Classic Jazz Ensemble - Valery Kiselyov
Autobiography Valery Kiselyov


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          I, Valery Kiselyov,
was born on the 23rd of March 1949 in the town of Shuya, Ivanovo region. My father Boris Kiselyov worked as a fitter on the Shuya-Tezin factory (his employment history had just one record, and mine's already running out of space!). There he met my mother Nina, who was a cashier.

I had my first day of school 20 times - from 1956 to 1976. In 1956 my mom brought me to the first form. Actually, I shouldn't miss out my nursery school years - we had a great child-minder Alla Konstantinovna, a descendant of the local nobility. She played the piano well and taught us music. Once she took our group for a walk around the city and brought us to her apartment. There, for the first time in my life, I saw a black grand piano.

When the summer of 1958 began, my father's sister aunt Manya accompanied me to the Shuya music school for children to take an entrance exam. On that day I met a nice blond boy called Volodya Morozov, who became my best friend for the whole life. He later graduated from the Gorky conservatory and for 30 years has been a successful headmaster in our music school. The same year, in October, my brother Sergey was born.

Admission into schools was never a problem for me. My musical studies used to be a nuisance at first - they were taking time I'd rather spend on the street. This was making my parents happy - many of our "amusements" were not just dubious, but sometimes even criminal. A few of my classmates finished school in prison. My father wasn't encouraging my music lessons simply out of a passion for art.

For five years I was stuck with a Tula accordion. My pedagogue Rudolph Tarinov, a young stylish guy, was just starting his teaching career. He was lucky - four students from his first class were admitted into the Ivanovo music college, including me.

Summer vacations were not wasted - I worked as an accordionist in a pioneer camp called "Pine forest". I quickly mastered the pioneer horn and would glibly play all the signals. Arkady Ivanov worked as a lifeguard in the same camp, he played the trumpet pretty well. His instrument was a major attraction for me, of course - I was already an expert in playing the horn, and, anyway, three buttons are nothing for an accordionist.

During school classes I would always draw sea and air fights or tank battles on the study book covers. The movies we watched those days provided much material for a boy's fantasy.

One autumn day I met Arkady downtown and he suggested going to the "Metallist" club to see some American movie. That was how I watched Sun Valley Serenade for the first time, starring the brilliant Glenn Miller orchestra. Study book covers now featured jazz musicians with their strange instruments. The year was 1963.

Although Sun Valley Serenade immediately became my favorite movie, the next time I could watch it was 1988! Isn't that dreadful? I waited and remembered for a quarter of a century! Those days we had no movie stores and no VCRs.

You could probably imagine how I made up for all that time. I know nearly by heart the Serenade and Orchestra Wives, both the Russian and the English versions. I know all the names of the musicians, as if it was me who worked in the famous orchestra. Trust me, no one could create better arrangements for a big band - neither before those movies were released, nor after. Listen closely. "At Last" is a masterpiece, as well as "I Know Why". And the technique is simply perfect!

In 1964 I was admitted to the Ivanono music college, accordion class. That was a start for sixteen years of student residences, barracks and apartments. My dorm neighbors were two trumpet players - Pavel Masov and Anatoly Sapozhnikov, rekindling my love for wind instruments. At first I would ask them to allow me to carry the trumpet all the way to college, which made me very proud! Then I asked to let me play. After a while I established my own quintet where I played the trumpet and was both a leader and an arranger. Evenings were all spent in the "wind" classes, where I organized some music-making that distantly resembled a jazz jam session.

My trumpet was old and rented, it was battered and didn't shine at all. Its pedals hardly moved (and I couldn't even dream of a piston trumpet). People who played the winds recommended to clean the trumpet with the "green" (a substance commonly used in Russia to treat cuts and wounds). I had no idea that it was also the name for a special paste that cleans metal. So I took a piece of cotton wool, put some medical "green" on it and began to polish my trumpet. You should have seen what I looked like when I came to work that evening. Not only were all the visible and invisible parts of my body green - the old trumpet changed color for the rest of its life!

When you are young, everything is easy. Once I bought an old German clarinet for 40 rubles. I didn't really need a clarinet - I was dreaming of playing the saxophone, but one could get hold of it only in some amateur orchestra, provided you had some minimal skills of playing it. That was why I started out with a clarinet, a related instrument, in order to switch to saxophone as soon as possible.

Before some holiday two strange gentlemen appeared in the college lobby. Addressing me, they asked for someone to play the saxophone in the Ivanovo bobbin factory orchestra. I replied: "This saxophone player is standing here in front of you!" In an hour I was proudly holding a German Weltklang saxophone in one hand and a sizable folder with sheet music in another.

A rehearsal of the bobbin orchestra was to take place in a day. 24 hours to learn a huge repertoire, though I only had a faint idea of the saxophone fingering. Notes below G of the first octave wouldn't play for some reason - pads of this alto sax were very old, made not of taw leather, but of poorly shaved pigskin. "Pros" advised me to close all the pads on the instrument with my fingers and fill it with water. At first water came trickling from under the pads, but very soon the leather soaked and the necessary notes would play. This routine had to be repeated before every performance.

The next day I came to the factory club. This was probably the hardest entrance test I have ever passed in my life. While trying to master the saxophone in 24 hours I bit my lower lip to the point of bleeding. Somehow I struggled through the rehearsal and was waiting for the verdict, horrified. "Yes!" - I was told. - "You play poorly but we'll take you!". This is how I became a saxophone player.

In 1968 I graduated from the Ivanovo music college (accordion class) and passed the first-year exam for clarinet. From 1968 to 1970 I was doing my military service in the same city. Two or three times a month I was allowed to leave and attend clarinet classes of Alexander Loginov. He was a strict elderly teacher who used to be a military conductor and fought in the WWII. He was going to retire and take his well-deserved rest. I became his last student, and he became my "clarinet father". I grew very fond of "classical" clarinet. In the troop where I served we had to get up at 6 am. Very often I would wake up much earlier in order to play the clarinet for a while.

In 1971 I completed the clarinet course in the same college, and was admitted into the Moscow Conservatory. One thing I remember most vividly about my conservatory studies were the classes of outstanding clarinetist Vladimir Sokolov. Apart from the mandatory program pieces, he taught me numerous symphonic solos (he was a soloist in Evgeny Svetlanov's USSR State Symphony Orchestra for about 35 years). Later Vladimir Sokolov became a professor and was given the honorary title "People's artist of Russia". Me and my fellow student Tolya Pankov became the first graduates of Sokolov's class.

Starting from my third year in the Conservatory I played the first clarinet in the student symphony orchestra. We often had great conductors and soloists performing with us. Very memorable were programs with Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Fuat Mansurov, Mstislav Rostropovich (both as a cellist and as a conductor), Emil Gilels and many other international celebrities.

I recall one funny incident. Our student orchestra was supposed to play with Mstislav Rostropovich. We were thoroughly preparing for the concert. On the rehearsals of Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra Rosropovich's student was playing instead of him. However, the King of Cello himself turned up for the final rehearsal. As always - witty and cheerful.

We started playing the Rococo, and in came the cello. Something quite unbelievable happened to me - I got totally carried away with Rostropovich's performance and forgot to play my own part. Maestro stopped and turned to the conductor, questioning him silently. Fuat Mansurov calmed him down and gave me a very meaningful look. We began to play again, and I felt I couldn't help it - Rostropovich's cello mesmerized me completely. What a shame! I missed my introduction again!

That's where the most interesting part of my story begins. Mstislav Leopoldovich turned to the orchestra on his chair, identified my miserable self and said with a scathing sarcasm: "Young man! I think it's high time for you to quit the profession!" (his French "r" still sounds in my head). The whole orchestra was cracking up, which felt like a cold shower to me. The loudest laughter could be heard from the strings: always playing together, they were most happy when one of the solo winds made a mistake.

In the future I wanted to be a soloist of a symphony orchestra, not some subordinate performer. Gradually I started to get invitations for one-time work in various orchestras. I was gaining orchestra experience. I especially remember working in the Moscow chamber orchestra conducted by Rudolf Barshai. This organization was well known all over the world. In Barshai's orchestra I performed and recorded with the Canadian singer Gaelyne Gabora and the young violinist Vladimir Spivakov.

In the same orchestra I met and became friends with the outstanding bassoon player Vladimir Bogorad. Many years later, when I became a professional jazzman, I found out that Volodya was a great fan of jazz and played the piano. We would have amazing jazz sessions! But in conservatory years my love for jazz was asleep and hiding somewhere deep inside my soul. Even historical concerts of Duke Ellington and Ted Jones/Mel Lewis orchestras couldn't wake it up!

Meanwhile, no orchestra would hire me without registration in Moscow. I had to take advantage of the only opportunity of staying in the capital and started working in the Moscow State Ice Ballet as a solo clarinetist and alto saxophonist. This group was part of the Soviet State Circus and was touring nine months a year. I was a "non-resident" so I would get my allowance every day. I was drifting further and further away from a symphony orchestra soloist career. I guess Rostropovich predicted my fate!

From 1978 to 1982 I worked in the Song and Dance Ensemble of the Soviet Army called the "Red Star". Simultaneously I was trying to sort out the registration issue. Several times a week I would visit the jazz studio of the "Moskvorechye" club. That was where I met the composer, pianist and pedagogue Yuri Markin. I began to take classes of jazz improvisation and arrangement, and played in his ensembles. In 1979 I finally got an apartment and a registration in the suburban town of Odintsovo. The same year my daughter Masha was born.

I got so used to studying all the time that I decided to enter the Moscow Conservatory once again, this time a postgraduate course of saxophone. I discussed it with one of the teachers, a well-known clarinetist and saxophonist Lev Mikhailov, got the sheet music and started to prepare the program.

It seemed obvious that I would have no problem with admission. However, learning Alexander Glazunov's concerto and some pieces by Claude Debussy for the alto sax wasn't very inspiring. Every evening I would swing wildly in the basement of "Moskvorechye" club. Just one year left until the end of the contract with the military ensemble - I had to abandon the idea of postgraduate studies.

During the Moscow jazz festival in 1982 I met Anatoly Kroll, a famous band leader, composer and arranger. He said that in a year the alto saxophonist of his orchestra was expected to retire, so with some luck I could replace him. I was very inspired by Kroll's proposal.

The next year passed like a day. I would start rehearsing at 8 am and stay long after my working hours. My poor neighbors, my poor little daughter! I studied like crazy. Obviously, the military band wasn't a very creative setting. In four years I had enough of songs and dances. My soul was longing for some civil place like the saxophone group of a famous orchestra. I really wanted to show my worth, life had just begun! I even quit smoking for good.

After four years of touring the Soviet Union with a military ensemble, Anatoly Kroll's "Sovremennik" orchestra felt like a trip abroad. It was the spring of 1983. Different people, different music, different conversations. Concerts in nice halls, trips to jazz festivals. I met Alexey Batashev who often anchored our programs. He is a unique man! I think he knows everything about jazz.

Many jazzmen of the 70s and the 80s were schooled in Kroll's orchestra. However it was thought that as soon as a musician began to play well, Kroll would immediately start guessing when this musician would leave. Most joined the orchestra of Oleg Lundstrem. Of course, I learned a lot from Anatoly Kroll: improvising, arrangement and many other things.

As an indicator of my progress, I got an invitation from German Lukyanov to join his "Cadence" ensemble in 1985. It was quite popular at the time and the job was very prestigious. However, the same year, in June, our son Vanya was born and for family reasons I could not switch jobs - it happened a year later.

Almost three years of working with German Lukyanov deserve a special chapter and I will definitely write it someday.

Spring of 1989. A long, pompous competition that took several rounds for those who wanted to work in the Symphony and Dance Orchestra of the State TV and Radio, for many years directed by Yuri Silantyev. When Murad Kazhlaev became its artistic director, the orchestra changed name to Big Concert Orchestra of the State TV and Radio. I was heading the saxophone group - a prestigious, calm, boring job.

I have been a fan of Oleg Lundstrem's orchestra since I was young. As soon as I was invited, I quit the radio and joined them. After more then two years of working there, I still maintain my creative and personal contacts with this unique group and have enjoyed collaborating with the orchestra ever since.

I had to leave Lundstrem's band simply because in 1992 my own ensemble was established. I ceased to be a member of some orchestra and became a soloist, a band leader. One more baby of mine had come to life - the Quartet of Valery Kiselev. In 1993 our ensemble became the staff band of the Russian radio company , where we worked until the memorable August 1998. In the beginning of September we were fired - Russia was experiencing a huge crisis. Jobs were all gone.

It was a mixed blessing, I guess. It didn't take me too long to find my next employer. In October 1998, after a number of recordings on the "Mosfilm" movie studio, I was offered a job in the Russian State Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Cinema, directed by Sergey Skripka. They selected me to become a soloist without any competition. This orchestra is still my official place of work, and I hope I can stay there until I retire and much later. Some of my co-workers are famous jazzmen: contrabassist Alexey Isplatovsky, drummer Evgeny Ryaboy, guitarist Vladimir Frolov.

Since 2004 Valery Kiselyov's ensemble is called the Classic Jazz Ensemble.

I wish all of my colleagues and friends happiness in their creative work and creativity in their happiness!

Valery Kiselyov


Translation to English by Maria Zotova.

Copyright © 2007 Valery Kiselyov