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Jazz in Lithuania (Part 2) - Some Personal Experiences

Updated on September 27, 2012


This is my very personal story about my contacts and meetings with four Lithuanian jazz musicians whom I met during the last thirty years and with whom I shared many experiences, who became my friends over the years. It is also a story about Lithuania, and why I became interested in this small country.

The Red Tie

Born in northern Russia in 1947, Vladimir Tarasov began playing drums in 1961. He studied music in his hometown Arkhangelsk and in Leningrad before emigrating to Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1968. In 1969, he formed a duo with pianist Vyacheslav Ganelin; the duo became a trio when saxophonist Vladimir Chekasin joined in 1971. The trio worked together until 1986, in 2002 the band reunited for a concert in Germany. Vladimir Tarasov is also the leader of the Lithuanian Art Orchestra, the Baltic Art Orchestra and the Russian Art Orchestra and a member of the Moscow Composers Orchestra. He has worked with a Chinese percussion group, performed solo and together with other internationally well known musicians like Mark Dresser, Lauren Newton or Anthony Braxton all over the world. Tarasov has composed for film and theater, created sound installations and is an accomplished visual artist. He also wrote a book about the Ganelin Trio.

In 1979 the Ganelin Trio performed at the Jazz Buehne festival in East Berlin. When the musicians came on stage, a friend who was sitting next to me, said: "The man with the red tie must be the secretary of the Communist Party in this band." The performance was great, and some days later the same band performed in Leipzig, another great concert and the possibility to make the first personal contacts, especially with drummer Vladimir Tarasov, the man with the red tie.

In the following years I had many opportunities to hear the Ganelin Trio live, it was always a great experience to listen to this extraordinary band. In the late 1980s I enjoyed several duo concerts with Vladimir Chekasin. In 1993 I invited Vladimir Tarasov to two festivals I had organized in Germany, with the Lithuanian Art Orchestra and in a duo with Bulgarian saxophonist Anatoly Vapirov, in the mid 1990s I attended several concerts with the Moscow Composers Orchestra at festivals all over Europe as well as a concert with the Vladimir Trio (Tarasov with Vladimir Miller on piano and the late Vladimir Rezitsky on saxophones) at a festival in Vienna in 1998 and some of his solo performances. In 1998 I spent some time together with Vladimir in New York, enjoying a great duo concert with Marilyn Crispell and a quartet performance with Peter Broetzmann, Borah Bergman and Roy Campbell. Other impressive performances were duo concerts with drummer Andrew Cyrille at festivals in Finland (1991) and in Serbia where they performed with a group of actors (2002). In recent years Vladimir Tarasov performed with musicians like pianists Dieter Glawischnig from Austria and Ryoji Hojito from Japan, the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Japanese saxophonist Kazutoki Umezu or French bassist Joelle Leandre in Vilnius. He is an energetic and resourceful player who always is able to contribute to different constellations.

The Red Chair

Vytautas Labutis (born 1960) is one of the leading figures on the Lithuanian jazz scene. He is at home in various styles ranging from free improvisations to fixed structures, as well as in chamber formations and large ensembles. He plays saxophones, bass clarinet and keyboards (often two instruments simultaneously), enriching his instrumental arsenal with electronics and his voice. In the 1980s he was a member of the Petras Vyšniauskas Quartet, later he joined the Vladimir Chekasin Quartet, led several own formations and was a co-leader of Džiazo nublokšti Quintet. In 1997 he formed an Octet featured on his first personal album Terra Vandetuja. Vytautas Labutis has collaborated with almost all Lithuanian jazz musicians. He is a member of Lithuanian Jazz Trio, Vilnius Jazz Quartet, Dainius Pulauskas Group, Leonid Shinkarenko Jazz 4, Vladimir Tarasov’s Lithuanian Art Orchestra and Lithuanian Young Composers Orchestra. He participated in international projects as well: Jazz Baltica Ensemble (lead by D.Murray, N.Pedersen, M.Schneider, D.Bates, and others), Octet Ost III, East-West Vapirov Project, New European Saxophone Quartet and Moscow Composers Orchestra. With various ensembles he has performed all around Europe, Asia, Australia and the USA.

In the late 1990s I attended a concert with the Jazz Baltica Ensemble directed by Maria Schneider in Cologne. All but one of the musicians were sitting on white chairs, the musician sitting on a red chair was a saxophonist - Vytautas Labutis.

But I had met Vytautas several times before, the first time as a member of the Petras Vyšniauskas Quartet at the Bratislava Jazz Festival in 1984. In the late 1980s I attended several concerts with the Vladimir Chekasin Quartet, in which theatrical elements played an important role - Vytautas was a member of this band as well. In 1993 I invited him to a festival I had organized, and where he performed with his own quartet and as a member of the Lithuanian Art Orchestra. Later I enjoyed some of his performances with Jazz Baltica Ensemble, I remember another great concert with the New European Saxophone Quartet at a festival in Mulhouse/France in 1997, and a session with other Lithuanian musicians in a club in Vilnius in 1998, not to forget his numerous performances at the Vilnius Jazz festival and in clubs, especially with the Vilnius Jazz Quartet. One of my favorites is his duo with bassist Eugenijus Kanevicius. Vytautas is a musician who is always open to new sound adventures enriching different formations with his energetic style.

A Lithuanian in New York

"Improvising percussionist" Dalius Naujokaitis (born in 1968) began his musical career in the late 80s and was an avant-garde feature of the Vilnius jazz scene performing with Juozas Milašius, Vladimir Chekasin, Petras Vyšniauskas and others. He moved to New York in 1995 and made an impressive entry to the NYC scene with a series of original solo performances at Jonas Mekas’ Anthology Film Archives. He began to collaborate with Auguste Varkalis, Jonas Mekas and friends in Free Music on Second Street group, and took part in the Now We Are Here Orchestra’ projects. His drumming is featured in films by Jonas Mekas and other avant-garde filmmakers. He has played and recorded with a variety of New York bands such as Kenny Wolleson’s Himalayas and Wollesonics, Rocco John Group, and On Davis’ Cartoon Satellite. He also performed with musicians such as Art Baron, Butch Morris, Joey Barron, Jonathon Haffner, Otomo Yoshihide. He leads and drums for Untyte, which performs ancient Lithuanian folk tunes with a downtown NY edge.

It happened in 1989/1990s that I enjoyed the first performances with Dalius at the jazz festivals in Vilnius where he played with the Skirmantas Sasnauskas Jazz Quartet and a group called Gitarmania. In 1991, as a member of a trio with pianist Tomas Kutavicius and guitarist Juozas Milasius, he performed at a jazz festival in Kaunas, the second biggest city in Lithuania. I was so impressed by the high energetic concert of this group that I invited this band to a festival in Germany later that year - the beginning of my friendship with Dalius.

We met very often when I visited jazz festivals in Lithuania, and I always enjoyed his playing in different constellations. It happened in 1994 when we performed together at a midnight jam session at the Vilnius Jazz Festival. In 1995 Dalius moved to New York but it was not the end of our friendship. In 1997 he came back to Vilnius for some concerts including two performances by Jonas Mekas who celebrated his 75th birthday in Lithuania. I also joined these performances - unforgettable moments of my life. In 1998 I met Dalius in New York for some more performances, and later that year again in Vilnius where he played with the Juozas Milasius Guitar Quartet. In 2008 Dalius came again to play at the Vilnius Jazz Fesival, this time with a Lithuanian-New York project. He stayed several month in Lithuania for more concerts, and when we met we always had a lot of fun together. It would be great to listen to his New York projects live - in Vilnius or in New York. Until our next meeting I enjoy the videos Dalius is sending me.

A Lithuanian Jazz Ambassador

”Something of the rugged beauty of the Lithuanian countryside and the passion of many of his fellow countrymen has been breathed into his music. The use of themes from traditional folk music is one facet of this saxophonist, who reflects both the modern development in jazz and the sound idioms of the new and latest improvised and composed music.” (Bert Noglik) Petras Vyšniauskas (born in 1957) played with Steve Lacy, Han Bennink, Jon Christensen, Tomasz Stanko, Vladimir Chekasin Big Band, Vyacheslav Ganelin, Kent Carter, Jimmy Owens, Elliot Sharp, the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Charlie Mariano, Karl Berger, Bobo Stenson, Vladimir Volkov, Hilliard Greene, Eric Vloeimans, Antoni Donchev, John Lindberg a.o. He also performs in a duo with the Lithuanian queen of folk music Veronika Povilioniene. One of his main activities in recent years is the trio Priority with Vyacheslav Ganelin from Israel and German drummer Klaus Kugel.

In 1984 I attended a jazz festival in the Slovakian capital Bratislava. I remember that it was an event with several high quality performances, the biggest surprise was a concert of a Lithuanian band - the Petras Vyšniauskas Quartet. These young musicians were able to follow their own creative way, and I became interested in this small country where they came from: Lithuania, at that time still under Soviet occupation.

In the late 1980s I attended some more of Petras's concerts with his new quartet, in 1988 he played with this group at the Leipzig Jazz Days, just days before my first visit to Lithuania. In 1990 and 1993 I invited him again to festivals in Leipzig where he performed in duos with drummer/percussionist Arkady Gotesman and with Veronika Povilioniene. When I visited Lithuania in the late 1980s/early 1990s I could be almost sure to meet Petras and to enjoy some of his great concerts. I also remember some of his concerts in France. In 1994 he performed with an own project at a festival in Junas, at the same festival he joined the projects of French musicians, in 1997 he played with the New European Saxophone Quartet at the Mulhouse festival. In recent years Petras became more and more involved in international projects, and the opportunities to listen to his concerts in Lithuania are rather rare but from time to time we meet each other and I always enjoy it to attend his great performances.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago from Turkey

      beautiful. i like it. I 've listened a turkish jazz band. Laco Tayfa. Probably you will like Laco Tayfa...

    • Londonlady profile image

      Laura Writes 

      6 years ago

      What an awesome genre for music. Jazz...just enough class with just enough pizzazz

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 

      8 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      Fantastic info. I'm a great lover of jazz. It's always a pleasure to discover new sounds. Thanks much for this great topic.

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      8 years ago from US

      you sure have lots of musician friends, this is like a tribute to them. You write about them in such a genuine passion as a friend indeed! I have learned a lot from you and from this short tribute.


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