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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow's Jazz Garden Enriched by Youth




The gray hair of Russian jazz is thinning. And what isn't falling out is being plucked, incrementally. It's time to toss out the Grecian Formula - as it will simply postpone the inevitable.


The second annual jazz festival slated for this weekend at the Hermitage Gardens signals another stage in the makeover of the Moscow jazz scene, where the seemingly intractable Soviet-era stalwarts are yielding to younger generations of musicians.


"These aren't performers who play old jazz, but today's jazz, contemporary jazz," Yury Saulsky, composer and co-promoter of the outdoor festival, said.


"We love [the older musicians] very much. They're my friends. But we also want to give experience to young people, new faces."


One of the country's best young pianists, Yakov Okun, as well as young tenor saxophonist Alexei Nikolayev, drummer Dmitry Sevastyanov and electric bassist Anton Revnyuk will join the more established electric bassist, Alexander Rostotsky, in Jazz Bass Theater - a dynamic act that will close out the three-day event on Sunday evening.


Festival organizers have even reeled in the Walk Away All Stars, perhaps the best electric jazz ensemble in Poland, which features young trombonist George Nagorsky, who studied jazz at the University of Miami and has performed with noted American jazzmen such as Michael Brecker, Joe Henderson and Phil Woods.


The young Moscow talent, meanwhile, comes from musicians who have been cutting their teeth at jam sessions at venues like the Jazz Art Cafe. Even local saxophonist legend Igor Butman is doing his part, recruiting up-and-comers to sit in with him on stage - the only place, according to jazz great Wynton Marsalis, where a player can truly learn to swing.


It was only a couple of years ago that Butman returned to Russia from living in New York. "I'm like the bone that gets caught in the throat," he said at the time of his role as interloper in a Moscow scene dominated by Soviet-era legends such as saxophonist Alexei "Big Cat" Kozlov, trumpeter German Lukyanov and big band leader Oleg Lundstrom.


Now the 37-year-old Butman - under whose musical direction the chic and once-empty Le Club now bursts at the seams when his big band and quintet perform - is often the oldest musician on stage.


Festival organizers have deliberately attempted to harness this spirit of youth in the white band shell at the well-maintained gardens, said Mikhail Grin, co-promoter and owner of the jazz club Birdland.


"It's a shame that Russia is considered to be in the provinces of jazz,"Grin said. "The younger generation is already studying at special jazz schools. ... We are absolutely entering the world context of jazz, the jazz mainstream."


Those still aching for a bit of nostalgia can still find it on Sunday evening, when the Russian Jazz All Stars - accompanied by their weighty titles - will hold sway as the first of four acts: People's Artist of Russia Igor Bril on piano, and Honored Artists of Russia Alexei Kuznetsov, Anatoly Sobolev and Alexander Goretkin on guitar, bass and drums, respectively.


Not everyone of that generation represents a fallback to the past, however.


The quartet lead by Vladimir Danilin - whose soulful, even brave play on accordion is unsurpassed anywhere - will perform tracks from his latest CD, "Once I Loved," as the highlight of Saturday evening.


Other notable acts are the Andrei Kondakov Quartet from St. Petersburg, the seven-member a cappella group Man Sound from Ukraine and the trio led by the effervescent keyboardist and vocalist, Sergei Manukyan.


More than 2,000 people are anticipated over the course of the event, said Vladimir Rudy, director of the gardens. He added that one of his major priorities will be ensuring "we don't run out of beer."


"Last time we didn't expect there would be so many people, especially so many young people," said Grin. "Our festival certainly won't be any worse than last year's."