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The years in the orchestra

I appeared in the orchestra of Oleg Lundstrem in the summer of 1984 as a result of the latest change of my place of work, when I parted with "Cadence" of German Lukyanov. Up to that moment I had the following principle: if you want to enrich and renew your repertoire - you must change the orchestra. So I, same as many other musicians, changed the orchestra every two years, mastering the new material at the new place of work. But still I gave six years of my life to "Cadence". There was a lot to study there. The more that the "iron curtain" began to open gradually: we were the first with our specific post-Soviet jazz at the festivals in Holland, Poland and Hungary…

Speaking about the orchestra, I would like to mention, that here I was a musician for as much as fourteen years. Such an enormous element is it - Jazz Orchestra. Big Band! There is discipline and democracy and space for solo work, and the ability to show oneself both as an arranger and as a composer. An orchestra is like a living organism; its every musician is an individuality, starting from the conductor and ending with the stage-hand. Oleg Leonidovich and Alik Milkin - are the two poles. But the poles can not exist one without another.

The orchestra spent its major time in tours all over Russia foreign tours took place as well. As far as I remember, our longest tour was the trip to India, commemorating the year of friendship between two peoples. It happened in the times when, a tour abroad for a month would "feed" the musicians for the next six months. The whole intrigue was, except the successful concert activity, in the correct approach to the natural barter. Though I was very much against it, and tried to isolate myself into the world of pure art, gradually I gave in. That's why, when the orchestra, after our endless flight, dipped into the damp stuffiness of the first city on its way (it was Calcutta) and began to unload, we were not even permitted to touch our luggage. You should have seen the way cachectic and lean Indians tried to place the enormous and heavy suitcases of the musicians on bus top where they were supposed to travel. They could hardly be moved even by giant Russian guys: besides irons, bottles of Champaign and other items of exchange the suitcases were stuffed with month supply of cans which would help to preserve money. One could get a leather coat (of certain quality) for three bottles of Champaign. The element of exchange - is very much native to the musicians, they have much in common with gypsies, to my mind.

But coming back to the concerts of that tour, it should be mentioned that for a long time we didn't have any: the orchestra moved from city to city, according to the tour plan, enjoying the hospitality of the natives, took sun-baths on the beautiful beaches, bargained at the market, enjoyed the sightseeing, but the muses kept silence. The orchestra's luggage contending printed scores, musical instruments and other necessary things, without which an orchestra turns into a group of curious tourists at that time traveled in different directions. Our joyful meeting took place in the middle of the route. But after that our swing repertoire was of great success. By the way the relations of the orchestra with its luggage is a theme of separate novel.

Looking back we can see now the way our tour line merges into a long ribbon which has bright sparkles - events, but there is also a routine order of life, a rite. Saying "rite" I mean that the musicians can roughly be divided into two categories: those, who drink tea or something more strong till morning; others, on the contrary, begin their morning with a run, and then, after the shower pass over to individual training and rehearsing, playing their instruments and filling the central square of the provincial town with different sounds. And only two moments, only two most important events of the day unite all the members of the orchestra without any exceptions: they are Lunch and Concert. One cannot miss any of them, and it is not worth being late. Both of the great events trouble the musician most of all in their tour life. The whole day moves gradually towards its culmination: from the slow morning through the lunch and after-lunch "siesta" (the absence of which makes the life impossible) to the climax of the day, its highlight - when the music scores are placed on the rostrums, the musicians are dressed into the similar costumes, more or less fitting them, the illumination is bright, the conductor makes his ritual reprimand to the orchestra and the performance is ready to be started. And in spite of all the contradictions, which cover like a web the relations of different people sitting on the stage, so much unlike each other - magic happens. And if it doesn't happen, one should better not appear on the stage any more. Better earn his money in any other different way.

The program of the orchestra was always well balanced, made up so that various things could be shown without falling into extremes. So, what do you think impressed the Chinese spectators most of all. I'll enumerate three things, beginning from the last one: the solo drum-roll has always been enthusiastically greeted, irrespective of quality (my apologies to the drum-players); still more popular was our tap-dance male trio, but the chief glory went to the lowest bass note, which was taken by the bass-singer of our vocal ensemble in full and complete silence on the background of the orchestra's rest. The silence was broken by the turmoil of applause. I explain this phenomenon by the peculiarities of the Chinese national vocal school, which makes the singing of such notes impossible.

Speaking about the tour we can remember many different things both funny and interesting. Egyptian Pyramids and the lights of night New York, the monkeys of Delhi, stealing your last banana and the fairytale-like towns of Netherlands, where nobody steals anything. We also remember our Chinese tour very well. It is difficult to add something to the numerous descriptions of the Emperor's Palace or the Great Chinese wall, but the personal reminiscences are always very private.

Probably somebody has already told you about one episode, but I'd like to repeat it, for it was very interesting. In Shanghai I was among the handful of musicians, which, together with Oleg Leonidovich were visiting the places of "Military Glory" of the orchestra: ball-rooms, where the orchestra had worked many years ago. It was interesting to listen to the stories of Maestro about the people and the events of those years.. Everything seemed to be the days of far distant History, which has gone forever. But suddenly we entered the doorway of the house, where Maestro had lived long ago he said the telephone is still in its place. It looked like mystery. But suddenly the threads of Time began connecting. A person stepped out of the darkness and said: "I know you. You lived here forty years ago…"
Strange country, strange fortune.

Nikolai Panov
January, 23, 2003
Atlanta, USA

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