1. How does a Russian musician come to be interested in jazz which is quite a rare (but definitely no bad) thing? When you were growing up in Russia who were your formative musical influences (jazz and otherwise i.e. classical, perhaps. Rostropovich?)?
I wouldn’t say it’s rare as there were people who admired and played jazz even in Soviet Union, and since it’s all gone more than 20 years ago the scene has grown enormously. Many young musicians went to study to the States and Europe, the jazz records became available in Russia, jazz musicians from abroad started to perform there on a regular basis and so forth. There’re many young Russian jazz musicians residing in New York right now and you surely heard of such names as Alex Sipiagin and Boris Kozlov who are on the top of the game in the Big Apple.
When I was growing up I was trained as a classical pianist for 6 years and beside my parents were both professional musicians so I was naturally exposed to Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and many other great composers. I was a huge admirer of The Beatles when I was at school I must admit. I can still sing any of their songs if you just call it by name. As I approached my mid-late teens, just when I was able to check out things by myself I went to listen to loads of classical music at the Moscow Conservatoire Concert Hall, symphonic music mostly.
2. More generally, which jazz musicians inspired you to become a professional musician and have influenced your vision of jazz music?
I started to listen to jazz music when I was 16 and my first records were Miles Davis ‘Star People’ and John Scofield ‘Hand Jive’ as a matter of fact. The other early listening experiences I can recall were Miles’s ‘Bags’ Groove’ and Cannonball and Trane ‘Quintet In Chicago’ featuring Paul Chambers on bass. That was the point where I realized I wanted more of that stuff. It completely grabbed me. I wanted to explore this music and to find out how these guys could play like that with such an energy and soul. Most important I wanted to learn how to play this music. As every bass player in the world I went through a love affair with Jaco Pastorius and I still love what he’s done for all of us. I discovered Charles Mingus’ records at that stage. He inspired me a lot as a composer. You know, when you listen to Mingus’ music and you don’t have much of the experience behind it may sound crazy with all those eccentric arrangements and double time features. I think that taught me to stay opened to experiments and never be afraid of trying uncommon things when composing or improvising. Later, I was also massively influenced by the music of Dave Holland. I still follow his career. Apart from being a genius composer and bassist Dave is one of the few people in the world who managed to keep a large ensemble playing contemporary jazz music on the road on a regular basis over the past many years. Wayne Shorter is my other major influence. Apart from his current phenomenal quartet Wayne significantly contributed to the other 3 greatest jazz bands of all times: Jazz Messengers, Miles’ Quintet and Weather Report.
3. Tell us about how the debut album took shape (how you came to choose the musicians you did) and what you were hoping to achieve. Why form a nonet and what are the advantages/disadvantages of such a formation?
When making an album you have to make sure you’re ready for that. I didn’t want an album just for the sake of it, sort of another jazz record on the market and all that. I wanted it to be my own thing that had my personal voice. I always liked the idea of having a 9 – piece band. With this particular line-up you can explore such a variety of different music concepts from just a jazz trio kind of sound to a big band. You know, with 6 horns plus instrument doublings you can make it sounding like a big orchestra if you use clever approaches to instrumentation, composition shape and forms. In terms of musicians in my band, well, I went to the Royal Academy with many of them at the same time and I knew they were amazing players and people to work with, what kind of music they were after and what other music projects they were involved in. And as we obviously work on the jazz scene we know each other anyway, so I should say that people like John Turville, Steve Fishwick and Tamar Osborn are always a great fun to deal with from both musical and personal point.
4. What do you like about being a jazz musician specifically in London and how do you view the jazz scene in the city at present?
London and the UK overall have a great and diverse jazz scene despite being a relatively small country. I mean there’s so much of different music happening around and there’re so many creative people out there. Jazz scene around the world needs ventures and hard work and this is the responsibility of promoters, local authorities as well as musicians. Nothing is more important than a promoter who does the job, takes risks and books great interesting acts. Nothing is more important than a support from the local arts funding and we really appreciate that our current tour is supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. Nothing is more important than musicians who aren’t afraid to strive through in the tough economical climate to keep the great art of jazz music developing.
5. What future projects do you have in mind and would you like to collaborate at some stage with jazz musicians in the United States?
Right now I’m planning our next tour and I’m going to stick with this project for a while. First, because I enjoy writing and playing with this band, second, because the large jazz ensemble field needs developing. It’s rare when a contemporary jazz orchestra functions on a regular basis these days and as a consequence there aren’t enough of that music performed especially away from the big cities like London. Third, because there are many other people who enjoy my music and encourage me to carry on in this fashion. Working with the US musicians would be great as well as musicians from any other part of the world who are innovative and original. Not necessarily jazz musicians, I keep my mind open to any creative collaborations.
6. What five albums would you listen to on a desert island?
Oh, it’s hard to choose even if you’ve asked for twenty, but let me try:
Charles Mingus ‘Ah Um’
Michael Brecker ‘Wide Angles’
Dave Holland ‘Overtime’
Dave Binney & Edward Simon ‘Afinidad’
SFJazz Collective ‘Live 2010: 7th Annual Concert Tour’