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Singing for freedom

Jazz singer Olesya Yalunina on how jazz freed her from a career in economics.

Published: February 29, 2012 (Issue # 1697)



  • Jazz singer Olesya Yalunina will perform with guitarist Alex Degusarov at Erarta on Friday, March 2.
    Photo: FOR SPT

As for so many of her heroes, for jazz singer Olesya Yalunina, jazz is freedom: A means of expressing emotions and ideas, as well as a means of freeing oneself from the homogeneity of daily life. This is apparent not only in her music and her singularly expressive voice, but in her personality as well. Yalunina flits between multifarious topics with ease, always with a smile framed by her trademark scarlet lipstick, clearly at ease with herself and eager to imbue similar feelings among those around her.

Yalunina is, unsurprisingly, most animated when talking about jazz, her job and her lifeblood. She talks lovingly about its ability to inspire and indeed, a look into her past explains why. Born in Irkutsk to a conventional working family, her mother and father encouraged her to become an economist. Although she played the piano at music school for eight years, the rigid structure of such an education, limited as it was to the classical styles of Rachmaninov and Shostakovich, nearly extinguished Yalunina’s passion for music. Having moved to St. Petersburg at 17 to begin studying economics, it quickly became apparent that “office stuff was not for me,” she says. During this time, at about the age of 19, she began listening to jazz artists, notably Diana Krall and Tierney Sutton.

“I don’t know why I started … it was intuition,” Yalunina says. Before long, she had fallen in love with all things jazz, broadening her musical repertoire whilst surrounding herself with musicians in the field. It was then that she decided to embark on a second degree, this time in jazz.

Music — in particular, jazz — was what freed Yalunina, and she remains confident in its ability to help people.

“Music can be different for different people — for some people it can be useful and helpful. Now there is more commerciality … but music always has power. If you want to hear it, it always has power.”

While some artists set themselves the mission of bringing about political change or doing something on a grand scale, Yalunina feels there are other equally important ways in which to help through music.

“It’s a big responsibility, but I want to help people,” she said. “To encourage people to change their job, to break routine, to look at things with a fresh perspective. When we perform it’s a great happiness, when you think people might listen to your music and go home and get on the Internet and listen to more jazz. You know, just so they don’t switch on the TV! I want to give people good, positive emotions.”

At the same time, Yalunina concedes that jazz music is not for everyone.

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