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A documentary movie as an event uniting generations

Aleksandra Line un Vinsents Krebs

First jazz festival in Latvia. If you want it, you can do it, in spite of everything

Oskars Upenieks

Juris Āķis, Aldis Ermanbriks, Mārtiņš Saulespurēns, Aivars Krūmiņš, Aivars Zītars, Indriķis Veitners, Tālis Gžibovskis, and many others — the second floor of «M/Darbnīca» at the end of January was full with Latvian jazz history. The reason was noble and valuable in terms of cultural history: Latvian jazz label «Jersika Records» finished working on a half-hour-long documentary about the first jazz festival in Latvia, KIKOK 1962. Back then, the whole Latvian jazz scene got together on a December night on Mūkusalas Street, and all of it was organized by a group of jazz lovers, a part of the Rīga cinema studio, called KIKOK — kino-communist youngsters club.

The author of the movie script is a music critic and historian Mikus Solovejs, director — founder of «Jersika Records», producer, and DJ Mareks Ameriks. We’ve already published the festival reconstruction by Indriķis Veitners in one of the previous magazine issues. After watching the movie, the event attendees, KIKOK participants, had plenty to tell. Latvian jazz double bassist and event organizer Juris Āķis, whose archives contained lots of materials needed for Dr.Art. Indriķis Veitners’ research and the movie, opened the sequence of participant speeches this way: «Bruno Oja and Pēteris Pečerskis agreed on a live recording. We gathered together one day before to rehearse the tunes, and we had no idea this was all recorded. We had good microphones and studio amplifiers available from the television; amps were bigger than this piano right here, as a cupboard, with bass speakers inside. And then ten years later, someone sends me a small compact disc from Saint Petersburg, and we’re there in this compact disc; our recording is there».

As a nice movie aftertaste, continuing the evening, the Latvian jazz trumpet player and composer Aivars Krūmiņš said that was an event «That was banned right after — they said there were these foreign agents participating, and whatnot. The conservatory had a list of everyone who played jazz — every single person was punished by orders. At that time, people said, «One that plays jazz today will tomorrow sell his homeland». We found out that Latvia is very musical, there were many ensembles, and that was a really pleasant event». Meanwhile, a double bassist and composer Aivars Zītars went on: «At that time, I was playing together with Raimonds Raubiško in different ensembles, then Krūmiņš joined us together with Rozenbergs. After graduating from the conservatory, I began playing at the Radio pop music orchestra, and during the KIKOK concert, we were also there — Brando by the drums, Raibais, and other drummers too. There was an octet with Ermanbriks on alto saxophone, there was a great difference in line-ups. Later on, there was a jazz festival in Tallinn in 1967, then a congress in Moscow, and then they said this music is banned».

Jazz saxophonist and music history researcher Indriķis Veitners joined the guests: «It’s amazing that we, at last, begin to discover, research, and realize we had a great jazz history. It all began long ago, and this is only up to us if we remember it. I think that’s a bit of rare luck for a researcher that one can just visit Juris Āķis in his house near the sea, and it appears he has lots of neatly written notes, he has photos, he remembers everything and scrupulously prepares the information — you only have to get it together. The main thing about the festival is daring — these young cats at that time were toying with that ruling power so elegantly. And that’s a wonderful moment — if you want to do it, you will make it happen in spite of everything, and it will last. After that, the rulers can evoke any repression they like, but everything will already have happened. And that is that true freedom and essence of jazz — against all restrictions and bans, you just do it because you want to. And that mood is the most powerful one of the KIKOK festival».

During the event, not only the movie but also a historical jazz record was presented: «The Lost Latvian TV Studio Sessions 1967» continues the historical Latvian jazz record series, and one can hear a jazz pianist from Saint Petersburg Yuri Vikharev and legendary Latvian jazz musicians rhythm band, drummer Einārs Raibais and double bassist Juris Āķis. The recordings were done in 1967 at the Latvian Television studio while preparing for the TV show hosted by Bruno Oja and have been saved at the home archive of Juris Āķis — and then the sound engineer Mārtiņš Krastiņš restored them from the original magnetic tapes.

It’s amazing that the Latvian media have been talking about it all this year; however, quite a curious and natural question arises — are everyone (out of the ones still alive) festival members informed about this movie? The movie mentioned Imants Meķis, and we decided to contact him to find out his version of the unique KIKOK event. We were surprised because it appeared that Imants wasn’t at all informed about this research and the movie. So we sent him the movie, getting back the artist’s memories. And Imants Meķis (alto saxophone, teacher, arranger) had quite a lot to say:

«I had no idea someone was interested in these KIKOK times. I don’t even have any photographs from back then. It’s very pleasant that there’s someone interested in it all, and it’s a pity that these recordings aren’t there now. See, I was playing in that band with Uldis Saulītis, and Bruno Oja was our main soloist. I remember the hall being really full, people were standing. I remember how we played at the teacher’s house with my band, we had that quintet with Gunārs Freidenfelds, and Raimonds Pauls played right before us. Pauls was playing his «Aijā žūžū», and all the audience shouted; he was a little drunk and cheerful. So the whole audience shouted, «Aijā žūžū», and he said, «Well, if you need it, I’ll play it». [Aivars] Timšs was playing bass, and [Haralds] Brando played drums. And it all happened sixty years ago — we were young, and now there’s nothing else left out of our youth.

So we had that band for quite some time — Aldis Ermanbriks, Uldis Saulītis, Imants Grīns, me on the alto, Bruno Oja was the main one, he was a chilly guy with his Estonian accent — after that, he became an actor only and studied at the university. He came to us at the conservatory to eat dinner every single day, we had a cafeteria downstairs, and we played in the evenings — then we went to «Luna», a cafeteria on the second floor (of nowadays McDonald’s), and ate something. And also drank something; only Oja never drank, although he ate for two.

We mainly played swing — Oja was singing in English, he had a large notebook, Uldis Saulītis got a briefcase with sheets somewhere — some Count Basie, some Benny Goodman, everything that started to appear at that time. Then there were sambas, cha-chas, rumbas, and dance music we played at the culture house. On Saturdays and Sundays, we played dance music. And then dance lessons were becoming trendy — in the culture house on Wednesdays, everyone danced to live music, we were playing a slow waltz, fast waltz, guys sat on one side, ladies on the other. We were looking at it, and it was funny. The culture palace hosted one of the first dance festivals — nobody used a magnetophone back then, so we played. We began playing by the metronome, and the dancers went on stage; it was too fast for some, then too slow for others, and it was always the musicians’ fault. In «Armatūra», Mazurs led it all, dance nights were everywhere.

I liked it that Mirdza Cīrule was mentioned in the movie — everybody especially went to a pub to listen to her. There was a cafe on the last floor of the department store, and she sang there every night — she did it really well; you couldn’t tell her from Fitzgerald. These were the times. And then there was an article about «some Birkāns» — I remember how the dean of the conservatory drew a red line around this article and pinned it to the conservatory board, how mischievous we were. And we were around twenty people there from the conservatory, one day we got called by Ozoliņš, the rector, Ivars Vīgners, Aivars Krūmiņš, me, Birkāns, Raubiško, Zītars, Rezesvkis. And he shamed us oh so much: «If you continue playing jazz, you have to say goodbye to the students’ honor, or you’ll be expelled out of the conservatory!»

So this is how it went then and now. What conclusions can we draw? During the presentation of the movie and the historical vinyl, I was already thinking about jazz and ideas, rebelliousness, confidence, and feeling, uniting different generations. I can only show great respect to these enthusiasts for their daring and love of the music. We can be proud of such people because what they did cannot be measured, even looking at their lives following KIKOK. For example, I can personally mention the fact about Ermanbriks’ image as a superhero from a black-and-white television screen in the «Varavīksne» TV show that I was waiting for so much in my early childhood. Generations of musicians have studied at these masters and created great works in composition and arrangement. And I’m pretty sure we’ll talk about this again.