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Book on Soviet Jazz Scene Hits the Right Note

December 20, 1987|WILLIAM TUOHY | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — The hottest book in Moscow these days is neither the work of a distinguished dissident nor an expose of the Stalin years, nor even the memoirs of Mikhail S. Gorbachev. It is a book entitled "Soviet Jazz."

It is a measure of Soviet leader Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, or openness, that the book could be printed and distributed. Not long ago, jazz was officially perceived in this country as an immoral capitalist import, even though jazz has a long and reputable history here.

A review of the book in the English-language edition of the weekly Moscow News, published Friday, describes "Soviet Jazz" as a "fascinating read." According to reviewer Andrei Vasilyev, 40,000 copies were printed and "bought up instantly."

1929 Jazz Band

Experts on the subject say jazz began to take hold in the Soviet Union in 1929, when a popular actor and entertainer named Leonid O. Utesof organized a band. It quickly attracted a following, although the Communist authorities dismissed the music as brazen, shameless and corrupt--pretty much the way middle-class Americans of the time first received it.

According to reviewer Vasilyev, as recently as 15 years ago, the nation's jazz musicians had to put up a fight to be called "Soviet," because the music was labeled "a form of ideological subversion on the part of the West."

What, he asks, should a book on Soviet jazz be like? He goes on to say: "That was a question that puzzled jazz buffs for many years," but along came Alexander and Olga Medvedev, who decided not to keep waiting for a recognized expert to write a book. They put together their own.

"The book," Vasilyev says, "includes everything from rare pictures to famous names, a glossary of jazz terms, specialized articles on the theory and aesthetics of jazz, lists of bands that have broken up, descriptions of jazz trends."

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