A Quickie Guide to Jazz Festivals in Eastern Europe
A new festival has been started in the ancient Vinnytsia, just a few hours away from the capital, Kyiv; and on the warm shores of Black Sea, the Odessa Jazz Carnival has been established as a joint Ukrainian-Russian venture in 2001, successfully repeated the next year with a strong artist lineup (superbly interesting music, though no 1st range stars) from France, the U.S., Israel, Great Britain, Ukraine and Russia, and a large amount of outdoor activities, such as street parades and open-air performances on the 200-years-old Odessa's places and squares. The Carnival's Ukrainian co-producer is Yuri Kuznetsov, a brilliant piano improviser from Odessa whose interests mostly lie in the realm of new jazz and new improvised music. In 2002, Yuri performed on the Carnival's main stage with Roman Kunsman, one of the leading Israel's creative jazz musicians. This happened to be Kunsman's farewell performance: the great saxophonist, who emigrated from Leningrad (now St.Petersburg) in 1971 and represented Israel with his Platina group on Newport Jazz Festival in New York in 1975, died untimely shortly upon his return to Israel from Odessa. Another great act at the Carnival was ManSound, a brilliant male a cappella vocal sextet from Kyiv, Ukraine, the winners of several prestigious European vocal contests (such as Vokal.Total in Graz, Austria) who toured successfully the U.S. Northwest in 2000, 2002 and 2003.
Though Belarus, a large Slavic country between Poland and Russia, lives under a post-Soviet dictatorship, its cultural life is not as heavily controlled by the authorities as it used to be during Soviet era. Year by year, local enthusiasts try to launch an annual jazz festival in Minsk, the country's capital. Though the festival, in fact, happens every year, it still bears a new name every other time because of ever-changing sponsorship. Its artist lineup included not only local artists (such as the superb vocal septet Camerata) or leading East-European (mostly Lithuanian, Ukrainian and Russian) names, but also many Americans, like vibraphonist Joe Locke in 2000.
Even tiny Moldova, the small agricultural, vine-producing country sandwiched between the Ukraine and Romania, produced its own (and very original) Ethno Jazz Trio festival in 2002, and repeated it the next year. The festival was produced in the city of Chisinau by the members of Trigon, Moldova's best ethno jazz formation, as a dedication to this viola/bass guitar/drums trio's own tenth anniversary, and became an artistic success that not only presented the existing innovative trios from the Ukraine, Russia, Poland and other countries, who try to incorporate their own cultures' musical idiom into the improvisational music (and vice versa), but also met together improvisers from Turkey, Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, and Moldova, with a challenging task to create their own impromptu music triangles right on the site in search of multicultural interaction (which, once again, has proven the old maxima that all those interactions could work only when at least one jazz musician, with his knowledge of what the musical interaction is, performs with the world music masters in each setting).
Romania and Bulgaria, two other ex-Eastern Bloc countries on the Western shore of Black Sea, also have their own jazz festivals, though their economic difficulties prevent them from strong links with European jazz community, so far. Of those festivals, Varna Summer in Bulgaria seems to be the most successful.
On the opposing side of the Black Sea, Republic of Georgia still struggles to override the major political and economy problems connected with the ongoing post-Soviet civil conflicts. Which does not mean that there is no jazz: some of good Georgian performers, as well as many of Georgian jazz enthusiasts, do not leave the country. With its rich, 2,500-years-old tradition of unique choral singing (that includes the most ancient system of music scores notation known,) and high-educated listeners' community, Georgia (as well as the neighboring Armenia, the country with the similar set of problems and equally long history) seems to be a natural ground for sophisticated modern music. The once-famous (during Soviet era) Tbilisi Jazz Festival was only repeated once since the breakup of the Union (in 2000, after an 11-years-long break), but there is much hope that the tradition is not going to die. In Armenia, the Yerevan Jazz Festival that once featured Chick Corea, has been postponed in 2003 after three successful years, though local jazz enthusiasts hope to re-launch it again.