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Jazz in the Hermitage Garden

Igor Butman

Russia has a long, complicated history with jazz, reaching back to the 1920s. Viewed as decadent and forced mostly underground during the Stalin era, jazz has proven remarkably hardy, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Russian jazz scene is now undergoing a healthy period of revitalization. While there’s still no all-jazz radio station in the country, there are now a growing number of jazz clubs and active record labels, and jazz is studied in select music schools and at The Jazz Center in Yaroslavl. There is also a respected and widely read jazz magazine and Web site ( and a relatively free flow of musicians in and out of the country.

But you can’t have a vital jazz culture without a jazz festival, and there are a number of them operating in Russia. Among the most important is Jazz in the Hermitage Garden, Russia’s first open-air jazz festival. Now in its 11th year, the festival is produced by Mikhail Green and supported by the city of Moscow. It runs for three consecutive nights in a park in downtown Moscow, not far from the Pushkinskaya metro. The Hermitage Garden is a fitting location as this is the same park where some of the first Russian jazz concerts and swing dances took place in the early 1930s. Each night draws between 1,000-1,500 people and runs from 5-10 p.m. The majority of musicians appearing are from Russia, though this year’s line-up also included a trio from Austria, a blues band from Slovakia, a pianist from Poland and a smattering of Americans.

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