Jazz for the soul

Anu Prabhakar,
Mid Day India,
October 26, 2014

It’s a piece of news that can delight every jazz fan in the city. The National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), in association with Jazz Addicts, brings The Igor Butman Big Band for a concert that founder, leader and artistic director, Igor Butman promises will be ‘one of the best jazz orchestras of this time’. In an interview with sunday mid-day, Butman talks about his previous visits to India, how he is inspired by Russian stories and folklore and why he enjoys the music of geniuses such as Ravi Shankar and Trilok Gurtu.

Q. What are your fondest memories from your earlier visits to India?
A. This is the fourth time I’ll perform in India. In 2003, I performed in New Delhi and Mumbai, as well as Kolkata. It was amazing as I met great Indian pianist Maddof Shari. I really enjoy the music of Shari, Ravi Shankar, Trilok Gurtu and Rudresh Mahanthappa. India has a huge culture where music and cinema play a significant role. This country also brought many cultural creations to the world. It’s a privilege to come here and play for your great audience.

Q. You play pieces by Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and many more. What is their specific musical quality that appeals to you?
A. There were three different big bands from the Swing Era in the ’30s and ’40s, when jazz music was the most popular in the world. Benny Goodman put all those great musicians together in a big band and he was the first musician to break boundaries between black and white musicians, by inviting artistes such as Teddy Golson and Lionel Hampton to his band. The beat and swing they had was incredible. And when you talk about Duke Ellington, you’d think about a philosopher of jazz, one of the creators of jazz, looking for new sounds, new combination of the instruments and new themes for the jazz music. He thought about the spiritual side of music.

Q. How has the band evolved musically, over the years?
A. I formed this band in 1999, and since then we’ve played, recorded and performed music in different parts of the world. We have enjoyed performing with the best musicians in the world — Wynton Marsalis, George Benson, Dee Dee Bridgewater to name a few ... the band will also perform an original tune, Butman plays Goodman, by Nick Levinovsky.

Q. As a Russian, do you derive inspiration from local Russian stories and culture?
A. Of course. I’m a Russian musician and I live in the country of great artistes such as author Alexander Pushkin, composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and filmmaker Sergei Mikhailovich Eizenshtein. I’ve been surrounded by Russian culture for many years, followed by American culture, with European classical music and Eastern culture as well.

Q. Which country, according to you, has the most vibrant jazz scene?
A. I’d say the USA has the most vibrant jazz scene because there are a lot of good musicians there. We just returned from a major tour from there and many people said Russian jazz was the best music they have ever heard in their life.

Q. What are you currently working on?
A. We’re working on new projects with violinist Katya Astashova who will play with us the music of artistes George Bizet and Niccolo Paganini.