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JT Notes: The Fate of the Leopolis Jazz Festival

Mac Randall opens the June issue discussing the future of the festival in Lviv, Ukraine

2021 Leopolis Jazz Festival
The 2021 Leopolis Jazz Festival in Ukraine—a reminder of all that can change in a year (photo: Danyil Tiurin)

First the good news: As you can see in our annual Festival Guide, there are plenty of jazz festivals scheduled to happen around the world this year, and at the moment there seems little reason to doubt that they’ll all take place more or less as planned.

Now the not-so-good news: You just never know what might happen around the bend.

Take the COVID pandemic, for example (or, as Jackie Mason might say, please). A lot of people had a difficult time acknowledging its existence at first. Then they had similar difficulty envisioning what havoc it would wreak on the world. More than six million deaths later, many of those same people would very much like to believe that the danger is over. I would very much like to join them in that belief, but I can’t. The evidence against it is way too strong. What I see every day in my social media feeds, what I hear in phone calls from recently infected friends who did everything right for two years but caught the virus anyway, and what I’ve experienced even in my own home (as I write this in mid-April, my wife is ill after testing positive five days ago) leads me to the conclusion that another surge is coming, no matter what we’d like to believe. 

Don’t get me wrong, though. At least right now, I’m not sensing that this surge will have the impact of the previous ones. With luck, our lives won’t be all that inconvenienced by it and festival season will carry on … in most places. Unfortunately, pandemics are by no means the only thing that can affect mass gatherings; there are lots of other adverse developments that we can be similarly unable to foresee. I’m thinking in particular of what fate may lie in store for the Leopolis Jazz Festival in Lviv, Ukraine.

Last June, as jazz tentatively returned to global stages, Leopolis was the first post-COVID festival JazzTimes covered. Michael J. West called its programming, which included sets by Kamasi Washington and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, “superlative” and reported that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky—a name with which we’ve all become much more familiar this year—had planned to attend but “other business waylaid him.”

There’s been a whole lot of other business going on in Ukraine since then. Much of it would have seemed impossible to believe only a few months ago. Though not currently at the heart of the war (it’s located on the western edge of the country, near the Polish border), Lviv is subject to random attack from Russian missiles. In our Festival Guide, the 2022 Leopolis Jazz Festival dates are optimistically listed as “TBA.” Who knows when those dates will be filled in?

As has been noted in the past by more eloquent individuals than myself, jazz and democracy go together. The way in which the music is made stands both as a potent metaphor for democracy and as a living embodiment of it. Jazz without democracy isn’t jazz you’d want to listen to. A world without democracy isn’t a world you’d want to live in either. Under the circumstances, it only seems right that those who create and love jazz should do what they can to stand for democracy, in Ukraine and everywhere else on our planet.

Today, at the top of the Leopolis Jazz Festival website’s homepage, there is a single sentence: “The festival will take place immediately after the victory.” Underneath that sentence is a heart with blue and yellow stripes, like the Ukrainian flag.

[Note: This column was written on April 19; as of May 24, the Leopolis Jazz Festival website was no longer accessible.]

Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.