(Moscow today & tomorrow, april 2001)
Mr. Lundstrem, do you remember when
you were bitten by the 'jazz bug'?
Of course I do. It happened in Harbin in 1933. I grew up
in a family of intellectu-als: my father was of Swedish
origin, his name was Leonid Lundstrem, he was a professor
of physics. We played music at home quite a lot. Father
played the piano, mother sang, and I played the violin,
but to tell you the truth, I liked to dance a lot, especially
the fox-trot. And then one day, I walked into a music store
to buy some new records for an upcoming dance date. [ put
on one record, then another, and suddenly there was an orchestra
I had never heard before. An incredible new sound, fantastic
label read "The Duke Ellington Orchestra". You
are going to teli me that in 1933 the name was already well
known? Not a bit of it! What was popular were commercial
dance bands. So 1 am the one who discovered Ellington in
Harbin. The selection on the disc I was listening to was
"Dear Old Southland". My friends and I must have
played il lliroiii'Ji hundreds of times. When we decided
to put our own band together, naturally we included it in
our repertory. Incidentally, I was unani-mously elected
I was born in Chita, Russia, in 1916- In 1921; my parents
and I moved to Harbin, China. My father was offered a position
teaching at the KVJD (Chinese Eastern Railway), which traversed
Manchuria and went as far as Vladivostok, and which originally
was owned jointly by China and Russia. When China recognized
the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic),
many Russians working on the KVJD left, because they refused
to recog-nize the Soviet government.
That is when my father was offered his contract. He thought
he would take his family to Manchuria, stay there for a
cou-ple of years to work, and then come back. Who would
have thought then that the 'couple of years' would stretch
into a quarter of a century?
At that time, incidentally, Harbin was world-class cultural
centre: we had an opera company, an operetta theatre, a
philharmonic orchestra, wonderful choirs and chamber music
groups. They invited opera soloists from the Bolshoi Theatre
in Moscow, and even the great Lemeshev came from the Mariinsky
in St. Petersburg. Soloists from His Imperial Majesty's
orchestras played in ours. Some of the the-atrical actors
and chansonnier, such as Vertinsky, were of the same calibre.
Let's go back to 1934. You heard the Ellington recording,
and you put together a jazz band consisting of young musicians.
The date, October 1, 1934, got into The Guinness Book of
Records, as the found-ing of the world's oldest jazz band.
At first, there were unly nine of us, which was the standard
number for the 1930s: three saxophones (А. Опору uk, VI.
Sere-bryakov, 1. Lundstrem), two trumpets (Vit. Serebryakov,
A. Kotyakov), one trombone (A. Minenkov), a rhythm section
(A. Gra-vis on string bass and banjo, I. Umyanets on drums,
and me on piano).
Later, when we moved to Shanghai and started playing profession.illy,
Ihe band grew to between 15 and 17 musicians.
We played popular American songs, as well as Soviet melodies,
which I was arranging by that time. Talking pictures had
just appeared, most of the ones avail-able were American,
even some musicals, such as Broadway Melody of 1938. We
could pick out any tune by ear. There were dozens of bands,
including even some American ones, playing in ball-rooms,
made up of European refugees from Germany, Austria, and
Czechoslo-vakia, after those countries had been invaded
by the Fascists.
you meet some celebrities in those days?
Oh, yes: American trumpet player Buck Clayton, star of the
Count Basie band. It happened this way: in 1935, our trum-peter
Kotyakov, Minenkov, the trombonist, and I went to look around
in Shanghai, and suddenly we found out that an American
big band was playing in one of the local ballrooms. So we
bought tickets, sat down, and listened. And we couldn't
believe what we were hearing: Buck Clayton was playing for
us. At the time, he sounded a lot like Louis Armstrong,
and Kotyakov in Harbin was known as the 'local Armstrong'.
Anyway, we started to go to that ballroom every evening.
And - can you believe it - Buck Clayton remembered us! When
we toured the United States many years later, in 1991, he
recognized both Kotyakov and me, much older and grey now.
And he started to cry, and he ran up to us and he threw
his arms around us.
How did you return to Russia? It was a difficult time, and
you had been abroad for over twenty years?
I'll tell you one thing: the world is full of kind people.
You see, we had decided to
come back home as early as 1937. I went to our Consulate
General in Shanghai, and I put my name on the appointment
list. At the time, the Consul's name was Yerofeyev. He asked
me what problems I was having. I told him that I had a band,
and the Japanese were getting fresh, there had been a battle
recently on Lake Khasan, and so we wanted to fight for the
Fatherlaru.). The Consul frowned, and said, "You see,
we have a small problem here: some Trotskyites have been
uncovered recently, and we are temporarily not issu-ing
visas. But don't worry, we'll get every-thing straightened
out, and we'll let you know."
I mean, this man literally saved us. Can you imagine us
coming to Moscow at the height of the trials of internal
enemies of the State? Back then, the consuls changed every
two or three years. Well, since he had promised to clear
things up, we wait-ed patiently, until 1941. The war had
already begun. So we wrote another letter requesting we
be sent to the front as vol-unteers, and everyone in the
band signed it, and I went to the Consulate a second time,
where I unexpectedly saw my old friend Yerofeyev. "Hello
there, what prob-lems?" "Same as before, except
now the Germans are near Smolensk, and we're cooling our
heels here, and we ask that you send us to the front immediately."
"Well said, patriotic lads! Tell your musi-cians the
Consul General said that now you are more needed over here."
And that is how I enlisted in 1941, and in 1944, I graduated
from the French Technical Academy in Shanghai as an architect.
So we returned to Russia for good only in November of 1947.
And got sent to Kazan, where the local authorities decid-ed
to make us over into a Tatar show band, a concert group
attached to the Philharmonia.
on Cultural Affairs announced that he had just returned
from a high-level meeting in Moscow, at which it was decided
that the Soviet People do not need jazz. And so, the chairman
said, because the band was already in Kazan, where professional
musicians were in very short supply, let's do the following:
the trumpet players, the trombonists, and the clarinet players
get sent to the opera and symphony orchestras; the saxophonists
will be assigned to movie theatres to play med-leys of popular
Soviet songs before each performance; and the others will
go play in restaurants. So there. The orchestra didn't start
playing concert dates until 1956.
During the 1950s, several new stars appeared in the band:
saxo-phonists Garanyan, Zubov, and Albegov, and the trombonist
Bakholdin, but they were all fans of new directions in jazz,
such as bebop and cool jazz. Were they able to find something
in common with the boys from Shanghai?
They were brilliant improvisers, which I personally greatly
appreciated. Yes, Garanyan and Zubov had a rather ironic
attitude toward what they considered our archaic kind of
music, but all in all, they respected it. What I mean is
that they understood each other immediately. Generally,
jazz styles change very often. What is in vogue today may
very well be rejected tomorrow.
Mr. Lundstrem, some three genera-tions of musicians have
played in your band. Today, a significant num-ber of your
musicians belong to yet a new - a fourth - generation.
Alexey Zubov, our second-generation vet-eran, recently heard
us play in Los Angeles, and noted, "Four generations,
but they play like a well-oiled machine!"
Are you happy living this huge, jazz-filled life? Do
you consider yourself a happy man?
Do you know what my late wife used to call me? "You're
an incurable optimist!"
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