubov,head with saxophone
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        The Great Jazz Seduction (Moscow)

        August 29th, 2008 by Alexei Zoubov

        As I remember, jazz seduction (of me) started around 1949-50. The scene of this seduction was Moscow, Russia (then USSR). There was no accessible jazz music anywhere in the country – not on television, not on the radio, not in record stores (at least this was the intention of the ruling party then).

        And still there was a considerable number of real jazz fans and even some very small number of miraculously surviving jazz musicians – most of them were sent to Stalin’s gulag’s.

        I don’t want to get into the history of Russian jazz, I don’t want this post to go on forever. If you are interested, there is a great book by S. Frederick Starr : Red and Hot: The Fate of Jazz in the Soviet Union. It even mentions my name in a couple of places.

        So, where the seduction came from? There were records from before the Second World War, the records brought by soldiers returning from Germany after the war. There were movies that appeared in the period when America still wasn’t an enemy (this period ended in 1947), especially Sun Valley Serenade (with Glen Miller band) and The Roaring Twenties (in Russia presented as The Fate of a Soldier in America).

        And, of course, the radio. All programs in Russian, coming from abroad, were jammed, but there were many BBC and The Voice of America jazz programs in English that we could easily tune to.

        Jazz was officially labeled as the “rotten capitalist music”, but, I think, this even fueled our interest.

        Starting with the seventh grade, there was at least a dozen boys in my class (it was an all-male school) that were in love with jazz, although the level of knowledge of jazz was understandably limited.

        I had an old 78 record of Fats Waller and his band, and I was so enthralled by his playing, that I tried to transcribe his solos, in the process completely destroying the record. I had about 18 months of piano lessons when I was little, that proved to be not enough to play the Fats’ solos as he played them, but it was the first step for me on the road to understanding the inner workings of jazz.

        There wasn’t even a passing thought in my mind of becoming a professional jazz musician. None whatsoever. There were no musicians in our family. They were all scientists and I was supposed to become one too.

        And so it goes, as says Kurt Vonnegut. In the year of Stalin’s death – 1953 – I went to Moscow University to major in physics and fulfill the expectations of my family.

        The jazz virus was still there, though. In my sophomore year I got the urge to try some wind instrument and got a really bad clarinet from the University amateur brass band. After learning some simple tunes, I destroyed another 78 record, this one of Benny Goodman playing “Blue Sky”, again while trying to transcribe Benny’s solo.

        My old friend since the school, Boris Rytchkov, later to become one of the very best Russian jazz pianists, was leading a small amateur band at the time and I shamesly abused this friendship by practically forcing him to let me play with the band. Believe me, I was pretty awful!

        Being a good friend, Boris managed to tolerate the cat screams emanating from my clarinet for a month or so. Finally he called me aside and said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t listen to this anymore! I know and old guy who sells a saxophone, why don’t you try it?”

        That was it. The year was 1955. That was the moment when I, still not knowing it, made my first step away from the road, leading to a stable and respected future as a scientist, and started on a winding, often disappointing and sometimes even dangerous in Russia path to becoming a jazz musician.

        (Continues HERE)

        Posted in Jazz, Just Stories, Mementos, Music, Musicians, That's how it was..