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Beat Goes On for Russian Saxman : Jazz: Alexei Zoubov finds acceptance and gets help from his fellow musicians after losing everything in a robbery.

December 12, 1991|LEONARD FEATHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You might say that the American dream turned sour for Alexei Zoubov.

The hard-driving Soviet tenor saxophonist, whose style reflects a wide range of influences from Joe Henderson to John Coltrane, came to prominence in Moscow during the post-Stalin jazz thaw, in a bop-oriented group called the Eight. Tiring of what was still a basically repressive totalitarian regime, Zoubov settled in Los Angeles in 1984.

Unknown here, he found it difficult to get established as a musician. However, Zoubov--who holds a master's degree in physics from Moscow University--eventually put his scientific knowledge to use by converting his Hollywood home into a well-equipped recording studio, which he rented out to other musicians.

Things seemed to be going well until last August when four men, one carrying a gun, marched into his studio, tied him up and robbed him of virtually everything he owned--including the sound equipment and even his prized tenor sax.

Four months after the trauma that left him in emotional and financial ruin, Zoubov, 55, shows amazing equanimity. "There has been much help," he says, "some from the local Russian community, and some by American musicians who played a benefit concert for me. I am deeply touched by the human compassion and spirit that has been shown. One friend spent $3,500 to buy me a new saxophone, so I'm playing again." Zoubov will appear at the Legends of Hollywood restaurant Saturday.

Despite his misfortunes, the musician is not disillusioned about the American experience. "Something like this could just as easily have happened in Moscow," says Zoubov, a likable, outgoing man who speaks with a thick accent.

Ironically, Zoubov's career in the Soviet Union had surmounted most of the usual obstacles. "I started playing with bands in the late 1950s," he recalls. "In 1960, I joined the Oleg Lundstrem Orchestra, a group of emigres who had the top swing band in Shanghai. When the Communists captured Shanghai in 1948, they came to Moscow.

"By the time I went with the band, it was doing variety shows which were part concert music and part jazz. Pretty soon, jazz became completely acceptable. I started to write arrangements and stayed with Lundstrem six years."

Zoubov soon found many other outlets, scoring symphonic music for movies, recording with the house band of the state-owned Melodiya Record Co., and leading several small jazz groups.

The decision to come to America was as much social as musical. "In 1979 I was married to an American who was working at the American Embassy," he says. "I was able to come with her to Los Angeles several times. I was actually scared about moving here; it affected me spiritually and emotionally, so that by the time I settled permanently our relationship had ended."

Now that glasnost has left him free to come and go as he pleases, there may be a return trip to Moscow along with his idol, saxman Joe Henderson. Meanwhile, he plans to go to New York to play a New Year's Eve gig with bassist Harvey Schwartz.

"I'm still trying to develop new ideas, new ways to present the music," he says. "It's not easy when you don't have your own regular group. You see, in Russia I was in the right place at the right time, all the time. Here I have to find the right place and time for myself. But I am respected by fellow musicians here, as I was there, and that means more to me than anything that has gone wrong."

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