What isSovietJazz

Before speaking about Soviet jazz, just a few words about jazz in general. Jazz is a specific musical trend, that originated in the late 19th c. in South American state of New Orlean and spread in a wide range of forms both in America and Europe. The two basic characteristic features of jazz are the particular conception of rhythm (so called swing), and improvisation. Jazz had underwent different development phases within the time of its existence, of which two are of interest for us: traditional jazz (1895 - 1935) and swing (1935 - 1946). Their main difference was in the enlargement of the jazz collective' personnel and the growing role of arranging in swing music in comparison with the improvisation's prevalence in traditional jazz.

Jazz appeared in Russia first time in 1922, its rise being connected with the name of Valentin Parnach [1], but the earliest jazz (or "jazz-like") records date back only to 1926 [2, p.63], as the major part of such bands in the twenties were never invited to make a disc. Analysing the remaining ones, we can note a considerable resemblance with contemporary American and German dance music examples, but some attempts to create the own jazz works were not rare, too. So in the late thirties more than one third of jazz recordings in the Soviet Union were the products of home authors.

Jazz in the USSR was mostly an independently developing phenomenon, as certain difficulties in contacts with Western and especially American jazzmen existed, so Soviet musicians had to learn after gramophone records. The other important trait of the Soviet jazz originality was its synthesis with theatre and song, prepared by the whole course of the Russian light music school development, where vaudeville and vocal art played the main roles. Only few bands (like Alexander Varlamov's septet) moved aside from the dominating tendence, playing pure jazz music.

As in many other lands, the opinions about jazz in USSR were often polar. The "Proletar writer" Maxim Gorky stigmatized it in the article "About the Music of the Fats" published in 1928 at the "Pravda" [3] newspaper pages, and that critical dirt poured out over the heads of jazz players by the Russian Association of the Proletar Musicians (RAPM) cannot be counted at all. However, jazz in Soviet Russia didn't break down and survived.

Soviet jazz of the 1930 - 1940s is a unique musical phenomenon that flourished in conditions of cultural isolation and showed the whole world that the art of jazz is really ubiqutous and that Russian musicians can play at highest world standards. In 1944 Benny Goodman, one of the most famous American jazz-band leaders, together with his collective played the "Intermezzo" presented to him by A.Tsfasman. This example showes the worldwide recognition of the Soviet jazz at its best.

Literary sources

1. Parnach V.Ya. Jazz-band. - "Vesch" (Berlin), 1922, N 1-2.
2. Skorokhodov G.A. The Stars of the Soviet Variety. - Moscow,  "Sovetsky kompositor", 1986.
3. Gorky M. About the Music of the Fats. - "Pravda", April 18, 1928.


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