Outside the technology, inside the music
Ansis Pavasaris on the Latvian Radio, Ivars Mazurs, «Jazz club» and suspense novels
One of the most mysterious people in the Latvian music industry, with the volume of information about him close to zero, sits in the Latvian Radio cabinet saying «bunnies» on its door, smokes at least a couple of cigarette packs per day, signs his emails with «Season» (his surname «Pavasaris» translates as «Spring» in Latvian) and is called the music editor. Ansis Pavasaris has played drums and clarinet together with many jazz legends, has been the music editor of the Latvian Radio for almost 30 years, and once undertook the radio show called «Jazz club» from Ivars Mazurs.
So I decided to talk to him about all of these things. At the beginning of our talk, I indeed have to mention that a side note «laughs» can be added to absolutely every reply of Ansis. All swear words, all nihilism, and all life stories have a sarcastic smile or heart-warm laughter in the background. It’s a pity that the text format doesn’t let me demonstrate it, but I really encourage the reader to try imagining that in between the lines.
Ansis, why «Season»?
This is nothing but a joke. At some point, Rozītis, Guntis Rozenbergs, has addressed me so when calling me. Is it Season speaking there? He said—this way. But, as far as you understand, it was long ago. He just came to visit us when he needed some song lyrics or anything.
Is he also a reason why your Radio room says «bunnies» on it?
Back then, my work mentor, Edvīns Melnalksnis, came to work and told us one joke about bunnies every day. At that time, the music editing department was bigger, together with the Radio «Klasika,» it wasn’t a separate one for each of the radio channels. When someone needed something music-wise, he said, «go find it at the bunnies.» Once, someone led a tour around the radio and said while passing by our room, «Well, the bunnies sit here.» Just like this.
Does spring seem like a special season for you, though?
Well, there’s no winter any more, in any case, it’s just one season. The «Season» is a heritage from my great grandfather — when a baron was setting his people free, these peasants only had names. He asked, «Well, what surname do you want?» And my ancestor replied, «I’m as naked as spring, so give me spring» (Pavasaris in Latvian). He was at the Līvas manor, by the way, it’s right here, near Riga.
And were you born in Riga yourself? There’s so little information about you on the internet.
I don’t like to be published anywhere. I’m not registered on any of the social networks, I don’t like it. It’s something completely different to talk to someone in person, instead of writing all the time. Here you go, that’s my armor [shows his old phone].
You cannot even listen to the radio on this one!
Why should I? Listening to anything? I haven’t switched on the radio at home for the last twenty years. I’m not listening to anything but the birds now and then. That same Edvīns Melnalksnis, when we came here, young boys, happy about the recordings we could get in the beginning of the nineties, Edvīns told us: «Boys, I’m so fed up with all this. Give me some peace» . So I’m fed up as well now. The last time I went to a concert was some twenty years ago. Some people go to Sweden to listen to Paul McCartney, but you could pay me anything, he could even come and play out of my very window — I say no. But you cannot publish it, though — he works on the radio, doesn’t listen to music, doesn’t go to gigs, what is he even doing? Better just to put him down.
And what are you even doing?
I read books at home. Wide eyeglass lenses for all my life. Any topic, especially criminal novels, of course. By the way, I like reading in Russian the most — first of all, you cannot get that much to read in Latvian, and these translations often are crap. I have bought myself an electronic book as well, because the majority of the books — well, would you even read them once more in your life?
Not, of course, but I like turning the physical pages myself.
And the smell of the publishing paint, well, of course. I’ve also signed up to some libraries, but there’s not much new to read. We take what we can. And the books cost so much nowadays — you can have plenty of drinks for that money. And you have nowhere to pile them. All the books, once you had to stand in a queue to get one, now you just throw them away when you move.
I’ve accidentally found one radio show about you. You were telling me you like doing some good things in life. What are these good things the world misses the most now?
Oh, damn. They haven’t deleted that show, bitches. No, this is absolute bullshit. There’s no better dish than the other man [laughs]. Don’t you believe me now, as well? Nobody does. I don’t know, it’s all lost now, in any case. You cannot trust anyone nowadays; everyone just tries to fool you around in any industry. Once lobsters were considered food for the poor, it’s only then they became exclusive. I have lived without a mobile phone for a long time until someone came to pick me up and said, «Either you have a mobile phone tomorrow morning, or we have another employee.» Because a person came to my village outside Riga to pick me up, and I was already on my way to Riga at the same time.
This sounds way behind modern technology. Do you feel freer this way?
Well, people just decide to be dependent. Does anyone put a gun to your temple — buy yourself a smartphone and register on Facebook? There once was somebody called Lavrinovitch, technical head of the Latvian Radio, and he did an experiment — he just put me on Facebook, made me a page on his own, bitch. In the end, he just had to delete it, because what’s the point? He didn’t give me a password so that I didn’t delete it on my own. People tried to contact me and were wondering why I didn’t answer. Well, the page was beautiful. But I don’t need it at all. Why should I? If I need to talk to anybody, I just press a button, and that’s it. This phone has a memory capable of recording 250 phone numbers: if I need to put any new one in, I have to think — whom should I erase? Maybe that one I haven’t talked to for a couple of years, so I don’t need him.
This is a solid line to life connections. And how did jazz come into your life?
Jazz? God forbid. I ran away even from a school choir. There was a note in my daily planner every day — please come back with your parents. Well, there was a children’s music school, briefly. My father was a huge jazz fan, and he was recording all radio shows of Ivars Mazurs into his tape recorder, saying: «See, that’s some real music.» But then I couldn’t even guess I could come and work on the radio myself, I was just a simple Soviet man: school, army, factory. That’s it.
And how did it turn out that way?
It’ll be thirty years soon since I got here. After the barricades, when everything was over, they could have employed me here. I haven’t been a member of the communist youth story. It was very strict with that at the time, you couldn’t have employed such people. But my friends invited me here — they saw one position was available. Come here, old buddy. I came to the radio from the Sculptor’s house where I worked with everything — hang up paintings, arrange exhibitions, sell a painting to a foreigner, and help with electricity.
So you didn’t end up at a factory?
But I did, right after the army, I began working at VEF (State Electrotechnical Factory). Some acquaintances have helped me with this one as well, and I was working at a photo laboratory with a conveyor belt. It was an odd photo laboratory of sorts — once if you know how all electronics were prepared, with a so-called pressed plate. Plates were drawn by a computing machine produced in England, bought for some enormous amount of money. I was sitting there to exchange the belts and did all I wanted in the remaining time. I had a special pass — at the VEF, they looked at you very strictly and were catching everyone who was violating the rules.
What place did music get in all this story?
I was doing some gigs. I was playing drums in the very beginning, began in a school band, and the last time I was drumming was some ten years ago in the Līvu square. The old Rezevskis was late after his other gig all the time, and he said: «Ansis, just play the first hour, please.» The children’s music school was the place I began playing clarinet at. If anyone had told me during my school years, that I’d earn a dime with my clarinet, I wouldn’t believe it — who even neededs a clarinet in 1979.
Was that your choice — telling about the music instead of playing it?
What does a choice even mean — you just do what you’re told. We (a whole bunch of people) we’re just doing what we nowadays can do by pressing a single computer button. Back then, there was the sound library, small tapes, one piece — one song. «Labrīt» (Good morning) radio show equaled twenty tapes — twenty songs. We worked in pairs, two operators, at the «Labrīt» show, because one person couldn’t change the music quickly enough. It was a circus.
Don’t you regret your life choices now?
God knows. Most probably, I should have studied when I was younger, but I never liked it. I’m fed up with music. We have played together with Rezevskis at «Lolo Pub» every single day for six years in a row. All Christmasses, New Years, five lats for the night. What are you doing there? They asked me, but where else would I have gone. Radio in the morning, gig until 1 a.m., last train to get home, back here in the morning. There were a lot of different people coming to «Lolo Pub» at that time. Some respectable audience. It was a must to play «Once in America» every single night.
And then it began: «Buddy, listen, you were playing the clarinet, we need someone to play at the Open-air museum at some fair.» Then a marching drum was substituted by a solid drum kit, then we got a bass, and it turned into the «Lauku Kapela» ensemble (Village chapel). And then our leader went away to Sweden to work. He was an engineer with brains — he had a choice to either promote the band or achieve something in life.
Did these things exclude one another?
Try to understand; there was not enough time to do both—no time for whining around with an accordion in your teeth. Well, we at least got to see some European countries and played compings for some dancing groups. And slowly, I forgot about the drums. The last gig I had was some week before the pandemics hit, but I don’t get to play much anymore. Once, it was lots of fun here, «Casablanca» right around the corner, eight days per week for many years in a row. Gints Žilinskis, all the others, depending on who was free that night. We have played at all the pubs in the old town. Somewhere in the middle, there was also Sigulda Dixieland, for eight years in a row. There we’ve played with Zigis Linde, who deals with the sheet music there, downstairs.
And how did the «Jazz club» radio show began?
Ivars Mazurs stopped doing the show around 2008, and the bosses said — you’re taking over. So you do what you’re told. Before that, the show «Dzīves ritmi mūzikā» (Life rhythms in music) already began. I filled the air with everything I could get my hands on — if a girl was singing last week, then a trumpet player might do for this one. Sometimes Briežkalns called me and said, «Listen, we’re having a concert here; we need to advertise that.» Alright, then I don’t need to think about what to do the show about. There were a lot of good festivals back then, and I have plenty to talk about. Now you can find everything on the internet, you don’t have to go anywhere.
Ivars Mazurs, who began the show, was facing difficulties with talking during his last years, his health wasn’t good anymore, he was at the hospitals all the time, and I got to go to him with a voice recorder (straight to the hospital) and ask him to record the text. And it didn’t sound like it anymore. And at some point, I had to go to his home and tell him, «Buddy, you’re off the show.» I needed to go and tell him that nobody needed him anymore. Just like that.
Why did a «Jazz club» radio show end back then?
Money. I was doing the «Life rhythms in music» on Saturdays there were life rhythms about foreigners, and on Sundays, Daiga Mazvērsīte from the Latvian Radio 2 was doing a show about the Latvians. Once she and a famous composer Gunārs Freidenfelds were planning to release an encyclopedia of Latvian music, but then Freidis retired from the Radio. Nevertheless, Daiga goes on, collects everything about the Latvian musicians, and writes books. And then the new bosses joined the party, and it appeared there’s no money for anything anymore, so I just keep on with the «Life rhythms,» and now that’s about the Latvians as well.
From time to time, you still talk about jazz within the show — Ivars Vīgners, «Bellacord Electro» …
Yeah, the main thing is to mention the Latvians from time to time. I am my own producer. I record myself, do the sound, air it.
Did you ever think about a real jazz club in your life?
There are some thoughts of that from time to time, yes. One jazz club, for example, opened some ten years ago in the old town; a foreigner Latvian lady opened that one. One evening we went there — me, Žils (Gints Žilinskis), Rezevskis -, but there was absolutely nobody else at the club that night. And then that club just closed down. And I don’t really go to listen to music myself. People were asking me to go and jam all the time — but that’s something you need to be regularly doing.
Are you satisfied with your life at the moment?
Well, yes. Not much time left until I retire, anyway. What does an old man need in any case — the sun is shining, the birds are singing. People call and ask, «Ansis, come down here.» And I don’t like going anywhere; I’m just a nerd; I love being home reading a book. Well, maybe hammer a nail or something. A man is lazy by his nature. Now everything has changed in any case — back then, you play a concert or a party, everyone sticks together to hang out. Now you just go, sing a couple of songs, jump into your fancy car, and are gone. Back then, people at least were communicating with one another; now, everything has changed completely.