Jazz Encounters of the Russian Kind

Pianist Yakov Okun and his band on stage.

Usually, when people talk about jazz, they associate it with the USA. This is not surprising as jazz originated from the black communities of South America and most of the jazz greats that we know of today also hailed from the USA.

I’m therefore quite surprised to know of a Russian jazz band who gave a performance in Singapore last Thursday at the School of the Arts (SOTA). Led by pianist Yakov Okun, it comprises of bassist Makar Novikov, saxophonist/flautist Sergey Golovnya, drummer Alexander Mashin and singer Anna Buturlina.

The first half of the concert consists of Okun’s own composition titled “Spillikins” as well as his arrangements of Sonny Rollin’s “Plain Jane” and “Pent-up Chaos”, the last title being derived by Rollin’s original title “Pent-up House”. Okun and his band delivered an virtuosic performance to the delight of the audience.

Yakov Okun at the piano.
Yakov Okun at the piano and bassist Makar Novikov on the double-bass.

In the second half, the band played a block of 3 songs from old Soviet movies written by prominent Soviet composers –  “Old maple” by Alexandra Pakhmutova, “Tishina Za Rogozskoi Zastavoju by Yuriy Birukov and ”Kind bug song” – by Antonio Spadavekkia.

Finally, Okun introduces to the stage singer Anna Buturlina, and together they performed pieces by American jazz composers who had Russian roots, including George Gershwin, who was born to a Ukrainian father and a Russian mother. Being more in-tune with American jazz music, the pieces performed here were more familiar to me, and they included “April in Paris” by Vernan Duke,glasses “All alone” – by Irving Berlin and Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” and “They can’t take that away from me” .

It was really quite an experience to be able to listen to them play something that’s a bit more off the beaten track and I enjoyed myself in the concert pretty much.  It’s a pity that Okun and his band were here only for a night.

Makar Novikov playing the double-bass.
Sergey Golvnya on the saxophone and Makar Novikov on the double-bass.
Saxophonist Sergey Golvnya waits for his turn to play as drummer Alexander Mashin wields his sticks.
Singer Anna Buturlina sings with the band.
Curtain call – The musicians take a bow at the end of the concert.

At the end of the concert, we talked a bit with the musicians and we were pleasantly surprised to find that the drummer, Alexander Mashin is also an avid photographer, shooting B&W film on Contax and Lomo cameras and self-developing his film! Do check out his photographic works on his web site.

Many thanks to Yelyn and Belinda for letting me have the opportunity to shoot and attend the concert.


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