Monday, April 11, 2011

Russia, and Where I've Been There

Russia is huge. It is the biggest country on the planet. No surprise that most Russians only see a tiny part of their own country during their lives.
I travel a lot inside the country; there's always a jazz festival somewhere in Russia. Earlier today I returned to Moscow from the city of Ufa, the capital of the Bashkortostan Republic. Located in the southern part of the Ural Mountains region, on the great divide where Western Asia meets Eastern Europe, Bashkortostan is one of the largest national autonomies in Russian Federation, populated mostly by Bashkirs, a Turkic-speaking nation who historically were a people of proud and stout steppes-riding horsemen, still partly nomadic only a few generations ago.
Ufa has a tradition of 40 years of jazz education, a great history of good jazz festivals, and even the cultural advisor of the new Bashkortostan president (elected last year) is a jazz musician, Moscow-based saxophonist Oleg Kireyev, originally from Ufa. My partner, Anna Filipieva, and I attended a jazz education conference held at the Ufa State Academy of Arts. We participated in a four-hours discussion on jazz education, where only a part of the audience was present in person (at the superb Ufa City Jazz Club) while many questions were asked by people online (via text chat or by voice via Skype).

During the discussion, L to R: Anna Filipieva, Jazz.Ru Magazine; Roman Stolyar, Novosibirsk Music College; Alisa Sabirova, Ufa State Academy of Arts

The next day, Anna and I gave a clinic in music journalism at the Academy of the Arts for Ufa journalists who cover music for local media. We were surprised to see more than 20 colleagues in the audience, to find out that not only younger journalist showed up (but also their well-established peers, including the editor-in-chief of the local classical music magazine,) and to hear some really sharp and intelligent questions. I hope we answered most of then, and what we have to share with them from Anna's seven years as a music journalist, and twenty-three years that this writer has under his belt (fourteen as a magazine editor,) was useful for them.

I have to add that the Ufa Jazz Education Conference was labeled by its organizers as a Jazz Appreciation Month event, the first-ever event in Russia to do so. We would like to thank the organizers, Academy's Jazz department dean Azamat Khasanshin and Alisa Sabirova (who is working on her doctorate thesis at the Jazz department,) for their endless dedication and resourcefulness!

By returning home from Bashkortostan, I have eventually completed my visit to the 29th member territory of the Russian Federation in my life (out of 87 existing.) Geografically, it makes exaclty one third of Russia that I've seen, from the tiny Kaliningrad exclave in the extreme West (sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland,) to the Buryat Republic in Southern Siberia, along the Lake Baikal, in the mid-Eastern part of the country. A bit of proportions: it takes two hours of a commercial jet flight to get to Ufa from Moscow (900 miles,) and five hours of flight - from Moscow to the Buryat Republic, which is barely halfway across the country!

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