Daniil Kramer

JAZZ DÜNYASI: First and foremost, I would like to thank you for accepting the invitation to come to Baku.

DANIIL KRAMER: It was my pleasure!

JD: Baku is frequently visited by guests from Moscow, and that is always pleasant as we have long-standing ties, especially considering the period of the Soviet Union. I would like to discuss some problems which exist in jazz in the post-Soviet states. For instance, Baku has always been considered a city of jazz with its history and…

DK: …outstanding musicians, starting with Vagif and Aziza Mustafazadeh through all the others. I remember my previ-ous visit when in addition to participating in the jazz festival I gave another concert at an average-size hall. I was very warmly welcomed, and after the concert I heard local musicians play mugham for the first time at a jam session. It is one thing to listen to recordings and another thing to hear it played live. It is something very different from what I play; a completely different style, I’d say, music from another civilization. I left completely in raptures over Azerbaijani jazz music. I witnessed outstanding professionalism and at the same time, an amazing, as well as extrinsic, serious and thoughtful approach to the material. Jazz musicians are always improvisers who pay a lot less attention to deep spirituality. I invited Roman Miroshnichenko here, as we are close in this respect. We do not simply improvise; we are interested precisely in the philosophical image. Jazz is not always the only theme of our music, definitely not.

Daniil Kramer JD: That is fabulous! It would be very nice to hear something new. You have said that we had great musicians in Baku and that the trend continues. Well, we follow Moscow’s example with the new musicians. I am interested in your teaching career. You had a series of television programs; how long did that go on and what were the results?

DK: Jim 5 on Culture with Daniil Kramer. I cannot assess the results, though. I do receive lots of thank-yous which at times are rather unexpected for me. When the previous host passed away, the television executives offered me to take on this program. First I was a bit sceptical. A Sunday night program, the last one on a state channel… I thought few people watched television past midnight. Nonetheless I was shocked by the number of people who watch this program. I was trying hard to make it even more interesting. You cannot imagine how much time I spend on my brief introductions and how much material I work through. There was a program dedicated to L.D. Meole, and I remember calling a few times to find out this musician’s preferences. The same goes for Henry Cowell and Larry Carlton. Every time I work through an enormous amount of material. From a pedagogical point of view, I do not think it could have a special effect, as my children are asleep at that time; they have school on Monday. This is why I do not think the program had any pedagogical effect. It can be watched by adults, and not the ones who have to go to work on Monday morning. A good serious program is not toilet humour, or pop stars, or Big Brother, or other joys of life, which is why I am not particularly surprised. This kind of programs cannot compete in today’s world with what professional musicians call ‘mass-consumption’. Here ‘mass-consumption’ programs, of course, outweigh more meaningful ones. So I do not see any pedagogical meaning to it, but I do see its aesthetic and informational benefits. The Kultura Channel often reruns them. I take pleasure in working on new editions.

JD: You had the idea of designing an elective course in jazz improvisation at the conservatoire…

DK: In 1994, for the first time in the history of the Moscow Conservatoire I designed an elective course whose purpose was not to teach jazz but to familiarise classical musicians with jazz. That course became my laboratory where I devel-oped an entire methodology of teaching classically-trained students jazz.

JD: That is a very vital issue…

DK: The most vital for Russia…

Daniil Kramer JD: I can say the same about us, because in Baku there are many classical musicians but the conservatoire does not offer a program in jazz music. Or rather, there was one, but it was closed almost instantly because of student shortage.

DK: Now that you told me that, I can say that perhaps there is a very limited areal of existence of jazz musicians over here, if there was shortage. This means they just have nowhere to exist in the Baku context.

JD: Absolutely. This also has to do with youth fears, such as ‘What next?’, ‘Which orchestras to apply to?’ and ‘Where to work later?’ We have only one jazz centre; there used to be a jazz club, but it closed down. This all eliminates a chance for a powerful push which would motivate the youth to play precisely jazz. What can be done?

DK: Let me tell you something. This is not just your problem or a Russian problem, but the problem of many countries. In my opinion, jazz musicians themselves are to blame here in the way they play, treat the audience, or prepare pro grams. It is not about routine improvisations, but about whether or not they are able to keep the audience focused with their aura or whether or not they can make the audience want to keep coming again and again. Or when the audience sees that the musicians grabbed glasses of beer and the performance does not go in the right direction. This is what their own areal of existence depends on. But most musicians refuse to accept this. As a result, an huge number of jazz musicians play routine improvisations and routine swing during routine concerts, and then wonder why everything happens they way it does.

Roman Miroshnichenko: Some just refuse to fight the market repertoire which is imposed on them primarily by owners of the restaurants, not jazz clubs. But in your Jazz Centre we saw a Meyer Sound. Not even all clubs in Moscow have a Meyer Sound. I wish you had a better grand piano, though…

Daniil Kramer JD: We do not just have the equipment; we also have a magazine dedicated to jazz, thanks to jazz lovers. We have philanthropists who unselfishly and without any ulterior motives help us publish it. We are so thankful to them; it is great to have them!

DK: But there is not a problem which would only have one side; they all have at least two or three sides.

JD: Of course, there are historical moments as well. We have walked a long path to get to this. We did not grow up in the United States, the cradle of jazz. We never had large audiences. I would even say, the Jazz Centre is attended by the same people.

DK: This is both good and bad…

JD: It is difficult to attract new listeners, especially younger ones.

DK: The Azerbaijan State Conservatoire was one of the quite notable ones in the Soviet Union…

JD: I believe it is still notable. As for jazz, there are certain issues. We have jazz musicians, but they are mostly pianists…

RM: This is a succession, a tradition…

DK: Everyone wants to be Vagif…

JD: I guess so, but what we had here in the 60s and 70s is already gone.

DK: Never wait for what was in the past and is no longer to come back. Just like in life, you cannot walk the same path in musician. But a spiral is a spiral. Back in the 50s, jazz in France died. It simply died. It was no more. And one of the reasons was exactly what I told you – a completely routine indifference of jazz musicians themselves toward their own performance. They would simply collect the honorarium and as a result, jazz died. French jazz was brought back to life by rockers, starting with Prince. But this is only one side of the coin. Do not wait for jazz in Baku to be the way it was in Vagif’s time. So many people have come to Moscow, for example Anar Taghizadeh, a fantastic singer. Although I have lost touch with him, I had an enjoyable experience working with him. And many others. Also a famous showman Leonid Ptashka, originally from Baku as well, who now lives in Israel. He is a musician and a producer. He is quite a significant figure in Israeli jazz. So all of those people originate here, from Baku. And since I am in the Orient, I will say this in an Oriental way: a tree cannot grow without soil. Talents have nowhere to emerge from if there is no humus to bring them about.

Daniil Kramer

JD: We certainly have talents to be proud of. In 2009, at the Montreux Jazz Festival, our boy received the first prize. This is an indicator for us.

DK: I am very sceptical about all this prize-winning. I care about performance. I know too well how prizes are awarded.

I am head of the jury of several contests, and not just in Moscow. I am invited to various jazz competitions. I have come across a whole cohort of boys and girls who play brilliantly for their age. And then it turns out that this cohort of people is just those who travel from one contest to another to collect prizes. They have a swotted up well-trained down-to-the-limit polished program, other than which they are not capable of anything. I do not know what to do. On one hand, they play so much better than the others that it is be impossible to say they do not deserve the first place. On the other hand, I understand that all the other ones are musicians, whereas these ones are just swots. And this is where all the trouble begins. I do not know your boy, I have never heard him. But I am very cautious when it comes to prize-winners. I am not cautious when I see a person play and develop.

Daniil Kramer JD: At the same time, how would we encourage them? Because this would be the stimulus and the starting point for others…

DK: I am not against rehearsing. I am not against something being learned. A whole bunch of musicians, including Count Basie, would place musical notation on the stand for their orchestra members. And the orchestra would not play worse because of that. That is not the point.

JD: Here the bottom line is that there is not further development…

DK: This is why when a person receives a prize in the Tchaikovsky Contest, it has to be considered first what is going to happen to them or what is next. There was a pianist who had received a prize in the Tchaikovsky Contest. His name was François de Voyons. It was in the 70s. He played so flawlessly in the contest that everyone was disturbed as to why he had won the second prize and not the first. A year later he visited Moscow again. You could not get tickets on his first concert, while tickets for the second concert were being returned.

JD: As a representative of the older generation, you see ways out of deadlocks better.

DK: This is not a deadlock. It is too bad you are calling it a deadlock. This is a normal stage in the development of music. The demand that you as mass media are forming defines supply. It is just that media outlets do not always realise that they are creating a vicious circle. It now includes everyone who has formed it, be it the United States, Russia or apparently Azerbaijan. Because at first, being lead by commercialization, media outlets begin to form demand and later the demand formed by them begins to dictate its conditions. As a result of that we are facing a problem of serious art not having an areal of existence. But this is only dictated by the newly-formed mentality of taste.

Daniil Kramer JD: I will agree with you. This is exactly the case. Mass media addresses certain issues, and we must address them. It is the problem with percussionists and double bass players whom we have less and less. In this respect, I am interested in how Moscow advances.

DK: Moscow is saved by the enormous market of corporate concerts. Moscow is a gathering of rich companies, rich banks, rick organizations and dirty money. Besides, Moscow is a city of ten million people. Moscow is one Hungary or three and a half Lithuanias. Moscow is a certain kind of monster. Saint Petersburg yields to it. Everything is defined by the amount of free money. This is why corporate market helps many jazz musicians survive. This is both good and bad. It is good because they have an areal of existence and besides corporate events, they can give professional concerts too. It is bad because some of those musicians, as a result, begin playing at corporate events only and therefore become ‘mass-consumed’, which is impossible to escape from. They begin forming the demand. And that is the demand for something mass-produced.

JD: So there is a marketing opportunity. Musicians know that by playing jazz they can play at corporate events and thus make money.

DK: At the same time, I cannot ignore the fact that in the past 15 to 20 years, based on my observations, the professional level of Moscow jazz musicians has drastically gone up. I cannot say quite exactly why this is. But jazz in Moscow has undoubtedly reached the level where it can compete with European and American jazz. And sometimes I even like Moscow musicians and their professional level of performance a lot more than an average European performance. This is quite paradoxical.

JD: I think the fact that jazz musicians are invited to play at corporate events is already an indicator of something.

DK: Arranging for good pleasant jazz and then letting pop singers out right afterward is considered prestigious. And they pay good money for that. And as long as these people have money which they are willing to invest in good music, jazz musicians in Moscow will live quite good lives.

JD: You mentioned Europe. Whom would you note particularly? Which European musicians do you listen to?

DK: Many of them. There are many musicians in Europe who are absolutely unheard of in Russia or the CIS countries and who work in various modern synthetic genres, both jazz and quasi-jazz. This is very interesting. When I say quasi, I do not mean it in a negative way at all. I mean different forms of cross-over and ethnic cross-over, and any type of fusion which now exists in Europe in abundance and on a very professional level. For me, in this respect, the favourite countries are Poland and France. In my opinion, these two are the most ‘jazzy’ countries where the main jazz ideas in Europe are generated. This is just my opinion, you can agree or disagree. French jazz romanticism and modern Polish cross-over, based on Chopin, of course. Hungarian musicians have become to work with materials by Liszt. Italian musicians have also initiated this trend. I know musicians who began working with Italian opera music combining it with jazz, and I find this quite good. Ideas are generated. What is the problem with development? The problem begins when a jazz musician from whatever country or city plays by emulating someone. This is the beginning of trouble. If own ideas are not generated, and generated in variety, then we end up with the same ones. How did I start my career in Russia? When I got rid of my image as a classical musician and began giving jazz concert and recognized as a jazz musician, all of a sudden I started giving classical concerts and attracting the classical audience to show them jazz. This was quite indirect. Then one day, without telling anyone, I completely changed my image into one of jazz rock. I fully distanced myself from classi cal music and traditional jazz. I am ready to change my image any time. Roman got me interested in combinations such as jazz rock and flamenco, tango and salsa, which we play, mixing it in part with cross-over. It is a fusion of classical music, jazz and jazz rock. I watched Roman play. The first ones were Juan Harmone and his band. We began singing in a serious duo with Roman Miroshnichenko. Unambiguousness is what many musicians, such as Bill Evans who only had single stylistics, Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson, had. They are all single-stylistics musicians. Modern music is built in a completely different way. Keith Jarrett did not find jazz or cross-over sufficient enough, so he went completely classical. Daniil Kramer JD: I think is an outstanding performer of classical works.

DK: Exactly. This is what is happening to Hancock. This is the path that Russian musicians, such as me and Chizhik, took. This is the path that classical musicians take. This is the other side of the coin. Not to mention Friedrich Gulde. Even Denis Matsuev who is trying to play jazz as part of his program, and not just as ragtime at the end of this concert. Whether this is successful or not is up to the critics. But this is what he is doing.

JD: As for classical music, when I listen to Keith Jarrett perform it, it seems like he reaches the peak of his ability. Jazz musicians do so in their own way. And I would love to listen to your synthesis and your view on music today. Your concert in ahead, have a great evening!