19 June 2009

Tell tale faces and all that jazz

You are watching Leonid Utesov, performing his widely beloved song At the Black Sea (У чёрного моря), dedicated to Odessa. The scene is taken from a Russian television series called Liquidation (2008).
The year is 1946.
A year has passed since Stalin prohibited jazz as “music of the capitalists”. Saxophone is also banned. A saxophone solo in Ravel’s Bolero is played on the bassoon now.
Mayakovsky is dead for a long time already.
Kozin was arrested and imprisoned two years ago, among others for homosexuality.
But Aleksandrinov... he continues to make, unhindered, his musical comedies with “weak ideological content”. It helps that he had signed a confession of there being no idea whatsoever in his films.
Leonid Utesov continues, unhindered, to play... jazz... with his Thea Jazz band.
This is of course very naughty, as jazz is very, very banned in 1946.
Yet, Jolly Fellows was originally entitled Jazz Comedy.
Then, its credits showcased caricatures of Charle Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, all shamelessly Western stars, to the accompaniment of Dunayevsky's jazz.
Despite all that banned jazz, Jolly Fellows went on to conquer the audience in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Block. The same audience that applauded Stalin, until it was given permission, exhausted, to stop.
"Who organised this standing ovation?" Stalin is reported to have been asking when Russian artists would receive an ovation.
In this scene, it is the audience - acting as a chorus, acting as a musical mirror - that deserves a standing ovation.
The year is 1946.
The war just ended.
Stilyagi will soon appear.
It will take 15 years, before saxophone is played in Bolero again.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,
    Check this post published on my blog for more details about Leonid Utesov and Soviet jazz : http://ceintsdebakelite.wordpress.com/2011/12/18/the-golden-age-of-soviet-jazz-12-leonid-utesov-%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B4-%D1%83%D1%82%D1%91%D1%81%D0%BE%D0%B2-on-78-rpm-record/
    Greetings !