Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Singer Leaves Moscow Beat Behind

When he came to Russia with his wife more than three years ago, jazz and blues singer Tim Strong had no intention of putting together a band. He thought he would maybe study opera and add to his classical repertoire.

But things didn't go according to plan. Strong is leaving Russia in April - after putting together a jazz and blues band and performing all over the place, including in St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Tver and Arkhangelsk.

"I came here thinking that it would be absolutely impossible," he said. But he found that, though jazz and blues were less unfamiliar to Russian musicians and audiences, there was a lot of enthusiasm.

"It's all new here because of the way the government looked down on jazz music," he said. "It's amazing that you have as many good jazz musicians right now playing this kind of music."

"I find the Russian people a magnificent audience, when they are able to listen," he said. With club audiences, it sometimes takes a little work.

"At the beginning of the concert I have to do something to get people's attention, like a chant, old slavery work song without a band playing, walking around the stage," Strong added, suddenly breaking into one and demonstrating his powerful voice.

Strong's Russia gig began in November 1995 when he arrived with his wife, Jane Coombs, a New Zealand diplomat posted in Moscow.

"I knew the negative propaganda that the West was trying to make everybody buy - that Russia was here to conquer the world and to enslave everybody and to make everybody communist," he said when asked about the image he held of Russia.

Before going to New Zealand in 1993, Strong, who describes himself as "older than 18," spent 17 years pursuing a musical and acting career in New York City. He sang at jazz clubs like Sweet Basil and the Village Vanguard. He also did some acting both on and off-Broadway where his roles included playing Malcolm X in the jazz opera "Money."

Although not expecting much for his career when he arrived, Strong says his four Russian band members in the Moscow Blues Band are the best playing rhythm and blues in Russia. It took time to find them, and the band changed members several times before he settled on bassist Dmitry Chesnykh, guitarist Konstantin Serov, drummer Eduard Zizak and keyboardist Aleksei Filimonov.

"For me," Strong said, "being a musician and doing Afro-American music, obviously the pickings are a lot slimmer here to put the band together. But I've been very blessed."

He also invited top Russian jazz stars to sit in, such as saxophonists Boris Kurganov, Alexei Nikolayev and Igor Butman - who in Strong's opinion is "the best saxophone player in Russia."

While living and working in Moscow, Strong even released an album - "Dear Earth," a sensuous adult contemporary blend of rhythm and blues, funk, jazz and pop, recorded in New Zealand.

Strong wants to return to Russia once in a while. "I am hoping to come back here two, three times a year to perform," he said.

"I will miss Moscow, but I will come back," he said, "I don't want to lose connection with the Russian people."

Tim Strong will perform Thursday, March 4, at Le Club at 21 Verkhnyaya Radishchevskaya Ulitsa. Tel. 915-1042.