Before & After: Igor Butman

Listening With Russia’s Jazz Ambassador


Tenor saxophonist, bandleader and entrepreneur Igor Butman occupies a unique place in Russian jazz circles for his considerable musical skills, media visibility and savvy political connections. The St. Petersburg-born Berklee graduate is not only recognized as the most famous Russian jazz musician in the world today, he also runs a successful record label, operates two jazz clubs and provides artistic direction for a jazz festival.

Listening Session: Valery Ponomarev

In the fall of 2009, I arranged a listening session with trumpeter Valery Ponomarev when he came to D.C. to play Twins Jazz. We did the piece in English and it was translated by my friend Cyril Moshkow for his Russian language magazine This is the first time this piece has appeared anywhere in English.


1. Freddie Hubbard & Woody Shaw

“Boperation” (from The Freddie Hubbard-Woody Shaw Sessions, Blue Note). Hubbard, Shaw, trumpets; Mulgrew Miller, trumpet; Cecil McBee, bass; Carl Allen, drums. Recorded in 1985.

The original recording of this was with Fats Navarro and Howard McGee, but this sounds like a recreation. I can hear it in the execution of notes. Of course this is the beautiful Freddie Hubbard. What can you say, man? The other one is Woody Shaw. You can hear it in the articulation. It’s incredible. These are the best trumpet players that ever played trumpet, at least in jazz music. To hear Freddie play? Wooo! These two guys make me feel glad I’m a trumpet player. I’m happy I belong to the same clan and I enjoy hearing them play and the way they express themselves.

How would you describe their personalities?

In a way, they’re the same, in a way, different. Freddie was incredible. He was very well educated and he could speak with confidence about a lot of things, when he was not affected by substances. As soon as that kicks in, Jesus, it’s a monster. It was too much. I would speak with him for a minute and he’s a great guy, and you can learn from him and enjoy his company, and all of sudden he turns into a monster and you just have to walk away.  I met him sometime in 1974 in a club. I told him I had transcribed nearly every thing by Clifford Brown and he said, “me too.” Next time we hung out I was already with the Messengers. Freddie came to the gig and his presence was felt. I bumped into him many times and we talked on the phone many times.  He left me a phone message one time where he said: Hi Valery, this is Freddie. I just heard you play Theme For Ernie. You sounded beautiful. Thank you.” I saved it! Woody Shaw is similar in a way o Freddie; A great friend, always very respectful. And then all of a sudden–boom–turns into a monster. Not the same way as Freddie. Woody was a smart person but more streetwise than Freddie.  When Woody was free of tension, free of responsibilities he was an incredible player. I heard him playing in Boomers and the spirit there was really free. Boomer’s was a place on Bleeker St in the Village. It was the hang for everybody: Freddie Hubbard was there, Slide Hampton, Junior Cook. That’s where Blakey told me I was in the band. And at Boomer’s, Woody was flying. Then you hear him on records and the responsibility affected him. But I was there when nothing would come between him and his soul and expressing his personality. He was amazing. He has a live recording that really captured his articulation, execution, sound technique, emotion. Jeez, it’s all the highest possible level.  On that tape I hear the same Woody Shaw I used to hear at Boomers.

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