Russian Jazz Star Igor Butman: 'It Gave Me A Chance To Give Jazz A New Life In Russia'

Russian Jazz Star Igor Butman: 'It Gave Me A Chance To Give Jazz A New Life In Russia'

The tenor saxophonist, bandleader and businessman will enthrall audiences once again with his quintet in Mumbai

Verus FerreiraUpdated: Saturday, December 02, 2023, 08:51 PM IST
Pic: Igor Butman

Igor Butman is a superstar in Russia, and a very much loved jazz musician all over the world, including India. The 61-year-old musician can’t wait to be back in Mumbai where he has loyal fans waiting for him. He is set to play in the city on December 6. “Every visit to India is very exciting for me. I enjoy the wonderful hospitality, beautiful people, sightseeing and colourful history. There are many great Indian musicians that I know, not only jazz, but also national music players and classical (musicians)", says the St Petersburg-born Berklee graduate. He is not only recognised as the most famous Russian jazz musician today, but also runs a successful record label, jazz clubs and consults at jazz festivals.

Butman returns to India after five years and promises to give a night of jazz music that will be remembered. “We’re going to play some new music that we have been performing throughout this year. Some new songs are written by our great musicians, the winner of the Herbie Hengak Institute of Jazz competition guitarist, Evgeny Pobozhiy, some tunes from my album Magic Land that I recorded with the great jazz giants like Chick Corea. As part of our quintet, the incredible blind genius piano player, Oleg Akkuratov is with us. He will be singing in English, Russian and Hindi. We have a new bass player Nikolai Zatolichniy who adds so much quality to the algorithm section. There is also guitarist Evgeny Pobozhiy and a few others. We will play Russian, Indian music and of course original music.”

Pic: Igor Butman

Early in his career, Butman left the Soviet Union in 1987 for the US where he lived for almost nine years. There he studied in the Berklee School of Music, where he met and studied with musicians who are now names in the jazz industry in the US and the world.

“These connections gave me many opportunities to bring these wonderful musicians to Russia. I wondered if I was going to live in the Soviet Union forever, but that changed when the Russian Federation was born. It gave me a chance to really give jazz a new life in Russia because there are so many music lovers in our country.”

Butman headed back to Russia and using all his American experience he brought many new features to Russia. He states that many jazz stars came to Moscow and other cities for the first time since his return to Russia. “I’m very happy that we now have two jazz Igor Butman Jazz Clubs in Moscow and St Petersburg that are very successful. We have a lot of programs in schools for the jazz music and Jazz Academies that are working hard and musicians that are really getting a lot of recognition in the world.”

Butman has a huge discography and is still releasing music whenever he can. Last year he released Only Now an album featuring a variety of musicians, including two of his great associates in his band, guitarist Evgeniy Pobozhiy and piano player Oleg Akkuratov.

“I brought Evgeniy and Oleg to the United States, and also invited drummer Antonio Sanchez who I met many years ago in Boston. I recorded some of my original songs that I wrote during all these years, and some new and some old. One of them was Egyptian Nights that I wrote in Egypt. I wrote it in the daytime, but the night in Egypt was so beautiful, I decided to call it Egyptian Nights.”

While claiming this is his best album so far, he is saddened that although the album was listed for nomination for a Grammy, the political issues didn’t let this album move ahead.

Butman says his saxophone teacher in the Soviet Union, Gennady Goldstein, has played a big influence on his music.

From then on he cites Cannonball Adderly, Charlie Parker, Michael Breaker, the great tenor players, like John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins as musicians who changed his life. He adds, “My dad was a drummer, my brother is a drummer, so I’m also a big fan of drums.”

Igor Butman, once declared by former US president Bill Clinton as his “favourite living jazz saxophonist”, is also a good friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin. With the current crisis in the country, Butman tries to avoid making a statement and instead feels his music should play a part in bringing the countries together.

“Putin and Clinton are the most powerful people in the world. A lot of people, countries depend on the decisions made by these people. It’s important for me too, when I play for them, talk to them, I want to give them inspiration to find the best solution for all countries, all the people,” he says. “We have to show people how beautiful life is and how beautiful these emotions are. I’m not happy that our countries still have many differences and opinions, but I guess it will take some time and a lot of our work to make it better. I’m optimistic for the world and just let’s keep it going.”

Butman, who likes to play and watch hockey, also enjoys spending time with his wife who he says will be accompanying him on this trip to India. “My wife has never been to India so she’s very excited to come,” he signs off.

Event: Jus Jazz Season 8 – Igor Butman Quintet

Date: Wednesday, December 6, 6 .30 pm

Venue: Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir, Bandra, Mumbai