Zhenya Strigalev

“It’s always an honour and responsibility to take to the Ronnie Scott’s stage and present high-quality music…And also I participate in regular Ronnie Scott’s jam sessions in the evenings, so I suppose I’m a kind of regular now.” – Zhenya Strigalev


Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Michael J Edwards: Greetings Zhenya Strigalev, I was going to say welcome to London, but you’ve been residing here for quite some time. Firstly let me congratulate you on the 6th album release of your short career; the splendid and challenging ‘Robin Goodie’. The obvious questions to get out-of-the-way are why the title ‘Robin Goodie’? And why name the band name ‘Smiling Organism’?

Zhenya Strigalev: First of all there is no straight answer, but I will try to give a not straight answer. ‘Robin Goodie’ is the title of the tune and it is also the title of the album, but originally it was the title of the tune. The album is dedicated to the tune i suppose. When I was writing it and I had nearly finished the draft of the tune, ‘Robin Goodie’ somehow appeared. It rhymed with boogie-woogie and had a rock ‘n’ roll vibe to it as well. And the name just evolved from there. There’s no connection to Robin Hood, but it did come about because I was in England that’s for sure.

Smiling Organism is also a quite spontaneous combination of words. Why ‘Smiling…?’ Because I like to add a little bit of humour; some artists take themselves too seriously. I’m just doing my thing and trying to enjoy it and hopefully other people will enjoy it. ‘Organism’ is because the line-up of the band changes quite often, some people actually can’t do the gig because they’re booked up, or I decide to add someone different to the project to see how the “organism” would be. It’s an ever-changing dynamic/organism. Also when I was in the mood I wrote a short story entitled ‘Smiling Organism’ which you can find inside the sleeve notes of ‘Smiling Organism Volume 1’, so you can get more of an insight into the title.

Michael J Edwards: Since graduating in 2007 from the Royal Academy of Music in London you seem to be rapidly carving out a niche for yourself with your creative mix of Funk tinge Jazz, Bebop and Free Improvisation. Was that a conscious decision on your part or did it just manifests organically?

Zhenya Strigalev: I suppose it was organically as well as consciously, because I enjoy playing bebop, I also enjoy listening to funk musicians a lot. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Free Jazz recordings, and I like that too. So that’s how it happens, I love all these different styles and I just want to play it also. But obviously it has taken a lot of practice to become competent in all the different styles that I love.


Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Michael J Edwards: The album has an urgency and intensity about it, yet an underlying playfulness. Is that representative of your personality?

Zhenya Strigalev: Of course, yes! Partly it’s a reflection of my personality, but also it’s about colours. It’s like balancing colours; first you go a little bit intense, then a bit less. Then you go off in different directions with varying degrees of energy.

Michael J Edwards: All the tracks have their own individuality, but one thing that really grabbed me on first listen was the incessant groove of ‘Sharp Night’, which features some dynamic sax playing. It seems that you’re musically doffing your hat to some of your influences such as Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins and Johnny Hodges?

Zhenya Strigalev: That’s true! ‘Sharp Night’ is not quite a dedication, but I am expressing my love of Bebop as well as Swing. And if you listen closely you can hear the bass guitar experimenting with some funny noises.

Michael J Edwards: Where and over what period of time was the album recorded?

Zhenya Strigalev: It was recorded towards the end of December 2013, right before the New Year. I was actually flying from New York back to London on New Year’s Eve; I met the New Year on the plane. And the album was recorded in New Jersey, not far from New York in Tedesco Studios – it’s run by Tom Tedesco who’s a sound engineer.

Michael J Edwards: Can you give us some background as to some of the track titles such as ‘Lorton’, ‘Rendutu’ and ‘Kuku’?

Zhenya Strigalev: They’re kind of like emotional titles. You’re finished or in the middle of writing and practising a tune, then some combination of letters come into your head randomly. With ‘Lorton’, I also have a similar tune on the first album called ‘Sarma’; somehow this combination of words just came into my mind. It’s like the music made this combination of words in my head. This was the same for ‘Rendutu’ and for ‘Kuku’.

Michael J Edwards: The line-up of the musicians you are playing with here tonight are slightly different to those on the original recording of ‘Robin Goodie’, most notably Alex Sipiagin on trumpet; a most worthy replacement for the accomplished Ambrose Akinmusire. Can you give me a brief synopsis about these two gifted musicians and qualities they bring to your music within the studio and live arena?


Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Zhenya Strigalev: First of all they’re very different. For me it’s a little bit difficult to deeply characterise them as to whether this person is good in this or this person is good in that. I know that for example that some tunes are a better fit for Ambrose, and some tunes are better fit with Alex. I like them both of course, because that’s why I’m playing with them both. I suppose with Alex I have a slightly closer bond as he’s also from Russia, so we speak in Russian. But with Ambrose during the recording there was a very nice energy also. He was very supportive, he liked the tunes, and tried to bring as much as he could. I equally enjoy playing with them both.

Michael J Edwards: Staying with the musicians, can you expand a little more on the other musicians with you tonight; starting with Eric Harland on drums who I believe is also the original recording?

Zhenya Strigalev: Yes, Eric was also on the original recording, ‘Smiling Organism’. The first time I met Eric was in London, he was playing with a pianist in Charlie Wrights, when I was al involved in a program at Charlie Wrights. We had a nice little chats and obviously I like his playing a lot. Then we met again in New York, and he was very friendly and supportive. So when I asked him can you do the recording, he was like, “Yeah, of course!” And for my style of music he’s obviously very good because sometimes I need to play straight swing, followed by some grooves, and he can do all those things straight away. With regards to Lindley Marthe (bass), it was the same thing; I met him at Charlie Wrights. He came there with a French drummer, we had a very nice evening and we hung out together. I have always wanted to play with him. And then when I was organising a tour, the bass player couldn’t do it and luckily Lindley was available, so that’s how it happened.

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

With Liam Noble, he’s based here and we know each other quite well. He’s one of my favourite piano players, he can play Free (Improv), he can do Swing, and is very musical, so that is very good. He’s very open-minded. And with Matt Penman (double bass), I also met him in London, and he played in a trio with me last year, and I loved his playing.

Michael J Edwards: Since putting down roots here in the UK, you’ve become the go-to guy for a plethora of respected international musicians from Europe and America, such as Victor Bailey, Robert Glasper and Al Hoenig; inviting them over to jam with you at your main jamming residency, Charlie Wrights in North London. Does fill you with pleasure and also a sense of responsibility?

Zhenya Strigalev: My residency at Charlie Wrights finished about four years ago, but at that time there were no jams at Ronnie’s, there were no late-night jams at all apart from Uncle Sam’s in East London, which was a great venue, so I wanted to get something going. And also at that time I had connections with a few international Jazz musicians, and when I heard that are passing through Europe or London, I would invite them to come and Jam with me. So that’s how it came about.


Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Michael J Edwards: Have you played at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club on many occasions previously and is it an honour for you to stand on the stage where saxophone Colossus Sonny Rollins put down many stellar saxophones solos?

Zhenya Strigalev: It’s always an honour and responsibility to take to the Ronnie Scott’s stage and present high-quality music. I have played a few gigs here now; in January 2014 I played with Ambrose Akinmusire. And also I participate in regular Ronnie Scott’s jam sessions in the evenings, so I suppose I’m a kind of regular now.

Michael J Edwards: Who or what inspired you to choose the Alto saxophone as your primary horn?


Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Zhenya Strigalev: That was my idea I had played soprano and tenor for a little while, and I also got some advice from my parents.

Michael J Edwards: Once you gained your scholarship to London’s at Royal Academy of music you also gained access to some prominent and heavyweight figures within the Jazz fraternity such as Dave Holland, Lee Konitz and ex-Jazz Messenger Jean Toussaint to name a few. In what ways did they impact upon your playing style in your musical knowledge in general?

Zhenya Strigalev: You mentioned Dave Holland, with whom I just did workshops. With John Toussaint, his lessons were very helpful because he highlighted some stuff I didn’t know; things about rhythm and a bit about scales, also a bit about transcribing. I was already transcribing a lot, but there were some things that I wasn’t doing. So that was definitely very helpful. I had one lesson with Lee Konitz, I came to his hotel room. He said, “Yeah, it sounds great!” (Laughs) Another thing that is very important is it’s not only about just having a lesson, it’s nice to be close to and observe musicians of such a high level. It gives you an extra incentive to practice more.

Michael J Edwards: It is evident from the’ Robin Goodie’ album cover that you like outdoor pursuits. Please expand?


Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Zhenya Strigalev: Yes, I’ve liked fishing since my early childhood when I used to go out camping with my father. Would go fishing and also walk in the park. It was also definitely therapeutic. So that picture on the front cover is of me camping.

Michael J Edwards: What does your name actually translate to in English?

Zhenya Strigalev: Zhenya is equivalent to Eugene in English.

Michael J Edwards: What advice would you give to upcoming young musicians entering the Jazz music scene?

Zhenya Strigalev: Firstly try to figure out how much you actually like the music, that’s most important. Also to figure out what it means to you. Also be patient, prepare yourself to wait a long time, eventually you’ll be able to play something reasonable. I’m not talking about technique, but in terms of playing something more meaningful, it’s not going to be a quick process. Maybe there are some exceptions, but in general something will always be missing. So in order to become a fully rounded musician, you have to be patient to master those areas you’re not strong in.

Michael J Edwards: Obviously ‘Robin Goodie’ is the album your promoting this evening, but can we expect any tracks played from your previous album releases?


Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Zhenya Strigalev: Yeah, there will be tracks from the first album, and one new track called ‘Snail’. There will also be a couple of tracks from the first album (Smiling Organism Vol. 1)

Michael J Edwards: Thank you for your time Zhenya. Looking forward to a funked up, bebop’d and Jazz’d up evening.

Michael J Edwards

Essential Albums:
Smiling Organizm Vol. 1 (CD, 2013)
Robin Goodie (CD, 2015)

Essential Websites:

Astral Travelling Since 1993