Hugh Gatenby

Always a fan of live music, Hugh Gatenby indulges his new-found enthusiasm for jazz, and finds himself – along with his obligatory sketchbook – in the presence of a Russian jazz icon (editor).

Saychas, dorogiye lyubityeli djazza”, (‘And now, dear jazz lovers’) so the MC at Moscow’s Dom Kompozitorov (‘House of Composers’) announced the entrance of Russian jazz legend Aleksey Kozlov, “Kozol na saxophonye!” (‘A goat on a saxophone!’).

Playing to the home crowd — the maestro performs to a crowded house

Actually, he didn’t say that at all, but it used to be quite a popular joke amongst Aleksey Kozlov’s fans, being a wordplay on his surname – a corruption of the Russian word for ‘goat’. 

Born in 1935, jazz saxophonist Aleksey Kozlov came to prominence, with his brand of jazz-fusion, in the 1960s during Khrushchev’s brief  ‘Thaw’ period. Jazz-fusion sought to combine jazz rhythms with the electric instrumentation and rhythms of  rock and roll, funk and rhythm & blues.  All of this didn’t always go down too well with the censorious, repressed Soviet music scene and Kozlov soon earned himself something of a ‘bad boy’ image. In his autobiography he writes about how he and his fellow non-conformist stilnyagi (stylish boys) were openly pilloried and often found themselves the butt of crude propaganda by the authorities. 

Still spry, Aleksey Kozlov hits, as they say, all the right notes in the right order.

The post-Soviet era has however been a lot kinder to Aleksey Kozlov. He has flourished both musically and commercially. Now much lauded and the recipient of innumerable awards, he is an Artist of Russia – the  state’s highest cultural accolade.  He clearly also has a good business brain, and owns and runs the Aleksey Kozlov Club – a popular, ultra-chic multi-stage music venue on Moscow’s hip Ulitsa Maroseika. Now in his mid-eighties, but still very stylishly turned-out in public, he rarely gives performances. The Sunday night audience, very aware of this special treat, absolutely raised the roof (not an easy feat – the concert was in the basement) with their applause. The great man, still remarkably spy, swayed to his soaring sax solos. When not playing his sax, he wisely chose to sit down. Quietly spoken, with impish good humour and engaging modesty, he introduced every piece of a diverse set with included numbers from Dave Brubeck to Lennon-McCartney. 

The one-time US Vice-President Adlai Stevenson once said, “Adulation is OK, if you don’t inhale.” – and there was a lot of adulation in the air that evening. Aleksey Kozlov smilingly and courteously acknowledged all the tumultuous applause – and came back for an encore. 

Later, in the courtyard, I saw him, well wrapped-up, masked-up and slightly stooped, carefully climb into the back of an enormous, gleaming, black Mercedes saloon, and be driven off into the night by his bass player. Sheer class. A legend.

Выступает знаменитая джазовая легенда и очень достоинственный человек Алексей Козлов. Просто огонь. Браво! Да, может ему 84 года, и может ему приходится присаживаться и отдыхать между выступлениями, но всё-таки у него такая молодёжная энергия. Его саксофон играет, его душа поёт и результат является музыкальными шедеврами – от Бэнни Гудмана до Поль Мэкартни. Зрители были во восторге, и из-за аплодисментов крыша прям поднялась. Да, и правильно так) Большой респект!

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