The starting pageE-mailSite map  
 
 
   
 

Five Evenings with Oleg Lundstrem
A "One Man Band" from Shanghai

In August 2001, an intriguing news item spread all over Russian Shanghai: "Oleg Lundstrem will be present at the chief consulate reception." He had arrived in the city of his youth especially for the shooting of a film about the beginning of his creative endeavors. Of course, it was difficult for us to reach the consulate, but when one wants something very much, sometimes he is able to make it possible. We were lucky twice - not only did we meet Oleg Leonidovich, he also agreed to an interview with us, the most active members of The Russian Club in Shanghai. It was quite easy. He was a surprisingly easygoing person, without any sign of the so-called "star disease" so characteristic of many even less prolific and famous personalities.

Oleg Lundstrem … he is a living legend of Russian jazz, the composer and chief conductor of the state chamber jazz orchestra, winner of the People's Artist of Russia award, a professor of several conservatories of music. An outstanding person in both creative and everyday life is a rather rare combination.

In 2000, the Guinness Book of World Records learned that the jazz orchestra conducted by Oleg Lundstrem is the oldest jazz band and had been preserving its own traditions and a bright creative fuse for as long as 65 years. Maestro Oleg Lundstrem comments on it in such a way: "When I was 60, I began seriously thinking about why were we still alive. Benny Goodman's big band collapsed in the forties, Tommy Dorsey's - even earlier. Artie Shaw's most famous orchestra composed of musical giants disappeared at about the same time. We have almost the same disorder as Duke Ellington: someone argues about the arrangement while another person cleans his trombone. And I do not do anything extraordinary. I make up the programs and the orchestra plays. It's much the same in any other orchestra. But now I know for certain that if I would have made up an orchestra by myself, it would have already collapsed. And not because I was so bad. The reason is that the principle 'I am the master - you are the subordinate' has nothing to do with Art. And no influential person would be able to support our orchestra for so many years. Only unselfish and disinterested love for one's profession can provide such support. I, for instance, didn't know that I loved music disinterestedly before. I made mistakes and corrected them. And I thought, 'How much I love to play in 'Paramount' (one of the most popular and prestigious dance-halls of Shanghai - L.T.), people pass by, smile, dance… And still for the pleasure which you give to these people it is worth living and dealing with music. "

We met Oleg Leonidovich in the room of the most famous Shanghai hotel, called Peace. In 1930s and 1940s it was called the Cathay Hotel and was considered the most luxurious hotel in the Far East. Charlie Chaplin and Fyodor Shalyapin, the Chinese stage reformer Mei Lanfan, the violinists M. Elman and J. Heifetz, kings and politicians, presidents and leaders of world business…all were there. Oleg Leonidovich, with a certain portion of humor, commented that he lived in Cathay like royalty, and it's a pity that none of his old friends saw that! This joke became the preface of our very interesting conversation.

Later, looking through all the numerous materials about Lundstrem's life in China, I was surprised when I saw how many interviews he gave and how often the questions repeated each other. The way he answered may seem more interesting, though his narration often repeated some well-known facts of his biography.

What draws one to him is an extraordinary interest in what he says and does. He is like a magician or a fakir who subdues his listeners and makes them follow his logical line of narration, recalling numerous and surprising details that cannot be found in any book or encyclopaedia. Such facts are known only by the witnesses of those events. Lundstrem's relation of the facts sounded so original and unusual that they almost seemed a fairy tale about his past which was not necessarily a happy one. Even in his life he is a conductor and a leader. Looking at this fascinating and imperious man, you involuntarily yield, charmed by his brisk eyes, his humor and jokes aimed at himself and his friends, his clever and merciless judgments of present-day life and the strange turns of politics. You agree with the just indignation of a man who has lived his life and admire the same things which he admires at the age of 85. I realized that I … envy him. I looked at him and thought: "My Lord, how much life is there in this man, how much real trembling human soul, unspent love for all people, how much understanding, wisdom and forgiveness!" It is not a secret that I was absolutely enchanted by the strong charisma of his personality.

The conversation was launched by the Maestro himself: "Are you really from the Soviet Club?" - a mansion with a circular staircase in Rout de Grouchy (Yan Qing lu). It still stands there now. In former times it had been founded by Soviet emigrants, who organized the Soviet Club on the eve of the Second World War. At that time, so many former Haierbin citizens came to Shanghai and became the main visitors of the Soviet Club that the old building was too small to house all the members, so the Club moved into a large building in Foch Ave. (now Yanan Zhong lu) …

- Pardon, but how did it happen that there were 2 waves of emigration in Shanghai ("white" and soviet)? It seems to be quite clear as far as the white emigration is concerned, but not many people know the way the Soviet emigration was formed. Many people think that, perhaps, those were the citizens, who ran away from the Stalin's terror?

- Nothing of the kind. For example, our family left for Haierbin in 1921 absolutely legally with Soviet passports from the Far East Republic (DVR), because my father received an invitation to become a teacher at the China-Eastern Rail Way, which then was governed both by China and USSR. Try to ask anybody about the republic or the railway at present, nobody knows anything!

The workers of the China-Eastern Rail Way were the ones who had both Soviet passports and citizenship. The Rail Way contained a lot of institutions and organizations, where many Soviet specialists and experts as well as "white" emigrants worked. When China recognized Russian Federation, many of the "white" emigrants left the Rail Way to demonstrate their hostility towards Soviet power … Thus my father was offered a contract. He thought: "I'd better go to Manchuria with my family for a couple of years… I'll work and come back home. Meanwhile the Civil war will be over and life will become smooth again." Who may think, that this "couple of years" will last for a quarter of a century!

As far as the Far-Eastern Republic is concerned it should be mentioned that during the Civil war the buffer state between Russia and Japan was formed. This republic was, in fact, one of the Soviet ones and was governed from Moscow. But the only difference was that in Far-Eastern Republic were Bolsheviks as well as Mensheviks and Social Revolutionarists and Cadets - all political parties. Only ten years ago being in Chita on tours I learned that my father - Leonid Frantzevich - was a member of Duma (parliament) and was responsible for all the Culture of the Republic. It was a kind of a discovery for me…

- And where is that old Soviet Club in Shanghai now?

To my great regret, nowadays this street has been broadened, all the front line of the buildings has been removed, the viaducts, multi-storied intersections, skyscrapers have been erected, so that nothing old was left. By the way the German Club was preserved! It stands as it used to do. That's why you may address the Consulate to return the mansion in Yang Qing lu to the Russian Club. The Consul can address whom it may concern. I found this mansion by chance, because my friends could not find the house, where I had lived. Until I started the search myself.

But I faced a significant difficulty: I remembered the names of the streets and districts in French or English, the way they were called in 30-40s, and after 1949 all the streets were given Chinese names, and now no driver knows the streets I am naming! Hardly had we started our search in a car, I immediately recognized the necessary place. All my assistants were amazed the way I remembered the place so well. How could I not remembered?! We made quite a lot of fuss here! We came to Shanghai from Haierbin in 1936 being very young, almost boys, and were terribly enthusiastic. I was 20! Two years later we became the best Big Band in Shanghai.

- And how did you ever start your music career? As far as I know your father was a professor of Physics.

It was already in Haierbin. My brother and I were brought up in the highly cultured family. We were quite musical in amateur way: father played the piano, mother sang well. I was taught to play the violin. My brother played the saxophone and the piano. Haierbin of that time was rich with musical and theatrical places: opera, philharmonics, operetta, various choirs, chamber ensembles. The city really breathed with culture. Opera singers, for instance, were invited from the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, from Mariinsky in Petrograd. Many musicians at that time, who also emigrated, played in Haierbin Symphony Orchestra.

These were the musicians, which performed in St. Petersburg in the orchestras of the Empire Opera, in the Palace orchestras, which had the diplomas of the Empire Conservatoire of Music. Some new theatre names or chansonier were not worse than the old school. S.Lemeshev and A.Vertinsky had visited Haierbin twice.

But, frankly speaking, I liked to dance and to foxtrot. In 1932 I entered the Electromechanic faculty of the Haierbin Polytechnic Institute. By the way the name of my course diploma was the bridge over a concrete river. I never knew whether this bridge has ever been built. I was then carried away by the novelties of variety art, often visited the music shop to buy a keep of new platters. Thus, I first heard the orchestra of Duke Ellington, its fresh approach, new sounding and perfect rhythm. At that time it was absolutely unknown. Thanks to the great American I "fell ill" with jazz for the rest of my life. My friends and I had listened to this platter, perhaps, hundred times. I myself wrote several arrangements of the popular pieces, all by ear. I showed them to my brother and friends. So we decided to organize a youth Big Band. It was on October 1, 1934. We played at the Rosy Party at Christian Union of the Young People with great success. Soon after that the following rhyme came into being:

" Oleg and Igor, both you'd like,
The latter nicely rode his bike
Lat, Min, Vityukha with his brother,
And also Alex and some others
Were fond of Ellington, Armstrong.
The time has passed and they have grown.
Till their studies came to end
The guys together formed jazz band.

The set of the instruments was standard for the beginning of the 1930s: three saxophones ( A. Onopyuk [Onan], V. Serbryakov [Vova-brother], I. Lundstrem), trombone (A. Minenkov [Min]) and rhythm-group (A.Gravis [Lat]) - double-bass, banjo, I.Umanets - percussions and O. Lundstrem - piano. Nine people all in all. When we thought about the leader of the orchestra, the guys unexpectedly voted for me. Perhaps they were impressed by my bold experiments with arrangements. That first set of the musicians played in our orchestra for many decades. It was my idea that the dances are just for fun, and then our aim was get high education. We didn't think then that Jazz would become our life's business.

- And who from the main stuff still plays in year orchestra now?

Only three of us are left: Anatoli Minenkov and Alexander Gravis; we communicate regularly. Both are retired. Sasha Gravis, a friend of my childhood, is a citizen of Lithuania. I am always outraged when out press comments: oh, Baltic Republics are all different. Lithuanians lived in a great state. And Latvians are incredibly devoted to their ideas and families. A Latvian will never betray. Gravis says: "My father ran away from tzarist Russia to the China-Eastern Rail Road from tzarist power to Manchuria. He became the best clothes cutter." He put his son to a Soviet school. We sat at one desk in the elementary school. We sat at the first desk. Then we moved to the last one. Then we entered the commercial school together. Soon the musical classes were opened there, absolutely free, by the way: violin, cello and piano. We both chose violin. We began studying music unwillingly. There were no professional musicians in our family. I was the first. My brother and I were, to be more frank. I have already mentioned that it was not my idea to make up an orchestra. We decided to play at the dances just for pleasure while we were students, and after graduation to run our own business.

- And why did your choice fell in Shanghai? Couldn't you return to the USSR?

- In February 1935 our father returned to the Soviet Union. But we were all quite taken away with music. We became popular very soon and wanted to play for some time, we needed to fulfil our contract, which had already been signed. We also needed to complete our education. That's why we decided that father and mother would leave back home to Russia, and we would soon follow them. Besides, the most important thing was that in 1932 a new state of Manchou-Go was founded in Manchuria. In fact, it was a pure occupation of North East China by the Japanese. Though the Japanese were at first a little afraid of us, they still didn't like the Russians, especially the Soviets. They kept saying that they'd finish with the Chinese and then begin with us. But then they began cautious squeezing out of the Russians from the China-Eastern Rail Way and even expulsion from the houses on some "very important state reasons". These houses were later taken by the Japanese. There appeared the rumors that the Russian guys would be taken to the Japanese army-service… So many families ran away from the Japanese to Shanghai, Tsingtao and other cities. So my brother and failed to complete our Polytechnic education: in 1935 USSR was forced to sell its share of China-Eastern Rail Way to the puppet regime in Manchuria. The new owners renamed the Polytechnic Institute into the Institute of St. Vladimir (we were brought up in the spirit of atheism and it was absolutely impossible and intolerable for us) and new laws and regulations were adopted in its walls. Our life in Haierbin became very much complicated. Some of the Russians returned to the USSR and some moved to Shanghai. Mother didn't want to leave us alone and we arrived to Shanghai already without our father: by that time he had moved to the USSR by the moment.

- Wasn't he aware of the situation in the USSR? Or he was, but still moved?

- He was just a normal man, he thought that in the USSR a person could not be imprisoned just for nothing. Our home coming was planned long beforehand but the departure was postponed several times - the uncertainty scared. The changes that had taken place at the China-Eastern Rail Way fastened taking the decision. We agreed that as soon as father settled he would send for us. He was put to Rostov-on-Don and he became a docent of Institute of Physics (he dealt with nuclear physics). In one of his letters father informed that the question of accommodation would be solved in the nearest future and the family would again be together. There were no more letters from him since then. We thought it was caused by father's illness (sciatica and the traces of osteochondritis). We thought he was badly ill or even died. Only after Stalin's death we learnt that in 1937 our father was arrested and in 1944 he died somewhere in the concentration camps in the Urals.

- So you have arrived with all year team to Shanghai and immediately captured it?

No. Before that we have passed through many difficulties and hardships. In 1935 we went to Sanghai for a reconnaissance. There were three of us: trumpet - Kotyakov; Trombone - Minenkov and I. Then in 1930-40s Shanghai was one of the world centres of the amusement industry. Several dozens thousand of Russian and Soviet emigrants, thousands of French, Americans, English, Japanese, lots of emigrants from Western Europe (who ran away from the Fascist regime) had lived here; and there were plenty of musicians among them.

Right at that time a famous trumpeter and arranger Buck Clayton, who later worked for Count Basie for 30 years stayed in Shanghai. He had his own Big Band with which he played at dog-races at ballroom. Then the whole world was crazy with jazz and foxtrots. That's why that ballroom was very popular. Do you understand, what listening to Buck Clayton meant to us. It was the same as to listen to live Armstrong! People had to buy tickets for their concerts, so we took money from my aunt, every evening at eight sharp we appeared at "Canidrome" and sat with our mouths open till 12 at night, listened to the arrangements and virtuoso performing of Buck Clayton. Can you imagine that Buck Clayton remembered us! Many years later when I came on tours to the United States, he recognized me and Kotyakov, though we turned rather old, began to cry, clasped us in his arms!

So after such impulse and fuse we couldn't help starting to play. Besides we have found out, that there are not enough musicians in Shanghai! But the situation was complicated, many families could hardly make both ends meet, for the parents had lost their job. We moved to Shanghai one by one. By the end of 1936 all nine of us lived and worked in Shanghai. First we could not work together: some of the guys have found work in various cafes, hotels, cinemas, went to concertize to Peking, Hong-Kong, Tsingtao. A gloomy perspective of working separately became quite obvious. But suddenly we were lucky. After a number of attempts I managed to establish a modest contract with "Yangtze Hotel", where we had to play "five-hours dances", which started at 5 o'clock p.m. Of course, we could have earned much more. But even this modest contract gave us a good income, enough for food and a room on the French Concession.

We played popular American songs at the dances as well as Soviet ones, which I began to arrange. Sound cinema was just beginning, the films were mainly American. There were some musical ones among them (for instance, "Broadway Melody"). We caught all the melodies by ear. Though there were several dozens of orchestras, including American ones, there was a run on us. We responded to the slightest changes in the musical repertoire quicker. And besides we were terribly enthusiastic, we could work for several hours non-stop. It was not easy to surprise Shanghai, but it seemed we did it! During Summer months we moved to Tsingtao, a fashionable sea resort of that time on the Shandong peninsular, a former German semicolony. In 1937 the war between China and Japan began, which kept us in Tsingtao till Spring, 1938. We thought: "Oh, the Japanese are already here! It's time to move to Shanghai". English, Russian and Chinese press of the country wrote about our Russian Big Band. The invitations to perform fell on us like rain. The stuff of the orchestra numbered from 15 to 17 musicians. After some time we were invited to the most popular and democratic ballroom in Shanghai called "Majestic". We worked for 2,5 years there. Nobody had worked there for so long. Normally the contract was signed for about six months, and then a new band was invited. We played the popular melodies of Gershvin and Jerome Kern. They were much in common with the songs of Dunayevsky and I thought whether our music was much worse?.. I made an arrangement of the music from he film "Captain's Grant Children", which appeared in Shanghai in 1939. This melody was a great success. After that we decided to include more Soviet music into our repertoire. So, when "Sovietexportfilm" brought "Merry Fellows" with the songs of Utyosov to China, I without any sign of hesitation made an arrangement on the basis of all the songs for my Big Band and our vocalist sang these songs in Russian. This brought us fame not only among the Jazz lovers, but in the sphere of the professional musical critics.

Once a famous American musicologist arrived to Shanghai. He came to "Paramount", where we had played; he didn't believe his ears: we were playing Russian Jazz in the full sense of these words! They (Americans) thought that the Russians do not know anything behind their "iron curtain". But it came out that they have had even Jazz. And their actor - Utyosov is not a propagandist but is a born satirist and a showman. Seems that they can laugh, joke and enjoy themselves. Later, at the Utyosov's jubilee I said: "Leonid Osipovitch, … yet in China I knew, would there be no you, there would be no us! " He was very much touched.

- What was the attitude to Russians in Shanghai? Same as to the cheep working forces. Dozens thousand of Russians and thousands of other foreigners lived there (Russians were much more numerous than other foreigners). Shanghai was separated into two concessions (semicolonies) and the Chinese city. Foreign working forces was praised very high (the English, the Americans and the French). And Russians were neither the natives nor the foreigners, but they did not cost much. Similar specialists with English or American passports were considered expensive working force. That is why good Russian specialists were willingly taken to work. They could be paid much less, than Europeans and they could work not worse and even better. In Shanghai there was a colony of Russians: there were Russian streets, where only Russians had settled. There were Russian stores and shops, hotels, restaurants, schools, and libraries; mainly Russian girls worked in the ballrooms.

There was one disk-cafe here. Only Russian girls were the waitresses there. The owner hired only the beauties, they smiled and were always very polite with the visitors. Many of those who came to Shanghai (it was a centre of amusements in the Far East), thought that the girls were light-minded and did not behave well. Nothing of the kind! Nobody ever forced them. In some of the movies Russian girls with pocket flashes took the late spectators to their seats - nobody were rude with them. None of them was a street-walker, light minded or didn't behave well, everybody was natural and did what they wanted.

Same can be said about the so-called "dancing-girls", which worked at the dances like gigolos. The major part of the Shanghai ballrooms were filled with Russian girls. Shanghai ballrooms had principal differences from similar places nowadays. They existed separately from the restaurants and casinos. People came there not to have meals and drinks but just to dance. In the interval only light beverages were served. The majority of the clubs was accessible, but some were considered elite. The latter were equipped with perfectly polished mirror-floors on special mighty springs. For instance, the luxurious "Paramount" would never permit a person enter without special "uniform": a man had to wear a tailcoat or a dinner jacket, a woman had to wear a long evening dress. Women were accompanied by men. As for men, they could come alone and choose a partner among the "dance-girls" - most attractive and good-looking. By the way many of the Russian girls there had good education and they were very pleasant to talk with. Having bought special tickets at the entry of the ball room a man invited a girl for a dance and he could give her a ticket. At the end of the evening each of the girls could have many tickets (about twenty) one for each dance. It was a hard job. Every evening the girls gave the tickets to the owner and he paid them according to the "intensity" of their work. By the way such job was very popular among Russian students in Shanghai. And nobody ever even tried to understand it in the wrong way. All the men knew the strict rules of the ball rooms and kept themselves "in the frames" of bon-ton.

At the end of the 1930s I began to arrange the Chinese melodies in the style of foxtrot. This brought a great number of the born Chinese Shanghai citizens into our halls. Frankly speaking, I am still surprised at the way we managed to unite Jazz with Chinese musical culture. The Chinese then (and now) perceived it as something absolutely natural.

- And how did Russians treat the Chinese?

In two way. All the foreigners at that time thought that the Chinese were uncivilized, uneducated though quite pleasant people. We had different opinion. When just a boy I passed all through Manchuria on my bike. The Chinese bandits then did not touch the Europeans. I have ever seen the people kinder. They could give the last of what they had. I remember: they have nothing to eat, but still they regaled us with dumplings in soy. When in 1960s we heard rumors: "The Chinese are against us!" I said: "Nonsense! Common people have never been against Russians".

When I say: "Wo ai Zhunguo, Wo ai zhunguoren" (I love China and the Chinese), I am absolutely sincere. They look at us with much more philosophical and kind eyes. Even now when we came here, and went for lunch to the restaurant with Natasha (secretary of Oleg Lundstrem). There all the Chinese- waiters headed by the owner of the restaurant came out to greet us. They were very friendly, very hospitable. I began to talk with the owner of the restaurant pointed at Natasha and introduced her as my secretary. When they realized that she was not my wife, they were very much disappointed. They thought that she was my young wife. The Chinese honour old men who have young wives. They do not understand a marriage without love. And if a young woman loves an old man it means there is a reason for it. Nowadays many people admire the present-days Chinese reforms, they say the Chinese are clever. I think there are fools and clever ones everywhere, in Russia, in America, in China. But the fact that they are wise is very important. The have passed through the colonial regime. The Europeans have always thought that Europe was civilized, but Chinese were wild. But they managed to preserve their traditions. That's why I love the Chinese and consider them wise.

- What was the continuation of your music career in Shanghai? In "Majestic" our contract was prolonged many times, until we were invited to "Paramount". It is now in YuYuan lu, 218. It was the most fashionable and most popular. There is plate with the sign on it till now. There was an interesting fact with "Paramount". In the morning then I always read English and Russian newspapers. In the English language "North China Daily News" there was an advertisement: "Paramount ballroom": a Russian Big-Band from Moscow plays under the baton of Oleg Lundstrem. I told the manager: "We are from Haierbin!?". He answered asking me a question: "Are you a citizen of the Soviet Union?" - "Yes!". - "The rest is our promotion". The contract had already been signed. I had nothing to do with it and was to agree.

In Shanghai we lived fairly comfortably, we really bathed in the rays of Glory. But still I felt strong attachment to my Motherland.

- What did Motherland mean to you then? You have never been in the USSR by that time? What did it mean to you?

People often ask this question. Besides my father was repressed. My parents have always longed for Russia. There was no choice for us. There was only one Motherland for us. We knew much from our parents, we studied in the Soviet school, read Russian newspapers. We knew: There was only one Motherland. That's why still in 1937 we decided to return home. So I came to Shanghai, to our chief Consulate. The Consul Nikita Grigoryevitch Yerofeyev asked: "Any problems?". I have an orchestra -I said - the Japanese become bold, there were the battles at the lake Hassan. So we want to go to our motherland. But the consul refused. He said: "You see, a group of Trotskists (betrayers) have recently been caught in the USSR. So the visas are not given to anybody at the moment". In fact he saved our lives. Terrible things might have happen to us if we had returned To the USSR that year.

- And what were the relations between the "white" Russians and the Soviet emigrants?

I have already said to your Consul: in my opinion, emigration ceased at the first day of the Great Patriotic War. A crowd of people rushed to the Consulate - the line was so long that it reached the bridge! Everyone wanted to go to the front-line, it was necessary to defend our Motherland. Our orchestra appealed for the visa the very first day of the war as well as another 30 volunteers - we all wanted them to send us to the front-line. The list was as long as an old papyrus. By that time some three or four Consuls have changed in the Consulate. In two months the German were already suburbs of Smolensk, and I again came to the Consulate. And I faced Yerofyev again. And he again asked: "What were the problems?". The problems were the same. We asked to send us to the front-line as soon as possible.

- "Well, what patriots you are! Tell your musicians: the fascists would be defeated without us. You are needed here more!" So he saved our lives for the second time. Later I heard his words from one of my acquaintances: "Our soviet orchestra is so popular here! Should we let them all be murdered?" Only many years later I realized what he had done for us. Our passionate patriotism could be misunderstood by KGB, the more that we had spent our youth abroad. Now I think - it is my fate. I became an adherent of Vernadsky. May be it was all sent to me from above.

And as far as many Russian emigrants were concerned, they came to our Soviet Club (The Club of the Soviet citizens, the Union of Returners) in numerous groups, that was the reason to find more spacious building for it. Then there was a crush in the minds of the people. Everybody thought that the problem was not in the political interests, but it was necessary to defend Motherland from the enemies.

Thanks to the words of Yerofeyev, which we thought were true, we decided to acquire a stable specialty. At that very hard time the musical specialty would hardly be used in the USSR. That's why my brother, I and Anatoly Minenkov entered the Shanghai High Technical Centre, with French as the main language of teaching. We studied French (even took additional lessons), and at the same time studied higher mathematics in French. By the way, meanwhile I read all French literature in French. Life was hard then. In 1944 I became an architect and my brother Igor - a civil engineer. We presented our diploma works in French. All three of us have completed our engineering education.

People often ask me: "Do you feel pity having spent so much time on colleges and institutes?" Nothing of the kind! I studied higher mathematics twice: once in Russian and once in French. When we have already been in the USSR we went on tour to Karaganda. Just at the moment the second group, the former Haierbiners, went to Tselina (the freshly raised new and virgin soil). Among them was a teacher from Polytechnic Institute, he taught us higher mathematics. We all met and they were so proud that our orchestra became so famous. He said: "I condole with you! What a mathematician you could have made!". It happened so that I have killed a mathematician in myself.

During the war we studied at the daytime and worked in the evening; we tried to help Motherland as much as possible. At that time the orchestra started publishing a newspaper "Na Rodinu" ("To Motherland"). We donated the money for our concerts to the Red Army Foundation. A piece called "Interlude" was dedicated to the Victory day and it is still in the repertoire of the orchestra nowadays.

It was difficult also because the inflation "gobbled" all our earnings. It was in the wartime. The most popular ballrooms "Casanova", "Greenspoto" and some others were situated in the Foch Avenue (now Yangan Zhonlu). We signed the contract with "Greenspoto" and in a month our author's pay turned into brass farthings. I was not only the leader of the orchestra but also a manager of the orchestra. I came to the master, knock at the door. I saw a pale faced Chinese. He asked politely: "What do you want?" I said: "The inflation is terrible. My musicians sent me to ask you for a supplement and a per cent for inflation". He pulled out his Browning, loaded it and put in on the table in front of him and said: "Tell your musicians that I do not advise them to ask for any supplement."

Everybody was blue and gloomy. There was nothing to do, because the contract was signed for another two months. Several days passed. In the evenings we played for 45 minutes, then a 15 minutes rest for the wind instruments, meanwhile we let the tango-band play. Hardly had we sat down for a short rest we heard a terrible explosion, and we found ourselves in the street. When the smoke disappeared we saw that the ballroom is in ruins. Nothing was left only the stage. Luckily the musical instruments were with us, in our hands and were preserved. We found out that two groups of gangsters didn't come to an agreement on this ball-room. Thus the ballroom ceased.

During the war the guys distributed the newspapers "Na Rodinu" and "Novaya Zhyzn" (New Life), Vitaly Serebryakov became the collaborator of these newspapers. Then day by day the living conditions became worse and worse, nobody thought about dancing any more, many amusement centres were closed. The orchestra was disintegrated for some time. Everybody earned money the way he could. The war in Shanghai finished in August 1945. Igor Lundstrem headed the youth organization of the Soviet citizens - Soviet Sport Club. In Summer, 1947 the city's gathering of Soviet Citizens elected the Council; two persons from the orchestra were involved: Vitaly Serebryakov and Igor Lundsrem. The orchestra then consisted of 19 musicians. The new repertoire consisting of the arranged in the jazz style Soviet song and compositions was specially prepared. The orchestra played free for the returning Soviet citizens.

Igor Leonidovitch continues:

- "In 1947 Stalin issued a decree, according to which Russian citizens living abroad were allowed to return to the Motherland. We started packing. We again appealed the chief Consulate."

- But then you could choose any other country. Did you ever think about it?

- We could go anywhere. To any country of the world. For example a talented Shanghai Russian jazzman Serge Yerrmol (Sergei Yermolayev), my friend and 'competitor' went to Australia, half of the Russians left for the United States.

Why weren't we embittered by our father's death. The time was hard and many people lost relatives and friends or parted forever. By the way the consul added to our intention. He said: "Oleg Leonidovitch why do you hurry to return so much? There is devastation there. You may come to the USSR and may never play your music any more." But we thought: "Who then won the war?" The authority of the USSR was very high and we were proud with our country. Any other leader of the state may envy the authority of Stalin. That's why we rushed home. We thought: "If Russia is in devastation and no time is left for jazz, we'll build houses if it is necessary."

You know Oleg Leonidovitch a couple of white emigrants - a family of Olga and Michael Nikolayev (they were about 80). They left for Australia and later moved to the USA. Now they have American citizenship. But they can not forget their Shanghai childhood and youth. They remember you performances very well. Michael proposed his heart and hand to Olga to the play of Lundstrem-orchestra in "Paramount". It was at the beginning of the 1940s!

Life makes interesting turns sometimes! But at that time we could not think about other countries. It was quite clear to us: one should live in his own country and work for its economical progress. We came from China, where the market relations dictated their own rules: "If something isn't sold right now, we'll offer something else". That's why we were not scared of anything. For example, my mother, who never knew Chinese but she haggled so well at the market. I understood in Shanghai: the main problem was not in the language barrier or other conditionalities, but in the fact whether people want to communicate and come to an agreement or not. We learned about this long before Gorbatchov and his Perestroika. We were ready for the hardships much better than anybody else. The only thing we were not ready for - was the serious repressions of the state machine and for the war with cosmopolitanism in our state. But we were lucky. Besides we were very young and self-confident!

- The full stuff of our orchestra left Shanghai on board the ship "Gogol" on October, 21 1947 with the third wave of the repatriants. We landed in Nakhodka, the place of distribution of the migrants.

- Immediately after our arrival - says Oleg Leonidovitch - we gave a concert for our guardians in the Japanese camps. It was our fortune, because the chief distributor comrade Piskun noticed and respected us. I dared to ask him to find a city with a musical conservatoire for us. Among all the cities accessible to the repatriants the conservatoires were only in Kazan and Sverdlovsk. I chose the most western city, closer to the centre.

- Here we decided to make our orchestra a Municipal Jazz orchestra of Tatarstan under National Philharmonic society. But in 1948 a special government decree on the opera of V. Muradeli "Great Friendship" was issued and at the deliberation in Moscow it was announced that "the country needs no jazz". Our orchestra was obliged to disperse: some had to work in the orchestra of the opera house, some - in the restaurants, some - in the movie-theatres. Some of us even worked at the funerals. Several of our musicians began their studies at the Kazan State Conservatoire of Music. Serebryakov and Minenkov turned into engineers. At the beginning of the 1950s Oleg Lundstrem was a music director of the Kazan Kachalov Drama theatre. There he made acquaintance with his future wife. Gala played on the stage. She was an actress.

"I never thought of having my own family" - said Lundstrem. But she was soon pregnant and I, being an honest man, married her. But my Gala, without saying a word to me made an abortion. The result was very sad: we never had children.

I keep thinking about consul Yerofeyev. He was a wonderful man. He was 10-12 years older than I. He died recently at the age of 90. He was retired. He was quite lonely, all his family died. It was so uneasy for him at that age. Seems that a person should be grateful for such a long life, but if you had lost everybody... Sometimes I think how happy am I to have a whole orchestra of my 'children'…"

In 1956 our orchestra began concertizing under "Rosconcert". Our first attempts were a success and the "Tatar Jazz" appeared. By that time Oleg Leonidivitch had finished the Kazan State conservatoire, where he studied Tatar folklore. Thanks to the successful experiment with arrangement in Chinese pentatonics, I made several successful arrangements of the Tatar melodies in jazz manner. I wrote a Tatar-style symphony and a suite and many other things. In 1956 the orchestra performed in Moscow with great success. The orchestra became popular, their names appeared in the newspaper, they had many concerts on the radio. The "new" music began sounding. At the Moscow Youth Festival in 1957 the orchestra had numerous triumphant concerts, all the foreign guests were excited. The years of tours, recordings and jazz festivals in Tallin, Warsow, Prague followed soon after that. The musicians moved to Moscow.

Oleg Leonidovitch how did they let you go abroad? Weren't they afraid that you wouldn't return?

That is right. They didn't let us go abroad for a long time. It happened so that we were invited to a festival in Chekhoslovakia. The party committee was gathered. They disputed for many hour, one then came out and said: "Looks like you won't go because we do not have enough time to prepare you documents". "OK" - we thought. Some time later an invitation from one of the most popular the USA Newport International Jazz Festival came to us. Panic again! We were again refused. The authorities explained the Americans that they were too late with their invitation. But the Americans were persistent guys and immediately sent an invitation again … for the next year. The festival was annual. And again another invitation from Chekoslovakia: the Lundstrem orchestra is needed. The authorities did not know what to say. "What's the problem?"- I asked. "You have come from abroad - they said - and they were afraid that you'd leave again. So we left for another tour. Suddenly my telephone rang: "Oleg Leonidovitch you are wanted to the Central Party Committee". So we came to the Central Party Committee. We were taken to a special room, without any lines. A nice looking man was sitting at the table: "I've got a letter recently. You are invited to Chekoslovakia. But they do not know who will be the leader of the group. I think you must be the leader: you lived abroad, you are an honourable man." So we went out of the room and my director said: "Something strange has happened! A kind of a break out in their heads! Maybe you don't understand, but I lived in this system for all my life". Indeed, we found a man who believed us.

- There was another man who loved Jazz. It was a head of the music department of the Central Party, comrade Kurpekov. I learned recently that he was just a Jazz fan but almost a maniac of Jazz. He was very risky because jazz was considered "the music of the fat".

My principle is: "The world is full of kind people". The main thing is to see a Man in a man. You must believe in all the best. I became the adherent of academician Vernadsky. What seemed casual in my life abroad or just accidental happened to be just a predestination from above. In fact very little depended on me. Our biosphere is planned and designed. You must only be a man… in any circumstances.

Author: L.P. Chernikova, senior teacher of the Chair of New and Latest History of the Bashkirian State University (city of Ufa), probationer of the East-Chinese Pedagogical University (city of Shanghai), candidate of History.

Back to contents

 
 
The state chamber orchestra of jazz music under the controm Oleg Lundstrem 2011 (c)
Tel.: 007 (499) 263-8005; 007 (499) 264-3674; Tel./Fax: 007 (499) 264-3678