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Dance On Bones

Resources and info for upcoming play about an American Jazz musician, traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia to rediscover her artform and lay bare her own history, conflicts, and identity as a musician.

This project has been supported by a Likhachev Foundation/Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center Fellowship in May 2013.


Jazz is a language all its own.

Russian Jazz?  American Jazz?  Rather there are Russians and Americans who play Jazz.

Basic Questions:

How has that culture evolved or changed over the past 91 years?

What is “Russian jazz”?

What is the jazz catalog that’s played in clubs in St. Petersburg (Piter)?

What is the folklore (who are the legends?) and language (speech rhythms, textures, and tones) of jazz clubs in Piter?

How is jazz culture organized in Russia?

  • Is Piter the trad jazz fortress and Moscow where the experimental work happens?
  • Is there still a rift between New Jazz and Traditionalists?
  • Does that equivocate to a rift/rivalry between Piter and Moscow?

Are there Americans involved in the Russian jazz scene as listeners, musicians, producers, etc?



Russian jazz:

  • Feigin, Leo. Russian jazz : new identity. London ; New York : Quartet Books, 1985.
  • Red Hot JazzMinor, William. Unzipped souls: a jazz journey through the Soviet Union. Philadelphia :  Temple University Press, 1995.
  • Starr, S. Frederick. Red and hot: the fate of jazz in the Soviet Union, 1917-1980. New York : Oxford University Press, 1983.   [NOTES from Red and Hot]
  • Van Can, Brianna.  Blue Notes from the Underground: Jazz in the USSR (Wesleyan Honors Thesis, 2012) – Section on Stigyagi (Hipsters):
    • “What the film does not show is that Lyandres, and there are others like
      him, was poisoned by the KGB some years later.  For Lyandres, it was a consequence
      of his writing, but for countless others, playing, possessing, or even admitting a
      fondness for jazz could lead to beatings, arrest, and even death.  One feels inspired by
      the dedication of musicians and devoted fans like the stiliagi, but appalled by its
      necessity.” (pg 7)
    • “…but in the end, the reasons some people risked their lives and freedom for love of music, while others took the opposite stance, are rooted in supremely individual experience and taste.” (pgs 12-3)
    • “To the Soviets, Jazz was dance. It was sexuality. It was black. It was Jewish. It  was American. It was decadence and commercialism, a mechanism of repression, or conversely, a triumph of the oppressed Negro proletariat. But in the Soviet Union
      itself, it was never entirely authentic. It was over-the-top Charleston-ing learned from theater. It was rushed, forced syncopation and the saxophone.” (pg 15)
    • “The most authentic jazz was produced where it could be least restrained.  If public at all, this took place in obscure and dingy clubs.  More socially relevant was the jam session, unpaid and after hours.  The true norms of jazz were shaped and reinforced here, rather than onstage.” (pg 53)
  • Greg Gaut, “Soviet Jazz,” Jazz in Mind: Essays on the History and Meanings of Jazz, ed. Reginald T. Buckner and Steven Weiland Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991.

Jazz in Cold War:


Russian Jazz Websites:


  • Hipsters (Stigyagi) (film), 2008 [a bit of a bubblegum musical, very polished and flashy, but got across the idea of the Stigyagi quite well]
  • Taxi Blues (film), 1990 [the jazz musician (he’s a saxaphone player) in this film is portrayed as a drunk, antithesis to the Soviet Man, but it is the connection of the two of them that winds up completing them both]
  • Jolly Fellows (film), 1934 featuring Leonid Utyosov and co-written by Nikolai Erdman [hilarious and zany fun, the music is at times completely wild, especially once the jazz band is formed (the rehearsal scene is priceless).  From the very first moments, it is a madcap romp]



Record Stores:

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 18, 2013 2:50 pm

    These notes do not answer your questions directly, but hits a couple of highlights. “Taxi Blues,” a 1990 Soviet film, won the Oscar for best foreign flick. It’s about a jazz musician in Moscow. Also, “Stilyagi” (Russia, 2008) depicts Soviet culture in the 1950’s, when an obsession with Jazz set progressive types apart.

    • February 18, 2013 3:19 pm

      Thanks for these references. I look forward to hunting them down. Much obliged!

      • Graham Schmidt permalink
        March 1, 2013 12:25 pm

        It’s awesome to see this grow – this is really cool. Can’t wait to read this

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