Oleg Lundstrem 02.04.1916 — 14.10.2005
Academician of The Russian Academy of Arts.
Jazz musician, composer, founder and Art Director of Oleg Lundstrem Orchestra. People’s Artist of Russia, State Prize of the Russian Federation Laureate. Doctor of Science of International Academy of Sciences San Marino. Man of the Year 1998 according to the Bibliographical Society of America.
Soviet and later Russian jazz patriarch Oleg Lundstrem founded an orchestra called «the most long playing band» in the world. It happened more than fifty years ago. According to his words the secret of such longevity was in the collective work of all musicians. Lundstrem saw the process of composing as a result of cooperation. He asked himself why people listened to Mozart, Bach or Handel so long and found an answer. Their compositions were based on folklore. Folk make music and composers just arrange it. Well, modesty is a great virtue. But there weren’t so many such great arrangers as Oleg Lundstrem.
The Lundstrems immigrated to China in the 1920s. It was a sort of a heaven’s gift for Oleg. There, in Harbin, he bought his first jazz vinyl — Duke Ellington’s Dear Old Southland. Together with his friends, who later would found a famous orchestra, they tried to repeat pieces written by American jazzmen. Soon their ensemble performed at the Yangtze hotel in Shanghai and popular city halls Majestic and Paramount. The orchestra became the best band in Shanghai and the press named Oleg Lundstrem «the king of Eastern jazz.» «We were just young amateurs. And after six years we left as the best professional big band on a par with American, European, Filipino and Chinese orchestras,» — Lundstrem recalled. Here he first tried to arrange Russian songs. Their versions of Song about Captain by Isaac Dunaevsky. Alien Cities by Alexander Vertinsky and Katyusha by Matvey Blanter were very popular among the audience.
In 1941 the war began. «All members of our orchestra wanted to become volunteers, — Oleg Lundstrem told. -We filled out an application but no one replied. Three months passed in abeyance. I was chosen a delegate, visited a consul and he told me that we would be more helpful if we stay.»
It all became clear six years later. The native land wanted the jazzmen back. So they took their families and returned to Kazan. Unfortunately it was the time when Vano Muradeli’s opera The Great Friendship was censured by the resolution of the Communist Party Central Committee. Jazz was banned and the musicians had to perform opera for seven long years until the Minister of Culture signed the decree appointing Oleg Lundstrem as Art Director of the variety orchestra based on the ex-Chinese jazz band. Then their real life on the road began.
Jazz was a stepson in the Soviet Union. There were few of those who understood and loved it. But it only makes newspaper articles of those times more interesting for a modern reader. «This year Oleg Lundstrem Orchestra celebrates its tenth birthday, — Musykalnya Zhizri reported in 1967. — The ensemble was born in one of Kazan clubs and now became one of the best of our variety bands.» In 1973 a correspondent from Sovetskaya Estrada i Tsyrk noticed: «Generally Oleg Lundstrem Orchestra is a high-class music collective able to perform any complex music. As for Lundstrem himself, he is not only a professional and talented conductor but also an artist interacting with singers during sideshows. And his scenic charm should definitely be mentioned.» Here are the excerpts from another review published in the same year in Muzykalnaya Zhizri: «The original pieces, born during the creative search of their own style, are the most successful compositions of the orchestra. These pieces perfectly demonstrate the creative base of Art Director and intentions of the leading soloists and improvisators.» Let’s finish with a very accurate citation from Sovetskaya Estrada i Tsyrk, 1978: «Above all Oleg Lundstrem appreciates singers’ «emotional charge» and he is always upset when soloists are nervous and can’t let the audience see this «emotional charge» clearly. Though, usually this is the crux of the matter.»
The ability of creating the «emotional charge» and giving it to the public, the gift of improvisation — these talents of musicians were most valued by Oleg. He was an experimentalist and arranged the most interesting musical pieces in various styles, intertwining compositions and folk themes. In Kazan he started researching the difference between Chinese and Tatar pentatonic scales. «The difference proved considerable, — Oleg Lundstrem explained. — Therefore I enjoyed arranging Tatar songs.»
He won recognition in the place where jazz was born. Their first performance in Washington at Duke Ellington festival was glorious. «We played our versions of Ellington’s music and then they said: «This is your legacy.» I didn’t get it: «How come? This is Ellington, it’s your music.» And the answer was «Our music but your point of view.»
A famous writer Vasily Aksyonov witnessed first concerts of Oleg Lundstrem’s big band and gave a perfect description of the jazzman: «This is a tireless being, a possessed person. This artist can play all day long with short breaks for food. If you want to be loyal to your art, then that is the man you have to learn from.» How precisely! Unquestioningly Oleg Lundstrem was a gifted musician, lucky to play his beloved music during all his life.