Music Review

Alexander Tsfasman, Soviet Swing Jazz Singer

Perhaps you might surprise with the fact that I brought to you. Yes, I ain’t no kidding there was a swing player in the Soviet Union. I know, when the first time you heard about Soviet Union, the first thing that pop up in your mind is the horror of the terrible regime. Marxism, Leninism, Collectivism, Communism, It’s oppression on freedom of speech and religious freedom, and such. Our country was also had a traumatic experience in a relationship with the Soviet Communist Block. But, as the Cold War ended in 1991 and then it was followed with the fall of new order regime, our country is improving it’s relationship with the Russian Federation after we never talked each other since late 1960’s. To Commemorate and to enliven this event, I’m going to discuss about one of my favorite Jazz singer. Alexander Tsfasman.

Perhaps, you are a person who really hate all things about US especially it’s policies, it’s capitalism, it’s war so you hate all things about US. If you are kind of person who loves swing jazz but hate all things about US, he can be your alternative to keep loving swing jazz :P

Alexander Tsafman

Not much known about Alexander Tsfasman, even wikipedia that used to be my source of information doesn’t have his article on it’s web site. But finally after I did some googling with a little effort, I finally found a precious information about him.

Alexander Naumovich Tsfasman was born on December 14, 1906 in a town of Alexandrovsk (now Zaporojye), in a barber’s family. The activity of Alexander Tsfasman, a pianist, composer, conductor, arranger and a bandleader covers the period of Soviet jazz development from the mid-twenties till late sixties.

From the age of seven he was studying violin and piano play, and entered the piano class of the Nijny Novgorod musical college when he was twelve. Continuing his studies at the Moscow conservatory piano department in professor F.M.Blumenfeld’s class, Tsfasman gets familiar with jazz. Already in 1924 he created a number of dance pieces like “Excentrical Dance”, “Sad Mood” and others, that gained big popularity.

In the end of 1926 Alexander Tsfasman assembles “AMA – jazz”, the first professional jazz collective in Moscow. The band performed successfully in the “Hermitage” garden, at the stages of fashionable restaurants and big cinemas.

1927 was the year when Tsfasman’s orchestra was invited to play jazz music at the radio studio. That was truly the first jazz broadcast in the USSR. Some time later the collective made a number of records, that are among the pioneer Soviet jazz documents.

Unfortunately, the band of Alexander Tsfasman made not a single disc after that till 1937, despite its successful artistic activity, that could be illustrated by the orchestra’s participation in the jazz-bands show of 1936 organized by the Moscow masters of arts club. As Yevgeny Gabrilovich, a that-day jazz authority, had noted, Tsfasman’s band performed at its best and was considered the perfect in every aspect

Alexander Tsfasman in 1926

In 1937 four new recordings of the collective appear. These were “To a Far Way”, “At the Sea-shore”, “Unhappy Meeting” by Tsfasman, and also a reworking of the popular Polish tango “The Last Sunday”, here issued under the “Parting” title, but most well-known as “The Tired Sun”. The vocal parts in the three of these recordings are performed by the jazz’ staff soloist Pavel Mikhailov, the singer of a refined lyrical talent, that always won the listeners’ hearts. After these discs were issued, a number of new instrumental pieces were recorded: “The Sounds of Jazz”, “Fox-Cracovienne”, “O’key Toots”, “Jolly Walk”Β  “The Last Summer Day”, “I’m Blue Without You”, “I Like to Dance”, and lyrical songs “How can I Forget”, “There’s No You”, “I Don’t Tell Goodbye”, “Chance Meeting”.

Despite his strong occupation with his orchestra, Alexander Tsfasman also succeeded in performing in solo concert programmes as a pianist. Such famous musicians and composers like A. Goldenveiser, K. Igumnov, G. Neigauz, D. Shostakovich admired Tsfasman’s pianistic talent. Pianism and composer’s mastership are brought together in Tsfasman’s art. The overwhelming majority of his works were first destined for solo piano performance, and then arranged for a jazz orchestra. There are mainly dances, songs, phantasies and popular melodies variations. However, Tsfasman had also created a number of large-scale works. The ballet suite “Rot-Front” for orchestra (1931), the concert for piano and jazz orchestra (1941), and the concert for piano and symphonical orchestra (1956) are among them. Alexander Tsfasman was also occupied with composing music for theatre performances and cinema films.

In 1939 Tsfasman’s orchestra was invited for permanent work at the All-Union Radio, taking the baton from the hands of Alexander Varlamov, whose collective had entered the studio a year later. During the same year the band puts on a record such miniatures like “I’m Waiting for a Letter”, “Nobody Will Replace You”, “Anna”, “Reminiscence”, “Little Boat”, “No Return”, “The Man from the South”, “Moony Evening”, “A Date with the Sweetheart”, “I’m in a Good Mood”. From that very moment till 1946 Tsfasman’s collective was the All-Union Radio Commitee (the VRK) resident jazz orchestra. That set up an important landmark in the artist’s biography as well as for his collective. Firstly, from now Soviet jazz music could regularly be heard from radio sets, becoming available to everybody in every part of the country, and, secondly, many of the State Radio soloists as A. Klesheva, K. Novikova, K. Malakhov, A.Pogodin were called for collaboration with Tsfasman’s VRK band.

In 1939 the first Soviet jazz television broadcast featuring this band went to the ether.

During the years of the Second World war Alexander Tsfasman’s collective turned to war themes, bringing his contribution to the struggle against the enemy with the means of his art. So, already the first war number of the “Soviet Art” newspaper reported that “the notes of antifascist songs by D. Kabalevsky and A. Tsfasman for jazz orchestras will soon be issued” . In spring, 1942, the VRK jazz moved to the Central front with its full complement. Tsfasman created such remarkable war songs as “It Makes No Difference”, “My Love”, “Jolly Tankist”, “Young Sailors”. After the opening of the second Allies front the works of English and American authors did often find their place in the orchestra’s repertoire. The magnificent performance of Jerome Kern’s “Lyrical Foxtrot” from the american film “The Song of Russia” is just such an example.

In 1946 Alexander Tsfasman was engaged in work as a musical director of the “Hermitage” theatre, where he assembled a symphojazz. This year was also notable for the record made with Tsfasman’s piano accompaniment to Leonid Utyosov (“When The Youth Is Passing By”, “Little House On Lesnaya Street”).

Tsfasman’s subsequent artistic life was also unseparably linked with jazz. Despite the radically changing jazz music style, he stayed true to himself and his afterwar period works also enjoyed the deserved popularity. Andrey Eshpay, a composer, said that “Tsfasman’s inexhaustible energy, creative invention and resoursefulness always enraptured” him. “And Tsfasman is always remaining Tsfasman himself, an original performer with no resemblance to anybody. His great personal culture, brilliant mastership (Blumental’s school, what more?), and passion for art are all telling upon here”. Dmitry Dmitrievich Shostakovich, himself oftenly performing in various concert halls as a pianist, wrote to Tsfasman in 1951: “Addressing you with a deep request. I wrote something like a piano concert for the film “Unforgettable 1919″. It offers no difficulty to you. But I can’t play it myself. I ask you very much not to refuse and play this thing. Once more: it will present no difficulty to you”. And, finally, a convincing picture of public success and recognition was Tsfasman’s jubilee concert of 1956 at the Columned Hall of the Unions House where he demonstrated his talents of a composer, pianist and orchestra’s director once more.

Literary sources.

1. Gabrilovich Ye. I. The Jazz Evening. – “Vechernyaya Moskva”, December 27, 1936.
2. The Issue of the Mass War Songs. – “Sovetskoye Iskusstvo”, June 29, 1941.
3. Skorokhodov G.A. The Stars of the Soviet Variety. Moscow, “Sovetsky kompositor”, 1986.
4. Skorokhodov G.A. Annotation for the M60 47455 008 record “A.Tsfasman. Meetings and Partings”, “Melody”, 1986.

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