Show us that jazz is what we need
New venue for music and art that was born in the middle of restrictions
It was the beginning of October when a new venue, «M/Darbnīca», opened its doors in the complex of K.K. fon Stricka villa. Gallery, fireplace, and vinyl on the ground floor, a small cozy stage and bar on the first one, and an owner who’s a fan of jazz, avant-garde, and electronics more than anything else. M as the first letter for M-usic and M-āksla (art in Latvian) is also the first letters of the name of Maija Moira Mazanova, who had co-founded the place — for just a little time slot before the second wave pandemic restrictions forbade us to gather again. Although Maija is full of determination, makes plans for the future, wants to create permanent values, and many times during our talk points out that we need to learn to adjust — that currently is the only way to survive the darker times and be ready to act as soon as it becomes possible again.
That place has to be creative. Full with collaborations of all sorts. It has to flow, it has to have some creative spirit — that’s a really important moment. I think I do well, and it’s just the beginning. I have a very precise plan, and it’s obvious where I’m going with it and why I’m doing it at all. In my opinion, it has only been the logical continuation of things — I’ve been active in the industry for quite some time, and throughout the years, I’ve realized that if I keep getting back to one thing all the time, it means it’s my thing, it really attracts me. At one point, I’ve concentrated all of my thoughts and decided to act — it was during the first wave of Covid-19. And look, during the second wave, I already have a club. And this is not a story about «I have a club» — it’s a story about «we have a venue». I had that feeling all the time that we’re a lot, but we don’t have anywhere to go — nor with our creativity, nor with our collaboration. Many good tryouts inspired me — «Hamlets», «Pashkevich Jazz Club», but they were missing something.
Although you don’t position this place as a jazz club yourself, even though many of the concerts that managed to happen here in October, only jazz was heard here.
Yes, because jazz is something I know best. But in the future, I want to put together many different things on different days. Poetry as well, music, video projections, even some amateurs in poetry and music. I like art, I like new projects that open up my scope, and I can show all of it through this place. I want us to be an echo, an amplifier.
Since a lot of jazz has been played here, jazz musicians had great expectations about the place. So I’m hearing them talking a lot — how do you feel about it?
It is in any relationship that someone has expectations. I’d say you have to throw them away and try to free your mind. Jazz is very dear to me because there’s a lot of improvisation in it. Yes, it is based on solid things and real knowledge, but it has such a free flight I love. And I know jazz will always play a meaningful role in my heart — but I’m not a person who can just say «yes» to only one thing for life. We need to create a new environment. I’m 36 years old now, and I call people of my generation «revulsion generation» — born in the Soviet Union, went through weird nineties, and now reached cultural Europe. Our generation does have things to tell.
And it also has the instruments through which to tell it.
Yes, there was no internet back then, nothing. You only got in music what your teacher gave you if you had a chance to get out — well, we know that story. We’re the first ones who are learning to process such an amount of information, use it, and not get lost in it. And create our own meanwhile. So we have to get together and create an entirely new wave. This is why this is a «M/Darbnīca» (Darbnīca means workshop in Latvian): the first floor is all about music while the ground floor is all about art exhibitions. At some point, I can imagine actors here, painters, poets, musicians, not only jazz ones. And I see how slowly, step by step, talks will appear.
We met in the summer of 2020 when you showed me the place at the stage of just being renovated. Do you think you’ve nailed it, realizing your initial plan?
To some extent, yes, but it’s a lot of space too much more. You see the walls being empty now. I’m searching for that creative team all the time. I can’t say I’m alone — I have two amazing men. One of them is Ivars Gansons, the one who began running this place six years ago. Then it was just called «Workshop». He got this place, built the floor and the ceiling, alone and together with people who believed in this. But six years is a huge period for one man. It’s way too difficult to establish something huge, being just alone. And then I met Uģis Maļinovskis, my partner and love, and we were talking, and it somehow all got clear — I got this venue, not in the best time. But you can always tell the time isn’t right. And we all believed in this. Ivars is the one who created it all physically, Uģis supported it and made it possible. We are a team. Sometimes we miss another lady — I’m a teamwork person. I have a vision, I have a clear plan, but when you push the whole train forward, you don’t have time for smaller details.
Did both other team members have any musical background or you just came in with your vision on music and jazz?
I came in with a solid vision. But music has been important in the lives of these people as well because you see, nobody whose life hasn’t ever included music couldn’t believe in an idea like that. And I came in with my experience, team, vibe. Vibe and jazz are my words. And the guys trusted me. When the first concerts happened, it wasn’t just light and sparks of joy in my eyes — I was looking at them, and they were inspired, open, and ready to do more. And I think the main task of a woman is to inspire men — then men become unstoppable.
High-class musicians attended our jam sessions because they felt this thing. And it’s a huge inspiration, and then you realize that sometimes you’re a catalyst for these meetings. It creates long-lasting values. I would like our generation to develop good, deep, long-lasting values in Latvian jazz music, improvisation music and open the doors wider — to all the people who want to improvise. If you come to a Wednesday jam and show what you’re worth at one point, and if you have a place to come and show it — it opens the doors for the young generation. And once everything opens again — Berlin, Saint Petersburg, Europe will come to us, and maybe someone will have a chance to play music with some world-known artists one Wednesday night. Right now, I’m sitting and dreaming about this. And if you dream about something and put all your energy in it, in one day, you’ll just wake up and think — hey, I’m right in that place I wanted to be.
Recently you’ve been telling Latvian Radio 3 about that positive energy that pushes you forward and inspires you. Right now, at the end of December 2020, restrictions make most of the things impossible — what inspires you and helps you to hold on now?
Just the same as many creative people, I keep going on and sometimes also fall. Sometimes emotions take over, and I shed a tear, sometimes I just enclose in my own headspace and live there. But every Monday, when I post playlists by musicians on social media and listen to them myself — it inspires me a lot. I’m feeling — okay, now it’s not for myself only. Each time I feel the feedback from people. When someone tells he wants to record something here — if I feel this need from society, musicians, listeners — this is the biggest inspiration. I’ve realized it long ago since I’ve gone through a lot in my life — if I have something for myself only, I cannot enjoy it fully. Happiness is real when shared, that nice word and that feeling of being helpful is what matters to me.
Of course, this time is challenging. It was only this morning when I woke up and cried for half an hour when eating breakfast. It isn’t anything terrible; it’s just emotions, deep and real. Let’s be honest — it is also a great inspiration, a great catalyst for doing things. This time makes you creative, search for new ways of existing at all. And how to exist in some comfort with yourself, stay adequate. Even if you’re working or being with your child from the morning till night, you have to find someplace for yourself — it’s necessary for your health and mental progress. At home, I have two kids, two cats, a man, and a household, I know how it feels like when you’re just running around. But we all need that creativity to stay honest to ourselves and emotionally, mentally healthy. You need to spare time for yourself. Sometimes I lose myself in all the daily routine, but every single time I get back and know there’s my power.
I know your other passion is photography. How did it begin?
Photography is another vital thing in my life. We’ve been going along with photography through all the years. When I was working in Shanghai, I took photos of some corporate events, openings, clubs, and New Year’s eve in 2009. When I returned to Latvia, I went to study at Andrejs Grants and fell in love with analog photography, black-and-white aesthetics. These are different niches. And imagine how cool it is — concerts are happening, I take some shots, a rehearsal or a recording is on. When Deniss Pashkevich recorded his vinyl with Edvīns Ozols and Artis Orubs, I shot two films, maybe they’ll use it for their album. But all of it gets documented, all of it stays. I like it that jazz musicians just ask me if I can take the pictures. And that documentation, in my opinion, if, necessary. I think that is a long-term value.
I cannot skip driving parallels with an analog audio recording. And photography overall, that goes along with music all the time.
Of course, these are the aesthetes. And I think I’m one, too. Of course, I can just listen to Spotify on a JBL speaker and really like Brad Mehldau or Miles. But when you hear it on vinyl and good speakers — you’re just there. My indicator is when I got shivers. That is that vibration that resonates in me. And that analog photography — it has some soul in it. It stays at that time, and you can’t look at it, you don’t know what it’ll look like. I really like doing double exposures when you pull back the shutter and shoe once more. But I don’t count the shots, and I don’t just return to the previous one — I shoot all the film up to the end and then pull back the shutter for a random amount of times and make another picture. Sometimes I even do it once more and shoot again. There have been the moments when I get such pictures — a three-dimensional depth with everything. And then I realize that is some creative energy, the muse that has been with me at that point.
I’ve always wanted to do things in my life that bring me joy. Because I’m actually just a simple girl from Maskačka (a very simple, quite poor district of Riga), with not too much education. I went through a music school which I hated — I just was sent there because it was near where I lived. When they excluded me from the music school, I told them I’m never going back there — and my piano was sold the very next day because I couldn’t even take a look at it. The music school really made me hate it all, just as, I believe, many others. But afterward, if you’re all in there, if your soul resonates, it’s excellent. And it all is about how you treat these things yourself, the things that are dear to you — music, photography, family. It depends on how much attention and time you dedicate to them so that they’ll develop, grow and keep existing. Everybody kept telling me that opening my own new place in the middle of Covid-19, when there are a hundred and one restrictions, and you simply cannot feel free, is a risk and madness. But people kept coming, and I still feel that it is needed — and it’s the most significant sign telling me it was necessary here.
I bet you’ve heard the word «madness» way too often. Does it stimulate you to keep going?
You know, I just do what I have to do. And the opinion of other people doesn’t change anything. If I would feel nobody needs it — you know, we could open a nail salon or a fancy poodle hair salon if we’d need it. But I see how many fantastic artists there are in Latvia, and the Latvians are overall very talented — taking that amount of people we overall are. One thing is school — all my respect to the schools — but you need that evening, you need that stage experience, when there’s someone older than you whom you’re scared of, you need that challenge as a musician, you can’t just grow like a vegetable. So there’s that evening, jazz, jam. Just as Tuomo Uusitalo told all his students at the Academy — they have to come to jams, they can’t just sit at home and play from the morning till night. It’s great art — join a jam where you have to listen to the others and at the same time stick to your own. And it isn’t always easy. And we teach it here. And I would like to emphasize it once again — I wouldn’t be able to do it on my own. I, as a woman, bring on all the elusive, while that matter, stage, electricity, ceiling everything according to the rules of our country — it’s a huge input and work. And that’s only possible in collaboration.
I think I’m doing something nice for future generations. Of course, when it’s evening — we have a club and alcohol here, but we also have fantastic audiences. I’m proud of it. Every single time we had a concert, many people came to me and gave me compliments — different people, the ones I could never have imagined could be our listeners. They came and told me it’s something they’ve missed. All the major clubs have also begun from scratch, and I believe such things can operate on enthusiasm and trust.
Do you have a future vision? A five-year plan?
Yes. I have a very approximate five-year plan. It probably wouldn’t be wise to tell you all of it now, but I’m definitely looking in the direction of one more jazz festival. I see a slightly different format, new mood, free and creative one. I want a jazz festival where everyone comes from all the places, and there are jams — we have a great quarter here with amazing neighbors, and I’m looking in the direction of friendship.
You make an impression that you’re greeting everyone here. Is there a place for literally everyone at «M/Darbnīca» or are there any guidelines they have to stick to?
If you’re coming with a cool, nice, cheerful, pleasant energy, in my opinion, it doesn’t matter what your performance is. I’m really subjective and, if a person comes to me or sends me his music, I instantly feel as if it goes along with us. I’ve been really strict and sharp until now: yes or no. And the last time has been — it seems interesting to me, surprise me. I’m as open as the «American Idol». It makes no sense inventing something I would refuse to accept right now. Earlier on, I thought I don’t like plaid shirts, but it appeared that it isn’t that important what shirt it is, it’s way more important who is it who wears it.
What’s your wish or call to the Latvian jazz music listeners?
To those who like jazz music, who love it and listen to it — please keep listening, especially these times, and support your own artists. Be there and support. This is the only way to move forward — supporting, sharing, informing, thinking of an added value, food for the soul educating. This is what we need the most, especially nowadays. I know the day will come when we will position Riga and Latvia quite high with this culture. But until that moment, we have to believe, support, show we need it. At the moment, it will all become possible again, everyone will be missing that live support. Listening to that, showing that to your foreign friends — take a look at what values we have here. Something we keep creating here is jazz and improvisational music of a European level. And we have to trust in ourselves so that we can keep moving forward. And right here, Latvian listeners will always take the first place. Because I know it’s the local support we’re going to grow from. Begin with your own Latvian artists — you can always go and listen to them live.
What do you dream of?
To be in harmony and peace with myself. But then again… that is a curse of a creative person — you’re never at peace with yourself never. I often try to criticize myself, I look at the mirror, and I don’t like what I see there, I criticize myself after creative projects. At one point, I think it’s cool, and a day or just a couple of hours later, I think it was all wrong, what have I even imagined. Then I have to take a little distance from it to process it. Accept me. Realize that what I am doing is going in one direction, that the power has a meaning — that is my dream. Lately, I feel that I’m slowly moving in that direction. And I see I’m not alone. I would like a whole era in Latvian jazz music and improvisation to be connected to «M/Darbnīca». In all forms of art — I like improvisation, avant-garde, spoken word a lot, I’d like it all to really bloom. I’d like all of us to stop listening to the good olds only and create a new environment. We have to speak about our honesty so that new things evolve. This is an excellent time for all of us to collaborate — and when we begin collaborating with one another here, only then can we move further. You, anyway, cannot find your happiness somewhere else — you can only create that environment on your own.