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Dave White

Twitter: @davewhitewrites

Special English brought to you by VOA

July 1, 2013

Special English brought to you by VOA

One of those things that when people say it to you, it doesn’t make sense, but then you find a dictionary and say…oh, that’s what they meant by Special English.

Jazz Diplomacy

June 29, 2013

Been doing a bit of research into jazz diplomacy and found a bunch of interesting resources around the web.

This interview on NPR about Dizzy Gillespie’s work as a Cultural Ambassador for the U.S..

There’s also a book by Lisa Davenport:  Jazz DiplomacyPromoting America in the Cold War Era

A website detailing specific jazz ambassadors from the Meridian International Center’s exhibit:  “Jam Session:  America’s Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World”  (2008)

An article from the New York TimesWhen Ambassadors Had Rhythm

A couple of blog posts from the U.S. Department of State: Celebrating International Jazz Day and Celebrating Jazz Diplomacy.

A blog post critiquing the practice of Jazz Diplomacy in the 21st century.

And a blog entry by students at London Metropolitan University on “Public and Cultural Diplomacy 3:”  Jazz Diplomacy and the Cold War

Google Street View of the Valley of Jazz

June 28, 2013

Google Street View of the Valley of Jazz

On my final adventure in St. Petersburg, we found the forest of trees that Gennady Golstein and others had planted in honor of American and Russian Jazz Musicians.  Today I found this location on google earth streetview.  If you zoom in it is possible to make out the fuzzy rectangles of a few signs.  At least this way, other people can find the valley of jazz.

Piter Jazz: The Outtakes

May 29, 2013
the things that didn’t make it into a blog post

IMG_6989 DSC02420Hearing “Joplin, Missouri” sung by Russians during two different renditions of “Route 66” one at Griboedov 7 and the second at the Jazz Philharmonic Hall.  As many of you know, Joplin is my hometown and each time this was sung, it made me feel a little closer to home, even though I was very far away.

  • Having “JAZZ IS NOT DEAD!” screamed at me from a moving car while walking to the summer garden.  Boris, who was responsible for my finest car ride through the city (we listened to Frank Zappa and Iggy Pop, admittedly not jazz, but truly music that bridged our language barrier), spotted Makbal and I walking on the sidewalk and with his car filled with ladies in their finery, rolls down the window to proclaim that jazz is indeed alive.  It made my heart jump.


When Lera Gehner told us after her concert, “Thank you for giving me your eyes.  Your energy [during the show].”  Our role as audience members is not to be underestimated.


Meeting with Andrei Ryabov on the jazz boat.  Andrei is an incredible guitarist who lived in the U.S. for many years and he’s been back in SpB practicing guitar 5 – 6 hours a day in preparation for his return to the U.S..  Makbal called him and woke him up to get him to meet us and I found myself talking to him for an hour:  about jazz, about Salinger, about his sons who are still in the U.S..  I hope I meet Andrei again, more precisely, I hope I get to hear him play.


Finding the photo of Gennady Golstein playing with Zoot Sims in the Jazz Museum at the Jazz Philharmonic.

              • Coffee with Valeri on my next to the last day (we had talked about it since my first night) when he told me:  “In Russia we are always working toward freedom, in America freedom is where you start.”


Wearing booties to tour the palaces at Peterhof, halls that had been walked by the likes of Catherine the Great, countless Tsars, Romanovs, and dignitaries.  Not only were the booties attractive, they allowed you to “skate” across the floors.


Getting a photo-op with one of the cats that lives in the Peter-Paul Cathedral, “We don’t have mice,” proclaimed our tour guide.  There are cats living in many of the museums (they try to keep the number under 60 at the Hermitage).

IMG_6882Learning about “Jazz On Bones”: the practice of cutting records on old X-ray slides during Soviet times.  I found examples of …On Bones at the Museum of Political History (left) and the Jazz Philharmonic Hall (right).  It was a great way to cut  bootleg recording, as David Goloshchokin said miming the bootlegger with a record in his coat, “Hey buddy, you want some Glenn Miller?”


Seeing JAZZ outside the Jazz Philharmonic for the first time.

The lost cave drawings of Petersburg on the tunnel into the
Theatre Academy where I met with the playwriting grad students.


The graffiti at the Hat Bar.




The night I stayed up writing at the Hat Bar with my new fountain pen only to get back to my hotel, look in the mirror, and find myself covered in splotches of ink.


So many walks through SpB at night with friends.  This is a city that becomes ethereal when darkness overtakes and the buildings are lit.  Of course you have to wait until after midnight for the twilight to disappear.

The visit to the Museum of Political History: a bifurcated museum telling a complicated story…

The museum was filled with compelling displays articulating some of the most difficult times in Russia’s history and unique self-guided ways of exploring the political history of Russia.  Several of the displays in the renovated museum gave a vivid illustration of life under Stalin.  One could also tour the old displays in the museum, prior to the renovation, which presented a museum in a unique dialogue with itself.  There were also a few displays that caught me by surprise, and some that needed to be documents, or otherwise you just wouldn’t believe me.


A fake ham used to conceal a firearm

IMG_1467A cap from Che Guevara

The revolutionary writer’s retreat:


The motto:


Sightseeing photos from St. Petersburg

May 27, 2013

The view across the Neva River from the Peter-Paul Fortress.



Some buildings along Nevsky Prospect


IMG_6964 IMG_6962












The Cathedral of Spilled Blood in the twilight



Some buildings around town


The church near The Hat


Summer Garden in Petersburg.



The Metro



The big cathedral that used to be the Museum of Atheism during Soviet Times.








Fellow Fellows on the Kvadrat Jazz Cruise







Piter Jazz: The Final Russian Adventure (for now…)

May 27, 2013

ImageAccording to the television monitor mounted into the seatback in front of me, I am writing this at 31,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean and am still 2,487 miles from my destination.  Strange to think that two weeks ago I was flying this exact path with little to no idea of what lay ahead of me.

Yesterday was my final day of jazz in Russia, at least for the time being.  And it was an incredible day.  The day began in an un-jazzy fashion, but worth mentioning nevertheless.  A couple of my fellow Fellows accompanied by the always charming Anna (and her equally charming mother) went to see the production of ANTIBODIES at the Baltic House Theatre.  This production concerned the murder of an antifascist youth by a group of fascists and was as perplexing as it was compelling.  They used video in remarkable ways to create (or should I say re-create) the story from the perspective of the murdered boy’s mother and girlfriend, the murderer’s mother and friend, and a security guard and other people who played a role in the story.  The piece was written by a journalist and the whole team used theatre to make the story very present and


extremely poignant.  Our post show discussion was preempted by a deluge of rain and a sprint back to the Metro stop that looks like a UFO.  According to Daniel, one of my fellow Fellows, it is proof that aliens are responsible for Metro technology—and I can say that the efficiency and cleanliness of the Piter Metro belies a blessing from another planet.

After the show, I rendezvoused with Makbal for the coda to this adventure…a visit to the main hall of the Jazz Philharmonic (JPH) and a chance to see the Leningrad Dixieland Band on their home turf.  The three hour long performance delving into the heart of Russian Dixieland was an experience not to be missed.  The musicians were wonderful, playing tunes with both Russian and English lyrics, and wailing away on horns, clarinet, banjo, bass, drums, and piano; but the real surprise was the audience.  Again I found myself in a mixture of twenty-somethings out to dance and the older set in their fur-draped finery.  The Imageatmosphere Goloshchokin has created at the JPH is timeless and transports the audience into another time and place.  We sipped tea and snacked on pastry, all the while being entertained by the oldest band in Russia.  Founded in 1957, some of the members of the current lineup have been with the band since ’64.  These are musicians with a sense of history, not just of the music, but also of Russia and the ebbs and flows of the jazz scene.

As we exited the JPH around 10:00 p.m. the sun was shining and it wasn’t raining.  Ok, you may be saying, so what?!  Well, Makbal and I took it as a sign…a sign to go and find the trees that Gennady Golstein and others had planted in honor of American and Russian jazz musicians.  We took the Metro to an island in the Neva River and then began our walk…not a short walk…to a bridge that would take us to another island.  It was about 11:00 p.m. and Imagethe sunset was spectacular.  As we stepped onto the other island, we passed the old actor’s home (founded by a wealthy actress as a retirement center for aging actors), and proceeded to where Google and indicated the trees might be.  As we approached the guards at a gate protecting a dance club (it’s all we could surmise from the throbbing dance beats), no one knew what the heck we were talking about.  “Jazz trees?”  You could see the puzzlement cross their faces.  Defeated, we turned back and began walking back toward the old actor’s home.

ImageThe clock was ticking…it was 11:20 and the last Metro left at midnight.  A taxi couldn’t get us home because at 12:30 or 1 a.m. the bridges of the city are raised and we would be trapped on the island.  I would miss my plane!

True adventurers Makbal and I pressed on.  She remembered something Gennady mentioned earlier about the old actor’s home.  We swiftly walked past the home (away from the bridge!) and I began to see small signs underneath trees.  Could this be it?  A house party was happening inside the wrought-iron fence and Makbal and I stepped into the yard.  “Are these the jazz trees?”  Makbal inquired in Russian.  The men mumbled various non-committal denials, but we decided to check it out anyway, pushing on into their yard.  I must admit, it felt dangerous…darkness was encroaching and we were clearly trespassing on land with a big group of intoxicated locals and packs of wild dogs running in the street (I’m not kidding about this, they chased and attacked cyclists).

As I approached the first sign, it was in Cyrillic.  ImageWhat was it?  And then…a trombone etched into the metal.  I sound out the Cyrillic:  To-mee Dor-see.  TOMMY DORSEY!


We had found the Valley of Jazz.  A place where the Russian jazz great paid homage the all the great jazzmen of the world.  I whoop with glee and run from sign to sign, flashes as I take photos.  Suddenly a woman who was at the party Stella approaches Makbal and tells her that she will show us the real forest of jazz.  We journey back into the woods and there are literally dozens of signs.  Dozens of trees.  A forest in which the music lives in the earth, in the breeze.  As Stella showed us around, I had tears in my eyes.  This was the ground in which both of our traditions had literally taken root, and now here I stood at this nexus…




I take as many pictures as I can.  Oh crap!  The Metro!  We bid a hasty “Do-zvidanya” and “Spasiba-bolshoi” (apologies in advance to Russians for my American spelling of these words) and begin to trot back toward the Metro.  Could we catch a bus?  A cab?  No.  Nothing.

Makbal is nervous.  I can tell.  I am nervous.  I’m sure she can tell.  So we do what my mother always told me not to do…took a dark path through the woods where a bunch of cars were parked alongside the road with their hazards on.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Luck.  Luck happened. The path brought us out on the road where the Metro stop was located.  We made it to the Metro by 11:50…the nick of time.  As we sat on the Metro, smiles on our faces, we knew that we had earned our ending.  The journey was complete.  From Day One to Day Fourteen I had been immersed in jazz.  On nights when I was tempted to go out with my fellow Fellows, Makbal would remind me:  You are here for jazz.  And so I was.

We said good-bye on the train.  A quick hug and Makbal told me to “be a good boy.”  I said that I’d try.  My eyes were tearing up and as I stepped outside the Metro car I turned to wave good-bye.  Makbal smiled and I knew that my Virgil, my Beatrice, had released me.  Now I would have to find the jazz myself, inside myself.

And so I will….

There will be more blog posts as I continue to digest the copius CDs and books that I am bringing home, but this is the end of my adventure.  I am so grateful to the Likhachev Foundation, to Lena, and Makbal, and everyone involved for their generosity.  I am returning to the U.S. a changed human being, with a deeper understanding not just of Russia and jazz, but of my own country and myself.

My joy is in getting to know Russia through the people and music there.  I am thrilled to have met so many friends.  I hope to honor them all with the work ahead.

The End.


Piter Jazz: Kondakov, Volkov, and Bagdasaryan + The Count Basie Orchestra

May 25, 2013

It’s been a couple of days since I’ve updated the blog, but that’s mainly because after Thursday night’s performance by


Kondakov, Volkov, and Bagdasaryan my focus shifted to beginning the play that this trip is facilitating.  Quite simply, my mind was completely blown by the show at JFC and the sheer joy that I felt after watching these three musicians inspire, push, and prod one another to greater and greater musical heights.  As stated in a previous post, Volkov plays every part of his contrabass…well Kondakov does the same with his piano, playing it inside and out:  the wood, the strings (is that what you call them?!?), and of course the keys.  Bagdasaryan is one of the most empathetic and nuanced drummers ever to grace a trio and he complemented the others with great charm.  After this concert, the play would wait no longer…


Earlier in the day I had the honor of sitting in on a big band conducting exam led by Serge Bogdonov at the Mussorgsky Music Academy, watching emerging musicians honing their playing and their leadership  skills.  It was unbelievable to sit in a small classroom with an 18-


piece big band blowing their way through some Count Basie tunes.  The windows of the classroom were open and the jazz flowed out into the street.  It seems like that happens a lot in this town.  The more I look, the more jazz I see.


The next day I had the joy of getting to see the Count Basie Orchestra at the Bolshoi Philharmonic Hall.  It was a swinging concert that featured some members of the band that have been swinging for 45 years.  The audience was comprised of young hipsters and older babushkas reliving their youth.  The audience couldn’t get enough and the Basie Orchestra played two encores.  Gennady  Golstein and Vladimir Feyertag were at the front of the room and the evening couldn’t get any more perfect…until we found ourselves at The Hat.

Yes…The Hat.  Back to The Hat where a swinging jam helmed by Kirill played us into the wee hours in a room packed shoulder to shoulder with twenty-somethings digging the bebop. 

Of course there was still one night in Petersburg left…and that adventure will have to wait until tomorrow.  And it’s a hell of an adventure.


[more photos to be inserted shortly]

Piter Jazz: Vladimir Feyertag and Volkov Trio

May 23, 2013

Vladimir Feyertag is a renowned jazz critic and writer based in St. Petersburg.  He counts Igor Butman, the world-famous saxophone player, as one of his students, and speaks eloquently and passionately about Russian jazz.  Feyertag is a living lexicon of traditional jazz and jazz players and speaks his mind when it comes to the impact of jazz on Russia and of Russia on jazz.  Once again, Willis Conover, the Voice of America DJ, assumes a central place in bringing jazz to Russia.

Feyertag does a spot on impersonation of Conover and speaks of how Conover’s voice would crackle out of the shortwave radio.  Conover spoke slowly and clearly so that all the jazz-o-philes in Russia could know both the artists and the music.  During a visit to America, Feyertag had the opportunity to ask Conover how he organized his jazz program and Conover’s reply was simply “I am a State Department worker.”  Talk about Jazz Diplomacy.


Feyertag also spoke of the dangers of jazz:  if a Russian knew jazz, that Russian could defect out of the country to go and follow jazz.  Jazz was a window to the west, and it was a window that captured the eyes and minds of many Russians.  Jazz was the sound of America.  Today, the jazz scene here flourished due to three things:  1)  information that lets us choose who we listen to and who we want to be friends with; 2)  Open concerts where people can hear other musicians without having to journey underground; and 3)  Jazz is now recognized as a musical form by all musicians.  Here’s the future of jazz in Russia.


Makbal and I then took a leisurely walk through the summer gardens in St. Petersburg on our way back to the JFC jazz club to hear the Volkov Trio.  I wish I could explain to you what a miraculous player Vladimir Volkov is on the double bass.  He dances with his bass, lifting it, and swinging it.  He plays the whole instrument, the body, the pickups, the bridge; and he plays it with his hands, a bow, even a drumstick; all of it creating the sounds of his soul.  And when you see his eyes lift to the sky you know that this is a musician who is in touch with something much bigger than himself.  One evening with Volkov just isn’t enough…lucky that I’ll get to see him play with Kondokov tonight (and he also plays in the U.S., so keep your eyes out and don’t miss this incredible musician the next time he crosses the Atlantic).  There’s lots of videos on Youtube, so check him out!

IMG_6923 IMG_6924 IMG_6927

Piter Jazz: Slava Guyvoronsky, David Goloshchokin, and Nikolai Sizov

May 23, 2013

As I jumped on the Metro at the Sadovaya station, I did not know that I was going to be having one of the finest conversations of my life in a matter of minutes.  Makbal and I had been invited to Slava Guyvoronsky’s apartment to talk about jazz and spend time with Slava.  Slava Guyvoronsky is a world renowned trumpet player who plays a trumpet designed to be played “on its side.”  He was part of the jazz trio at the Consulate and when we spoke there briefly, I felt we had made a connection, talking about the spiritual nature of both jazz and ragas.


Slava and his wife Dasha welcomed us into their homeith a fine meal of homemade blinis, a delicious salad, and the wine and cake that we brought to show our gratitude for this invitation.  Makbal, Slava, and I sat at the table and talked philosophy, music in America, and why Peterburg is a welcoming home for musicians.  After our meal, we retired to Slava’s music room and he played some recordings in which his trumpet and Vladimir Volkov’s bass worked to create the sounds of pure emotion.  I was swept away.  Finally we noticed the time and had to say good-bye.  Slava’s final words to me were:  “You’re not a historian, take what we give you and spread your wings, you will fly higher and higher.”  With a song in my heart I headed out the door anxious to take to the wind.


DSC02447After a quick metro jump back into the city (and a quick costume change into a sportcoat), we headed to the Jazz Philharmonic for a television interview and a meeting with the Philharmonic’s founder David Goloshchokin.  David showed us around the museum to Russian jazz that’s hosted in his facility and told stories of playing with Duke Ellington, mainly because the Soviet authorities couldn’t admit to Duke that they didn’t have jazz in Russia (of course, they have everything in Russia!).  The Philharmonic was founded in 1989 with government support and continues to host important events to this day in it’s main hall and the more intimate Ellington Hall.  Kvadrat and the Jazz Philharmonic Big Band are both hosted here for much of the year.  Goloshchokin is also an accomplished musician and he played violin, flugelhorn, and vibes at the concert later that evening.



After the concert in Ellington Hall, we sat down with Nikolai Sizov, the piano player who I have seen several times at the Hat Bar and who was performing with the ensemble in Ellington Hall.  Nikolai shared his journey from a teenager looking for his people to a jazz pianist who is in high demand.  His trio has a CD out in Japan and Nikolai plays nearly every night at venues around Petersburg.  He was funny and generous and kind, and a bit of a clown, but once again is a musician who has found his home in Piter.  He did express some regret at not leaving the city when he was younger, but there is also the sense that if he had left, he would have returned to make his music in St. Petersburg.




JFC Jazz Club

May 21, 2013



JFC Jazz Club is one of the premiere venues for jazz in St. Petersburg.  While not as old as Kvadrat or the Jazz Philharmonic, JFC is host to many contemporary jazz artists as well as a jazz festival in April.  Last night we caught Lera Gehner and Alexei Popov.  Lera is a high energy singer whose voice has echoes of Macy Gray, but is a unique instrument in and of itself.  Alexei was generous enough to sit and speak with me about the show about his journey as a saxophonist (he’s another Golstein disciple; and a hell of a player) and why he calls St. Petersburg home.  According to Alexei, the scene is Petersburg has grown significantly in the past 10 years, and we all hope that trend continues.  Fay, a fellow fellow, joined me at the gig IMG_6870and she and I spoke with Lera after the show as well.

Andrei and Lera have played together for over a decade and their show is a funky, high-energy jazz show.  Blending blues such as “The Thrill is Gone” with original compositions, they had the whole club dancing and the energy stuck with me all the way back to the hotel and late into the night.  Lera’s performance is theatrical, physical, and her virtuosity as a singer is nonpareil.

Here’s a video of Lera from a couple of years ago, but you’ll get the drift: