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St. Pete Jazz Scene Mourns Loss of Pioneer

Published: January 16, 2014 (Issue # 1793)



  • Natan Leites carries an American flag at Pulkovo Airport to welcome jazz musician Wynton Marsalis to St. Petersburg in 1999.
    Photo: for SPT

Jazz promoter Natan Leites, who was a fixture on the Leningrad and St. Petersburg jazz scene for more than 50 years, died at the age of 76 on Dec. 30, 2013. He was cremated on Jan. 5.

For nearly 50 years, Leites headed the Kvadrat Jazz Club, Russias oldest surviving jazz association, which organized concerts and festivals, produced albums, held lectures and published a typewritten magazine containing information about jazz music at a time when it was officially discouraged by the Soviet state.

A true jazz aficionado, Leites was at the center of everything that happened on the local scene, inspiring and educating generations of musicians.

I first came across something resembling jazz music at the Mayak Club on Krasnaya (now Galernaya) Ulitsa, Leites said in an interview with The St. Petersburg Times in 1997. They played music there starting from the Stalin era at some dance nights and stuff.

The trendiest and best-known was a band led by [Izrail] Atlas. Generally, people danced a lot after the war, in the 1950s and the early and mid-1960s. It became a growth medium for so-called Leftfield ensembles. I heard something of the kind for the first time in around 1952.

I became acquainted with [genuine] jazz in the late 1950s; I thought it was good music, I liked it even if it had been terribly abused [by the Soviet authorities] since the early 1950s, especially after [Viktor] Gorodinskys book called Music of Spiritual Poverty, which came out in 1951.

The conversation took place at Leites small apartment in the only Khrushchev-style building on Kazanskaya Ulitsa, which was packed with all sorts of audio equipment, records, tapes, books, magazines and manuscripts.

According to Leites, he was not a political dissident, being first and foremost attracted to the music, rather than to its political overtones.

I was quite a red or pink person at least I believed in socialism, he said.

Too many now say that they opened their eyes awfully early. It couldnt be so. The whole country was in a kind of jar. Only diplomats went abroad, no-one else.

In school you were taught that the steam-engine was invented by the [Russian engineers] Cherepanovs, that all things were done by Soviets or Russians, that we lived better than anyone, because we had no unemployment. We saw nothing.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Aug. 28


Learn more about the citys upcoming municipal elections during the presentation of the project Road Map for the Municipal Elections being presented this evening in the conference hall on the third floor of Biblioteka at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. Steve Kaddins, a coordinator for Beautiful St. Petersburg, which gives residents an online forum to lodge complaints about infrastructure problems in the city, will be on hand to answer any questions. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and is open to all.



Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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