“Donetsk has hosted more than a hundred jazz festivals at various periods, rigidly censored under the Soviets, when a limited number of world-reputed jazzmen could be invited. With time [the Soviet propaganda] taboo on jazz was lifted and this art could evolve freely,” says Oleksandr FAIERMAN jazzman, formerly a veteran artistic director of an orchestra under the auspices of the Gorky National University of Medicine of Donetsk where he is an associate professor with the Chair of Internal Medicine.
He says there were jazz bands in the restaurants and movie theaters [in Donetsk], including the Komsomolets one named after Taras Shevchenko under the Soviets, and all those jazz bands were made up of professional musicians.
Jazz bands started mushrooming in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, as “orchestras” and “jazz music clubs,” more often than not organized by university students, but also by members of the academic staff. In 1954, such a student orchestra materialized at Donetsk Polytechnic University (currently the National Technical University of Donetsk). Another jazz band materialized at the Medical Institute, in 1956. In the early 1970s, such an orchestra emerged at what is currently known as the Tuhan-Baranovsky National University of Economics and Trade of Donetsk. In the 1980s, jazz bands were organized at the Lenin House of Culture, also at the Zasiadko Coal Mine and at the Institute of Internal Affairs. “We started jazz bands where the musicians could be paid good money for their professional performance,” says Faierman.
The jazz band organized at the medical institute is still there [at the National University of Medicine]. For a long time its artistic director was Fayerman. Now it is directed by Oleksii Ovcharenko. Faierman was born to a family with musical traditions. He finished a music school majoring in the violin. Shortly after becoming a student of the Medical Institute, he organized a jazz band there. Yevhen Yasenov writes in his article “Jubilee Jam Session” that among the musicians were amateurs from other orchestras who held competitions of sorts. The administration did not mind and the jazz band evolved and expanded.
The jazz band at the Philharmonic Society and the name of Yakiv Khoslavsky deserve special notice. Faierman says the man was very fond of jazz and supported three bands, at the Shevchenko Movie Theater, at the Palace of Metallurgists, and at the Philharmonic Society. To join any of these bands, one had to win a tough competition.
Progress of jazz music in Donetsk is explained by festivals and people who supported it in the first place.
Says A. Lozovsky, Merited Artist of Ukraine, deputy head of the variety and jazz chair at the Prokofiev Music Academy of Donetsk: “The first jazz festival, Donetsk-67, was held in the 1960s, in commemoration of the city’s 60th anniversary. The concert was attended by Volodymyr Dehtiariov, first secretary of the regional party committee. He saw that the public enjoyed it and decided to let it be. After that jazz festivals became regular events. In Kryvyi Rih, a man by the name of Oleksandr Hebel organized festivals guest starring the best Soviet musicians and the local authorities did not mind. Then he left and that was the end of the project. The same happened in Donetsk after the Dodzh Festival organizers moved to Kyiv. The festivals followed them.”
Faierman: “The first festivals were accompanied by competitions. For the younger performers each such occasion was interesting and prestigious. Then the Dodzh Festival was held alongside the DoDzh Union one for young musicians. Today’s festivals are mostly professional. Of course, money is the main problem. Each such project must be self-sufficient. If we could, we would invite big bands and hold competitions. As it is, we do not want to increase the price of the tickets.”
To help understand what jazz in Donetsk is all about, Lozovsky emphasizes its specifics, primarily musicians, such as Valerii Kolesnikov (bugle), Volodymyr Dieniezhny (bass guitar), Volodymyr Chaly (piano), and Viktor Dubilier, the first president of the local jazz club: “Together with Volodymyr Hurin, director of the Philharmonic Society, we are holding the fourth Jazz Forum. This year it will star Ray Brown, Jr., son of Ella Fitzgerald, the noted guitarist, Aleksei Kuznetsov, also musicians from Kyiv, Moscow, Donetsk, and other cities. Traditionally the festival will be opened by the jazz band of our Music Academy, directed by Mykhailo Martynenko. All big things start with small things. There was a jazzman by the name of Petrukhin in Dzerzhynsk, but the local authorities had no need for him, so he moved to Moscow. Today he performs during presidential meetings. Another example is Vladimir Begunov. He had an excellent children’s jazz band, but then left for Israel, so we have a problem.”
Faierman also says there is a problem, that this problem is financial as well as creative: “A jazz department opened at the music college in 1985 and every concert gathered a full audience. At present, the variety chair enrolls some 100 students majoring in the trumpet, trombone, saxophone, piano, bass guitar, drums, and singing. Many of them already perform with jazz bands and take part in festivals.”
Jazz singer Valentyna STRELINA, Academy graduate, currently professor and musician, says self-realization and development are very important factors, that jam sessions were very helpful.
Lozovsky: “Jazz audiences in Donetsk are made up of markedly varying individuals; there are many physicians and young people. Jazz music takes a trained listener; it has many genres, but if you like improvisation, you will always love jazz. The same applies to classical music. Not all can listen to Stravinsky or Mahler. Most listen to Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Beethoven, and Verdi.” In his opinion, what Donetsk lacks is jazz culture: “Jazz is not mass culture but one of the elite. You can visit a cafe in Europe and listen to a good jazz band and singer, whereas in Donetsk you will have a hard time finding such a cafe.” A number of researchers have written about the problem of jazz dominance. Zoriana Ros wrote that this is a major problem in the Ukrainian jazz tradition. Donetsk would be the right place to solve it. Everything depends on the performers. There was a joke in Donetsk that if the local businessmen were interested in culture rather than soccer, the local theater or the Philharmonic Society would have won international acclaim instead of the soccer club Shakhtar. Probably, considering that every individual has his/her ideas, so the more this individual believes in them, the stronger these ideas become.