Jazz in Lithuania (Part 3)
The Birštonas Jazz Festival
It happened in 1980, Lithuanian jazz enthusiasts, among them the late musicologist Liudas Saltenis, decided to establish a jazz festival in Lithuania, but the authorities of the Soviet occupiers did not like the idea to hold such an event in one of the big cities of the country, and so the organizers made the choice to hold this festival in the small resort town of Birštonas, about 90 km from the capital Vilnius. The biannual event soon became a meeting point for jazz pilgrims from all over the country who wanted to escape from the boredom of daily life under communism.
The oldest festival in Lithuania offers a wide range of styles, from traditional to contemporary jazz. The event soon became a platform for well established Lithuanian jazz musicians, but it also offers the younger generation of musicians the chance to perform, and groups and musicians from all over Europe, especially from the Baltic region left their mark in Birštonas. At this year's 16th festival edition musicians and bands from the UK, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Turkey, Switzerland, Latvia, Estonia and South Africa performed at the festival.
One of the musicians who performed regularly at the festival is saxophonist Vladimir Chekasin. Born in 1947 in the Western Siberian city of Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg), he moved to Vilnius in the early 1970s to join the famous Ganelin/Tarasov/Chekasin Trio. With this band, which became one of the starting points for the Vilnius Jazz School he performed in Birštonas in the early 1980s. In the late 1980s Chekasin formed his own quartet and performed with this group at numerous festivals all over Europe. He also worked in a duo or in bigger formations with drummer/percussionist Vladimir Tarasov. In recent years his interests shifted to multimedia projects, including musicians, actors, dancers, singers and other artists. In these projects he brought in his teaching abilities. It is already a good tradition that he performs at the Birštonas festival with his newest projects. This year he brought together students from Edinburgh and Vilnius - musicians, singers and dancers, the project was without question one of the highlights of this year's festival.
Liudas Mockunas is one of the most important representatives of a new generation of Lithuanian jazz musicians. One of his first teachers was Vladimir Chekasin. Later he moved to Copenhagen to continue his studies there and where he came in contact with other young musicians from Denmark and other countries. After returning to Lithuania, he soon became a bandleader for himself, working with younger musicians and passing on his ideas to them. At the Birštonas festival he performed successfully with the LAMT Big Band, an orchestra founded by Vladimir Chekasin in the 1980s, and of which he took over the leadership some years ago. Mockunas also performed with the group ODESSA 5 at the festival, led by the Danish drummer and percussionist Stefan Pasborg, a band which developed a very original style using numerous influences from all over the world. Liudas Mockunas became something like a Lithuanian jazz ambassador who played with well known musicians all over Europe, in the United States and China.
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