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Media about Media. Latvians in the historical «JAZZ-kvadrat» magazine

Aleksandra Line

Historical testimonies about Latvian musicians found in Belarusian jazz magazine

In the hustle of August work, Talis Gžibovskis, who was cleaning the shelves of his office archive, called me and offered to take a look at a stack of «JAZZ-квадрат» magazine issues, starting from the very first one. The printed magazine with colorful covers and newsprint insides began to be published in Minsk, Belarus, a relatively distant (well, some Latvian jazz musicians had not been born yet) in 1997 as a publication about jazz in Russian with a circulation of 5000 copies. I gathered a generous stack to take home with me — Talis had collected issues until the end of its publication in 2009. I went to investigate. I found our people.

«Dear friend! It so happened that the magazine you hold in your hands, whose first issue you have, has begun to be published in a city far from jazz but, in a sense, close to it. Even fifteen years ago, a familiar journalist used to juxtapose the phrases «Belarusian jazz» and «African hockey.» However, Rozner and Safronov’s names are associated with Minsk, and although every jazz concert here has been a true event, attempts to make the city’s jazz pulse a regular occurrence have never ceased,» writes Sergey Zolotov in the introductory words of the very first magazine issue. At the end of the introduction, he wishes jazz to «not only survive me, the old pimp, but also the youngest of this magazine’s readers,» and with hope that Sergey has a long and happy life ahead, this is a wish that is likely to come true.

In the first issue of «JAZZ-квадрат,» released twenty-six years ago, just a few years after the end of the USSR, mentions are made of both Charlie Parker and Marcus Miller, Leningrad Dixieland, local Belarusian jazz musicians, and also Vyacheslav Ganelin, who was born in Russia and raised in Lithuania — often associated with musicians who had immigrated to Israel, attending a major festival.

The magazine, which reviewed albums and festivals from the beginning, interviewed local and foreign artists and surprisingly wrote much about Lithuanians. Already in the 2008 issue, the «Vilnius Mama Jazz 2008» festival in Lithuania was reviewed, and in the same year, an article titled «Jazz in Lithuania» appeared in the «Territories» section. Later, there was a review titled «Some Chaotic Impressions of the Kaunas Festival.» Interestingly, why Lithuanian jazz appealed more to Belarusians than that of all Baltic states is not so surprising. Some Lithuanian jazz professionals had quickly introduced themselves to the wider world.

And what about our people? I continue to browse through the magazine issues: in 2005, in the 58th issue of «JAZZ-квадрат,» the first Latvians appear — pianist Viktors Ritovs and guitarist Artūrs Kutepovs. The author of both interviews — and all other magazine materials — is Valērijs Kopmans, a jazz journalist, critic, jazz popularizer, and collector of Latvian jazz history. Unfortunately, a few years ago, I didn’t manage to meet him. Kopman hosted radio shows about jazz on Latvian Radio 4’s «Домская Площадь,» collaborated with many newspapers, talked about jazz in Latvian high schools, helped popularize the «Mirage Jazz Orchestra» with the legendary trumpeter Gunārs Rozenbergs in the foreground, and in 1971 organized the first contemporary jazz concerts in Latvia at the «Allegro» club.

In the Following Issues, articles about Latvian jazz were by no means the only ones, and I wanted to browse through the pages with you to find answers to why these topics were included in foreign publications and what has changed now, almost twenty years later.

In 2005, «JAZZ-квадрат» also features Māris Briežkalns («Endless Rhythm» article) and Raimonds Raubiško («The Twinkle of Raimonds’s Star» article). In 2006, there’s Vilnis Kundrāts («I Hitchhike to Jazz Concerts» article), Olga Pīrāgs («I’ve Been Listening to Jazz Since Birth» article), and, for the first time, Riga’s name («Saxophones from St. Petersburg in Riga» article). Subsequently, in each magazine issue, there are mentions of the Latvian jazz scene: «Gunārs Rozenbergs. Jazzman’s Anniversary,» «Sony Jazz Stage in Riga,» «Deniss Paškevičs. Jazz as the Meaning of Life,» «Saulkrasti Jazz 2007,» «Rīgas Estrādes orķestris. REO Jazz Rhythms,» «Jazz Conference in Riga,» «Rīgas Ritmi, and Saulkrasti Jazz.» And now, let’s imagine we’re gathered for a cup of delicious coffee: I’ll share my initial observations, and then we’ll figure out what to do with them.

So, in 2005, Viktors Ritovs gratefully mentioned all the Latvians he learned from and played with in an interview. Ritovs talks about how Latvia is represented for the first time at the MIDEM forum, how he himself leads a jazz lecture course at Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music, and how jazz education can already be obtained at the Rīga Dome Choir School (so a few years before jazz education was accredited at an Academy in our country). In reference to concerts in jazz schools, Gundars Lintiņš, Zintis Žvarts, Pēteris Liepiņš, Nora Bite, and Viktorija Mogiļevska are playing at that time. The interview with Artūrs Kutepovs in the same issue takes place at the «Hamlets» club. Raivo Stašāns has gone to Canada, somewhere there still exists the jazz club «Liize,» where foreign musicians perform, Vilnis Kundrāts has the group «Wet Point,» and Latvia has just discovered Intars Busulis. It turns out that Kutepov was married to flutist Ilona Kudiņa, who has lived in Boston for almost twenty years. In the same year, 2005, Māris Briežkalns tells exciting facts from his biography to Valery Kompan and shares the beginnings of «Rīgas Ritmi,» but at the «Hamlets» club, Raimonds Raubiško, who passed away five prior to the publication date, shares his memories …

Valērijs Kopmanss, the article’s author, also remembers the «KIKOK» festival, which we will watch a documentary about eighteen years later (this year). It turns out (the filmmakers don’t even mention it) that the festival of the genre born in the enemy’s country of America took place on the very day of another regular plenary session of the CPSU. So, its participants played jazz instead of getting acquainted with the plenum’s decisions. This was one of the significant reasons why jazz was banned after this famous festival and went underground. Raubiško tells how he goes to America with Viktor Avdyukevich, Madars Kalniņš, and Raimonds Kalniņš; Valērijs Kopmanss quotes Raubiško and shares his historical memories — and this moment in the magazine turns into a historical testimony with the author’s photos from personal archives. Whether there are analogs of this in Latvian newspapers — I’m not sure.

In the 2006 issues of the magazine, there is a brief overview of jazz triumph at the Great Guild and an interview with Vilnis Kundrāts, who reminisces about his childhood and tells the story of another Latvian jazz legend, Boris Kogan, who was a repository of domestic history but, unfortunately, has not been among the living for a long time. He also shares that by giving fifteen jazz standards to former army soldier Intars Busulis, he discovered in him a jazz singer, not just an instrumentalist, which the people would later appreciate. Right there, Valērijs Kopmans interviews Olga Pīrāgs, who in 2006 celebrated her 50th anniversary at Raubiško’s jazz club in Jūrmala, Majori Culture House (where are all these places today?). Olga talks about her stage partners from both Latvia and the entire Soviet Union. It’s not exactly a story about Latvia, but in 2006, an article in the «JAZZ-квадрат» magazine was dedicated to «Jazz Appreciation Month,» which, after the US initiative, had already been celebrated in April for several years. Five years later, UNESCO declared April 30 as International Jazz Day, and in 2013, together with the «Wise Music Society,» we will begin to accustom Latvia to its celebration…

Another year later, in 2007, «JAZZ-квадрат» reports on concerts by James Carter and other famous musicians at the Riga festival «Saxophonia» and the «Sony Jazz Stage» concert in Riga. In March, Latvia celebrates the 60th anniversary of Gunārs Rozenbergs, and two years prior, the «Mirage Jazz Orchestra» was founded. Deniss Paškevičs has established the agency «Ze Pirats» and organizes alternative jazz music concerts at the «Sunny Terrace» bar — he mentions in the interview that there are five clubs in Riga at that time where jazz music is played and dreams of founding a real jazz club in Riga. The jazz club in Riga existed from 1975 to 1995; the foreign-founded jazz club with Deniss Paškevičs» name was established later on for a short time — but that’s an entirely different story.

Between 2008 and the present, it is already a whopping fifteen years. That’s the year when Valērijs Kopmans wrote about the Rīga Estrāde Orchestra in the «JAZZ-квадрат» magazine. I won’t quote historical facts, but how exciting it is that we can now read what Kopmans wrote: «Enchanted, with wide-open eyes, I listened to the first REO concerts. When charming Aino Baliņa stepped onto the stage, my young heart began to beat rapidly…»

In the next issue, Tālis Gžibovskis’ face looks at the reader: he tells Valērijs about the conference of the International Association of Jazz Schools (IASJ) founded by saxophonist Dave Liebman — Latvia then became the first country after the collapse of the USSR where such a high-level event took place outside the US. A little later, the «Sony Jazz Stage» competition is mentioned, which was won by Andris Buiķis; in the next issue, in the article titled «Latvian Jazz Festivals and Everyday Life,» there is a review of the oldest existing festivals, «Rīgas Ritmi» and «Saulkrasti Jazz.» Valērijs Kopmans concludes it with the words: «If we have talented youth that continues the traditions of their predecessors, constantly seeking new trends and discoveries, and there is a well-disposed audience, then I am sure — Latvian jazz is on the right path.» Fifteen years later, I don’t know if it’s the right path. But I know that if we continue to explore and create our own history, which others will study, there will likely be a long road ahead of us.

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