The Moscow Jazz Scene
22 July, 2017
When you think of jazz maybe a smoke-filled Harlem basement or a raucous New Orleans music hall comes to mind. The wintery streets of Moscow probably don’t. But Russia has a fascinating, nearly century old relationship with jazz.
A brief history of Russian jazz
Jazz was imported into Russia by Valentin Parnakh, a Russian émigré, who helped popularise the music among the intelligentsia. The first concert was held in 1922 in Moscow with the first American jazz band playing in the city four years later.
However, when Stalin came to power increasing pressure was placed on the cosmopolitan influences. Jazz was seen as bourgeois and potentially subversive music. Jazz musicians were marginalised and fled the country in increasing numbers.
But Khrushchev’s cultural thaw in the 1960s created a more fertile environment for Russian musicians eager to experiment with more exotic sounds. The ‘free’ jazz sound began to develop in Russia. This was avant-garde and experimental music which survived only in underground circles in the USSR. In 1984 Sergey Kuriokhin created a show called Pop-Mechanika which combined jazz, rock and performance art in a delirious blend that fascinated Russia’s starved cultural elite.
Where to go in Moscow for jazz!
The Dom (Дом) club near Novokuznetskaya metro is one of the best venues in Moscow for jazz, ethnic or experimental music. Performers have even included a throat singer from the Tuva province! The Moscow Composers Orchestra is an innovative jazz group that regularly perform there and adds to the scruffy, underground vibe of the place.
If you’re looking for something a bit more upmarket then Esse (Эссе) would be a good option. Located in Zamoskvorechye it is one of the most famous jazz clubs in the city. It is perfect to sit with a glass of wine and dinner and enjoy some soothing music.
Other clubs include the Union of Composers and the Forte Music Club. But perhaps my favorite is the Igor Butman Jazz club which is the successor to the notoriously lavish Le Club. Playing a great array of jazz, blues and funk it is probably has the highestquality of musicians in the city. Past performers have included Ravy Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Bill Evans. With a chic interior it is perfect for decadent weekend visit.
This post was brought to you by Tom, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz, Moscow.