Diplomatic Don: Kurt Elling Crosses Borders In St. Petersburg

Being an American jazz singer in St. Petersburg is a full-time job, with diplomatic requirements. Kurt Elling (above) has barely touched down before President Putin asks to meet. A four-hour wait later, Chicago hip royalty is introduced to Russia's pseudo-democratic Tsar for three minutes. Ambassador Satch was the name of a Louis Armstrong European live album, back when this was the Soviet Union and jazz was banned, and Elling knows some things have to be done.

St. Petersburg was announced as UNESCO's prestigious International Jazz Day location in 2018, just before delegates arrive for the nation's first jazz conference, Jazz Across Borders. Elling headlines the latter's gala concert with Igor Butman's Moscow Jazz Orchestra (pictured below), in the State Academic Chapel's gilt-edged Great Hall. Once a more radical saxophonist, Butman is now a music business lynchpin and beloved entertainer, not least as the showman leader of his Orchestra's slick swing machine. He's joined by lauded American pianist/arranger John Beasley and Canadian saxophonist Kent Sangster, before Elling arrives in wide-lapelled, gangster pinstripe. Though his voice at first sounds stretched fronting the big band roar, he luxuriates in Billie Holiday's 'More Than You Know', toying with it like a verbally voracious connoisseur, and relishes punching its booming climax home. Earlier, Butman's young, blind pianist-singer protégé Oleg Akkuratov masters the elaborate, breakneck bop machinery of 'Memories of Charlie Parker', and Alina Rostotskaya sings Russian and Sephardic folk, veering between near-Arabic and operatic styles.

Kurt-Igor-live

Days are spent in improbably stifling rooms elsewhere in the Chapel complex's corridors. The drama of revolutionary Russia's brief embrace of jazz is sighed over on one panel, while Elling workshops good young local singers, hoping for the influence of "different songs that your grandmother sang to you... that should be in the sound of St. Petersburg". Local accents and jazz's fabled sound of surprise are, though, in short supply during a dozen showcases. Armenia's Van Quartet do provide gently pleading, Near East melancholy. Russian classical tradition then becomes a sort of blues for the LRK Trio, whose orderly, conceptual approach also splices techno shuffles to polka folk. Evgeniy Pobozhiy's Quartet have hurtling fusion dexterity, but it's pianist Julia Perminova who adds their jagged edge.

Faces repeat across gigs, suggesting a limited, Butman-approved mainstream talent pool. Perminova is related to Butman, but long before I know that, her engaged resourcefulness stands out in one of the nightly jams where showcase sterility loosens, and real Russian steam builds. There's a Miles-like mural in the riverside window of the White Night club where she's playing, and Elling is called up for more scat detente. The next night, sitting at the back of the JFC club, I focus on the unseen, softly accepting melancholy of Vladimir Galaktionov's trumpet, from a cramped, downstairs stage where young women swing each other round in Saturday night abandon. That's where barriers are broken, and jazz really spoken. There, and in conversations with two equally thoughtful Russians with opposite views on Putin, and Stalin, and with banned Jehovah's Witnesses who give me directions in the culture-heavy streets near the Hermitage. In St. Petersburg, as elsewhere, international jazz has an expansive embrace.

– Nick Hasted

– Photos by Daniil Jerdev

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website

If you do not change browser settings, you consent to continue. Learn more

I understand

Breaking News

Pat Metheny to be honoured with PRS for Music Gold Award and Esperanza Spalding to appear at Jazz FM Awards

Pat Metheny to be honoured with PRS for …

Revered US guitarist Pat Metheny (pictured) has been confirmed as...

Read More.....
Schneider Supreme Among Savannah Fest's Legacy-Leaning Showcases

Schneider Supreme Among Savannah Fest's …

The middle period of the Savannah Music Festival featured most of...

Read More.....
Dr Lonnie Remedies Ronnie's With Waves Of His Magic Wand

Dr Lonnie Remedies Ronnie's With Waves O…

Improvising musicians have been at the forefront of technology for...

Read More.....
Lucia Cadotsch and Kyle Eastwood among the corking capers at Cully Jazz

Lucia Cadotsch and Kyle Eastwood among t…

  "There will never be peace until God is seated at...

Read More.....
Shake Stew release video ahead of new album Rise And Rise Again featuring Shabaka Hutchings

Shake Stew release video ahead of new al…

Seven-piece Austrian newcomers Shake Stew are set to release their...

Read More.....
Rising star trumpeter Keyon Harrold powerful and political at The Jazz Café

Rising star trumpeter Keyon Harrold powe…

It seems like every time I pick up a great...

Read More.....
Jean Toussaint gets arty with Blakey

Jean Toussaint gets arty with Blakey

Renowned expat US saxophonist Jean Toussaint makes an emphatic return...

Read More.....
Beast Is Back: Return Of The Sloth Racket

Beast Is Back: Return Of The Sloth Racke…

  UK improvising quintet Sloth Racket – led by baritone saxophonist...

Read More.....
Dame Cleo Laine and George Benson to receive special honours at Jazz FM Awards

Dame Cleo Laine and George Benson to rec…

With this year's edition of the Jazz FM Awards set...

Read More.....
Kamasi Washington gets epic again with Heaven & Earth double album and world tour

Kamasi Washington gets epic again with H…

Los Angeles sax star Kamasi Washington is set to return...

Read More.....
Nubya Garcia, Ivo Neame Quartet and Ariwo head to Jazz Stroud Festival

Nubya Garcia, Ivo Neame Quartet and Ariw…

The third edition of the Jazz Stroud Festival takes place...

Read More.....
Cecil Taylor 1929 - 2018

Cecil Taylor 1929 - 2018

With the passing of Cecil Taylor it could be argued...

Read More.....
Pharoah Sanders, Chris Dave’s Drumhedz and Lalah Hathaway added to Love Supreme

Pharoah Sanders, Chris Dave’s Drumhedz a…

The heavyweight jazz quotient at this year's Love Supreme Jazz...

Read More.....
Drummer Andrew Bain takes Embodied Hope on tour

Drummer Andrew Bain takes Embodied Hope …

Emerging Scottish drum talent Andrew Bain hits the road with...

Read More.....
Timeless New York Tribute As All-Star Line-Up Gathers In Celebration Of John Abercrombie

Timeless New York Tribute As All-Star Li…

  ECM Records chose experimental arts venue Roulette, in Brooklyn, to host...

Read More.....
Darius Brubeck for Studio Jazz Thursdays at the Other Palace

Darius Brubeck for Studio Jazz Thursdays…

The new monthly concert series, Studio Jazz Thursdays, continues its...

Read More.....
Snowpoet's Folkish Flurries Send Experimentation Into Deep Freeze At Bristol Jazz & Blues

Snowpoet's Folkish Flurries Send Experim…

On the last day of Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival...

Read More.....
J to Z replaces Jazz Line as BBC Radio 3 refreshes weekend programming 

J to Z replaces Jazz Line as BBC Radio 3…

A new weekly jazz show, J to Z, is to...

Read More.....
Jazz Em Agosto Hits 35 With Special John Zorn Edition

Jazz Em Agosto Hits 35 With Special John…

Annual Lisbon jazz adventure, Jazz em Agosto, celebrates its 35th...

Read More.....
Harpist Alina Bzhezhinska evokes the spirit of John and Alice Coltrane on tour

Harpist Alina Bzhezhinska evokes the spi…

Harpist Alina Bzhezhinska was one of the stars of last...

Read More.....
Orphy Robinson’s Astral Weeks, Youn Sun Nah, Myra Melford and BBC Young Jazz Musician for EFG London Jazz Fest

Orphy Robinson’s Astral Weeks, Youn Sun …

This year's EFG London Jazz Festival, which runs from 16...

Read More.....
All-Star Miles Electric Band powers-up 15th PDX Jazz Fest

All-Star Miles Electric Band powers-up 1…

The last weekend of the 15th Portland Jazz Festival was...

Read More.....
Southampton’s Turner Sims receives funding boost for jazz in southern England

Southampton’s Turner Sims receives fundi…

Concert venue Turner Sims Southampton, which is part of the...

Read More.....
Evan Parker, Peter Evans and Sam Pluta rocket to the stratosphere at The Vortex

Evan Parker, Peter Evans and Sam Pluta r…

Returning to the place of their 2012 debut performance and...

Read More.....
Phil Meadows Project trip-hops for UK dates

Phil Meadows Project trip-hops for UK da…

Multi-award winning saxophonist and composer Phil Meadows hits the road...

Read More.....
Harpist Esther Swift awarded Irwin Mitchell commission for Manchester Jazz Festival 2018

Harpist Esther Swift awarded Irwin Mitch…

The Manchester Jazz Festival (mjf) returns this year from 20...

Read More.....
Van Morrison teams up with Hammond hero Joey DeFrancesco on new album You’re Driving Me Crazy

Van Morrison teams up with Hammond hero …

Iconic Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison makes a dramatic return with...

Read More.....
Zara McFarlane's Jazz-Funk Jousts Bite Deep Into The Frost At Brighton's Komedia

Zara McFarlane's Jazz-Funk Jousts Bite D…

The night outside may be freezing, but there's already a...

Read More.....
Wynton Marsalis' JLCO Red Hot & Retro At The Barbican

Wynton Marsalis' JLCO Red Hot & Retr…

The 1938 Carnegie Hall concert that brought together Benny Goodman's...

Read More.....
Thundercat, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garcia among Jazz FM Awards nominees

Thundercat, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Shab…

The nominees for the fifth edition of the Jazz FM...

Read More.....
Stańko's Horn Hymnals Hamstrung By Candy-Coated Symphonics At NFM, Wrocław

Stańko's Horn Hymnals Hamstrung By Candy…

A grand occasion for a towering figure in Polish music...

Read More.....
Elaine Mitchener Delivers Dramas Of Defiance At St. George's, London

Elaine Mitchener Delivers Dramas Of Defi…

This Hawksmoor church in Bloomsbury is by no means familiar...

Read More.....
Peter Lemer Quintet revive Local Colour at Pizza Express

Peter Lemer Quintet revive Local Colour …

When composer and pianist Peter Lemer recorded Local Colour in...

Read More.....
Dave Holland and Evan Parker line-up for Vortex Fundraiser ahead of new album

Dave Holland and Evan Parker line-up for…

Two of British jazz's biggest names – former Miles Davis...

Read More.....
Get The Blessing’s ‘Bristopolis’, Dame Evelyn Glennie and Pee Wee Ellis for Bristol Jazz & Blues Fest

Get The Blessing’s ‘Bristopolis’, Dame E…

The programme for the sixth edition of the Bristol Jazz...

Read More.....
Courtney Pine, Zara McFarlane and Evan Parker added to full Cheltenham Jazz Fest line-up

Courtney Pine, Zara McFarlane and Evan P…

The full programme has been revealed for this year's edition...

Read More.....


Subcribe To Jazzwise

Advertisement

Call 0800 137201 to subscribe or click here to email the subscriptions team

Get in touch

Jazzwise Magazine,
St. Judes Church,
Dulwich Road, 
Herne Hill,
London, SE24 0PD.

0208 677 0012

Latest Tweets

Coming weekend I wanna just sit in a hammock and read Chester Himes, Percival Everett, Tyehimba Jess and Ishmael Re… https://t.co/kDU3twfTw2
Follow Us - @Jazzwise
Pat Metheny to be honoured with PRS for Music Gold Award and Esperanza Spalding to appear at Jazz FM Awards… https://t.co/DtzcGYxoeU
Follow Us - @Jazzwise

Newsletter

Sign up to the Jazzwise monthly E-Newsletter

 

© 2016 MA Business & Leisure Ltd registered in England and Wales number 02923699 Registered office: Jesses Farm, Snow Hill, Dinton, Salisbury, SP3 5HN . Designed By SE24 MEDIA