Jazz Kolo in Ukraine’s cultural space

Culture & Science
16 June 2019, 13:07

Jazz emerged as a product of a synthesis of African and European cultures on the verge of the 19th and 20th centuries. Its typical features are improvisation and swing, the polyrhythmic pattern based on syncopated rhythms and a unique set of techniques used to play the rhythmic texture. 

Musicians and composers across the world began to quickly master and develop the ideas of jazz rhythms and harmonies. This music art became trendy and elitist. Jazz has evolved remarkably, developing into different forms and a combination of several genres. It created different styles, including swing, big band, mainstream, stride, Cansas City, West Coast jazz, cool, hard bop, modal jazz, progressive jazz, soul jazz, groove, free jazz, creative, fusion, post-bop, acid jazz, smooth jazz and jazz-manouche, also known as gypsy jazz.  

Because jazz has its roots in blues, the folk music of the slaves brought to America from Africa, it is only natural that musicians and composers in other countries started playing jazz at home, applying their authentic features, mentality, temperament and melodies to it. As a result, jazz is international art today that brings together all cultures in the world and has enriched itself greatly through this.

Ukraine always had many talents. It’s a place where creativity, art and music are always alive. One can hardly imagine a Ukrainian without all these. Folk music stands on a special level in Ukraine. It’s diverse, deep and authentic. Ukrainians quickly and easily accept new global trends in culture. Jazz is no exception. It came to Ukraine in the 1950s largely thanks to musicians Volodymyr Symonenko, Volodymyr Molotkov, Yuriy Kuznetsov, Yevhen Derhunov and Yukhym Markov. When there was no such thing as the Internet and Ukrainians lived behind the curtain, Symonenko compiled and published the first soviet Real Book with jazz standards. Molotkov and Volodymyr Manilov wrote and published jazz guitar learning books. This inspired other performers and helped them to develop. Jazz thus settles in Ukraine too. 

That was the first generation of Ukrainian jazz musicians who played jazz in gigs, clubs and restaurants, made records, published books, textbooks and collections of pieces. These were Volodymyr Molotkov, Serhiy Shvirst, Yevhen Derhunov, Viacheslav Poliansky, Artem Aleksanian, Yuriy Kuznetsov, Enver Izmailov, Yukhym Markov, Yuriy Yaremchuk, Volodymyr Solianyk, Oleksandr Saratsky and more. These musicians worked actively in the 1980s, leaving a lot of good music behind. Leonid Goldstein compiled a large collection of jazz tunes performed by Ukrainian jazzmen in 35 Minutes of Jazz, a popular radio show. Ukrainian radio played jazz too. Oleksiy Kohan promotes it there.

As Ukraine gained independence, young jazzmen started coming to Kyiv over the 1990s and 2000s. As the capital, Kyiv turned into a place with much better career opportunities for musicians. This shaped the second generation of Ukrainian jazz musicians, including Yuriy Shepeta, Maksym Hladetsky (Vinnytsia), Ihor Zakus (Chervonohrad), Serhiy Ovsiannykov (Kramatorsk), Serhiy Tabunshchyk (Mykolayiv), Volodymyr Volkov (Kherson), Rodion Ivanov, Mykhailo Bankovsky, Oleksandr Harkavyi, Vitaliy Savenko, Lana Merkulova (Donetsk), Vitaliy Ivanov, Natalia Lebedeva, Artem Mendelenko, Alik Fantayev, Oleksandr Murenko (Kyiv), Volodymyr Shabaltas, Dmytro Aleksandrov, Oleksandr Lebedenko, Denys Dudko, Oleksiy Saranchin (Kharkiv). This is an incomplete list.

2010 saw further concentration of jazz musicians in Kyiv. Some came to look for work and some came to study. They shaped the third generation: Illya Yeresko, Dennis Adu, Pavlo Lytvynenko, Kostiantyn Ionenko, Ihor Hnydyn, Pavlo Halytskyi, Oleksandr Yemets, Bohdan Humeniuk, Dmytro Kovalenko, Danylo Zverkhanovsky, Illya Alabuzhev, Oleksiy Boholiubov, Stanislav Chumakov, Olha Lukachova, Tamara Lukasheva, Yukhym Chupakhin, Dmytro Bondarev, Serhiy Balalayev, Oleksandr Poliakov and many more. 

The fourth generation is emerging today with the 20-year olds. Some study in Ukraine and others study abroad. Their accomplishments are yet to come. Four generations are thus creating and developing Ukrainian improvised music. It’s very diverse given all the conditions and specific reasons. Jazz festivals are a major location where Ukrainian jazz lives. They are not few but fewer than in the EU or the US. Kyiv has Jazz in Kyiv, DoDzh, Yednist (Unity) and Jazz Kolo; Lviv has Jazz Bez; DoDzh comes from Donetsk; Kharkiv has Za Jazz Fest; Lutsk has Rivne, Odesa has Jazz Carnival, Dnipro and Vinnytsia have their own festivals. They all share two typical features: 

1. Festival budgets are generally very small, so the performers are usually friends who can come and play for free, or bands that are not professional enough and will cover their own traveling costs just to get an appearance on the festival stage. This cannot be blamed on the organizers who mostly hold the festivals based on their enthusiasm and the love for jazz. 

2. The biggest Ukrainian festivals, such as Jazz in Kyiv and DoDzh, have big sponsors and bring top-tier musicians. They deserve huge appreciation for that. Thanks to them, Ukrainians have a chance to listen to Al Jarreau, Marcus Miller, Tania Maria, Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea and many others live. But the organizers are forced to always put an accent on international celebrities, in order to accumulate enough funding to pay serious sums to the artists in advertising campaigns. Ukrainian musicians, who have also created good quality music, find themselves irrelevant. 

It is because of this, or thanks to these negative and positive trends that composer Ihor Zakus and Yulia Oliynyk from the Tempora publishing house joined efforts in 2007 to create the Jazz Kolo project. Roman Nedzelskyi, musician and Director of Ukrayina Palace in Kyiv, joined the project shortly after. Each of these people have been creating and developing this Ukrainian jazz project for 10 years now. 

Jazz Kolo emerged as a series of jazz concerts to support improvisation music in Ukraine. It has featured the best Ukrainian musicians and has so far held 70 concerts, released a collection of 15 DVDs and 16 CDs of original jazz music, compiled an anthology of Ukrainian instrumental music with 5 CD collections, created over 140 TV programs about Ukrainian jazz, and brought together a large audience of intellectual music supporters and fans. That turned Jazz Kolo into a reputable brand. The project keeps growing and progressing.   

Over 2008-2010, it held nearly 20 live concerts and released 15 CDs with live concerts of original Ukrainian music. It released the first concert DVDs in Ukraine and compiled an extensive collection of Ukrainian improvisation music. These records feature in 140 shows in several nationwide TV channels as a way to introduce and promote original Ukrainian music in society. 

Apart from that, Jazz Kolo has released five CDs of studio-recorded music by Ukrainian instrumentalists. Each represents an individual instrument, including piano, guitar, saxophone, bass guitar and drums. This collection helps to analyse trends in Ukrainian music performance between the 1980s and today. The Jazz Kolo series is an audio anthology of Ukrainian instrumentalists between 1980 and 2010. In a series of TV shows, Ukrainian musicians play different styles of jazz and talk about their details, features and secrets. Some jazz performers have hosted their own shows. All this shows the evolution of the face of Ukrainian jazz. 

Ukrainian jazz musicians have become more mature, offering interesting pieces and ideas. It is very important for them to be represented in the European jazz space and to speak as equals with Europeans and Americans in the language of music and jazz. This is that concept of this years’ Jazz Kolo. The project invites European jazz musicians to work jointly on music programs with Ukrainians, to speak and share ideas and impressions, and to play music together in Ukraine and beyond.

Apart from festivals, jazz lives in clubs and concert halls in Ukraine. These are becoming more active and Jazz Kolo is a frequent guest. Some of the project’s key benefits include high technical quality, deep authentic ideas, putting the top-notch Ukrainian music products on audio and video, and support of its further evolution.  

By Ihor Zakus


Translated by Anna Korbut 

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