Desert island jazz

Desert island jazz

The Usadba Jazz festival comes to the city for the first time this year, bringing jazz to leafy Yelagin Island.

Published: June 29, 2011 (Issue # 1663)

Singer Zhenya Lubich will perform with her band on Saturday.

Jazz musicians and lovers will congregate this weekend for the Usadba Jazz international music festival that is taking place in St. Petersburg for the first time in the festival’s history.

Usadba translates as a large country estate. In the 19th century, noble families would invite guests over to their spacious but cozy summer houses outside Moscow and St. Petersburg, where they would be entertained by musical performances in the garden. The festival’s organizers aim to recreate the atmosphere of that undemocratic but romantic time on the city’s Yelagin Island this weekend.

“Atmosphere is what it is all about,” said Maria Syomushkina, president of the Usadba Jazz festival and director of the Art Mania promotion agency. “Not only is the music important, but also the festival’s location, various additional entertainment and, of course, the weather.”

Since 2004, the festival has taken place at the beginning of the summer at the celebrated Arkhangelskoye Estate near Moscow. According to the organizers, the social mission of the annual festival is to bring cultural life back to old Russian estates. After this year’s event in Arkhangelskoye, it was decided to gather again a month later for another series of concerts — this time, in St. Petersburg.


Local favorites Billy’s Band will play as a sextet on Sunday evening.

“There is some history of organizing similar festivals at the Peter and Paul Fortress, but our event is considered to be on a grander scale,” said Syomushkina. “The venue — the meadow in front of the Yelagin Palace — was the main condition for us: Either we get it, or there will be no festival at all.”

Music was always an integral part of Russian estates, and now, in the 21st century, it seems that jazz really does belong to Yelagin Island.

Unlike many musical events on this scale, the festival will be conducted in a family format. Concerts begin at 4 p.m., so visitors can enjoy the sunshine and relax on the grass while listening to music. A variety of games and entertainment facilities for children will be provided.

Billy Novik, leader of the city’s homegrown group Billy’s Band, one of the headliners of the festival, compared Usadba Jazz to rock concerts. “Rock festivals are like dissenters’ marches, while Usadba Jazz is like the march of the conformists,” he said.


Georgian singer Nino Katamadze looks set to be a festival highlight.

Formed 10 years ago, Billy’s Band is living proof that it is possible to go it alone without a record label. The musicians act as their own producer and designer, as well as fulfilling the functions of a PR manager. Their style is often defined as blues and swing, but members of the group describe it as “romantic alcojazz,” which can be interpreted as soft-jazz and swing. Their sound is a sometimes folkish mix of piano, guitar, button accordion, double bass, saxophone and percussion.

Zhenya Lubich, an up-and-coming young singer from St. Petersburg, is making her debut at the festival this weekend. A singer with the French band Nouvelle Vague, she has now launched a solo career and this weekend’s performance will be her second in front of a large audience. Lubich’s band comprises experienced men who are or have been involved in a variety of different projects. Keyboard player Denis Kirillov used to play with the alternative rock band Stigmata, guitarist Stas Berezovsky is a former member of the rock group Splean, and drummer Andrei Ivanov collaborates with Billy’s Band.

Although the festival is dedicated to jazz music, the lineup features few traditional jazz performers. The genre comprises a multitude of different styles that together create an eclectic branch of music that is diverse in content. Jazz itself is the glue that holds it together. One of the most unusual bands participating in the festival is Belgium’s Zap Mama, founded and led by Marie Daulne, who was born in Democratic Republic of the Congo and raised in Belgium. Three singers with the band will perform jazz, RB, hip-hop and African music simultaneously.

Other participants include the French jazz and blues musician Jean-Jacques Milteau, a virtuoso harmonica player, and Mass Ave Project, an eclectic group consisting of Russian and American graduates of Berkeley College of Music.


France’s Jean-Jacques Milteau will perform on Saturday evening.

One of the most eagerly anticipated parts of the program will come from festival favorite Georgian singer Nino Katamadze and her band Insight. Other foreigners include Israel’s Avishai Cohen Trio, discovered by the Art Mania agency five years ago. Today, Avishai Cohen and his band have become a headliner at many international festivals.

In total, more than 20 bands from Russia and abroad will perform on two stages near the Yelagin Palace this weekend. Part of the money received from ticket sales will be donated to charity. “We help gifted children, orphans and the poor; we buy them musical instruments and help them to develop,” said Syomushkina.

The Usadba Jazz festival takes place from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. on July 2 and 3 on Yelagin Island. M: Krestovsky Island. Tickets cost from 700 rubles for one day to 2,000 rubles for both stages on both days. For a full program, visit

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