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Open-Air Jazz In And Around Moscow

Cyril Moshkow By

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Moscow's summer is relatively brief: early June is normally the first really warm time during the year, and the final week of August normally the last; which means that most of the fifteen million people who live in and around the Russian capital try to take full advantage of those three short months. Those who can travel, head to favorite Russian tourist destinations, like Turkey, Cyprus or the shores of the Black Sea; those who own patches of land in the city's nearest vicinities (with Russia's centuries-long peasantry traditions, of whom there are surprisingly many) try to spend as much precious summer time at their dachas as possible. Still, millions stay in the city, and they want fun.


Hermitage Garden Jazz Festival Moscow, Russia August 21-23, 2009



The first jazz festival to be held outdoors in Moscow was the Hermitage Garden Jazz Festival, the first edition taking place as early as 1998, when the festival started the day after the Russian government defaulted the country's economy; quite miraculously, the event held on, and is now in its 12th year. The small but cozy park in downtown Moscow comfortably hosts three thousand listeners on three consecutive evenings, Friday to Sunday (this year, August 21 to 23); the only problem is that by 10 p.m., according to the city's strict noise regulations, the music has to stop—all because of a few apartment buildings right behind the park's green brick wall, no farther than one hundred feet from the festival backstage area.

The Hermitage Garden Jazz Festival's programming is eclectic, but straight-ahead jazz prevails, with relatively modest excursions into "contemporary" field. 2009's line-up included a number of Russian- American collaborations: baritone sax veteran Gary Smulyan joined forces with Russian-born, NYC-based trumpet virtuoso, Alex Sipiagin, backed by one of Moscow's best rhythm sections, pianist Yakov Okun's MosGorTrio (which is a Russian abbreviation for "Moscow City Trio.") Drummer Francisco Mela and a fellow Cuban, percussionist Arturo Stable, played with a Russian band led by Moscow-based, Siberia-born pianist Alexei Podymkin; and trombonist Chris Washburne played with Oleg Kireyev, who is not only a saxophonist well-known on the Russian scene, but also an artistic director at one of Moscow's best jazz clubs—Union of Composers. Other Hermitage highlights included Macej Sikala trio from Poland, Diknu Schneeberger Trio from Austria, and an array of Russian bands.

Of the latter, especially noteworthy is the Oleg Lundstrem Orchestra (below), the world's oldest acting jazz big band, which celebrates its 75th birthday this year. Unfortunately, their last original member, Oleg Lundstrem himself, died four years ago at the age of 89; currently, the leadership torch is carried by pianist Boris Frumkin, who keeps the legacy of Lundstrem's seven decades burning brightly.



Usadba.Jazz Festival Jazz.Estate (Moscow) June 6-7



This festival naturally closes the open-air jazz season; what opens it is, for the last five years, the Usadba.Jazz Festival in early June. Usadba.Jazz can be translated as Jazz.Estate; it is, in fact, held in a beautiful 18th century estate, located some five miles west from the Moscow city limits, overlooking the scenic banks of the Moscow River, sleepy and green-shaded in this area. Some two hundred years ago the estate, several hundred acres large, belonged consecutively to Golitsyns and Yussupovs, the Russian Empire's two richest noble families. In the 21st century, it is the Federal Architecture Museum and Park Reserve that is keeping intact the gorgeous 18th-century park with several palaces, the largest hosting one of the festival's stages in its inner yard, and a great lawn that easily keeps up to ten thousand listeners in front of the festival's main stage. The space inside the main palace's yard, called Aristocrat Stage, is the festival's straight-ahead jazz face; this year, the Aristocrat headliners were the Branford Marsalis Quartet on June 6, and Oleg Lundstrem Orchestra the next evening when this summer's first heavy rain was starting to pour.





A smaller building, the Caprice Palace, deep into the park, had a small stage in front of it, with a suitable dance floor—as it has been given to hundreds of dancers to sweep it, and a bunch of nostalgic Russian neo swing, rockabilly, and just plain dance swing bands to ignite the boogie and jive craze. Between park alleys, an even smaller stage (above), sponsored by LiveJournal.com, was the tribune for young bands—not necessarily straight-ahead jazz bands, with funky and bluesy sounds prevailing.



Two next alleys, with their thick tree-tops, provided enough soundproof insulation from the main stage which featured loud danceable acts, such as pianist Andrey Kondakov's Russian-Brazilian Project with Sergio Brandao on bass and Cafe da Silva on percussion, or Swedish trombonist Nils Landgren's Funk Unit.


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