Film producer and composer, a well-known jazz musician
Interview: Ljubov Dzuzhynska
Photo: Oleg Radkovets
What’s it like to be you?
You should be asking my wife. She told me everything about me this morning. Even the things that I did not know at all about myself and didn’t even suspect that they existed. Well, there are two sides to me. The Cossack side, hence the surname. It’s the part that loves this country, this land, these landscapes. When I travel across Ukraine, everything swirls inside me! And the second part of me is the Jewish part, which I inherited after my mother. These are meticulous people who love details, meaning, art. So I am this dual individual which at times is very difficult. Well, I manage somehow and I’ve been doing this for seventy years haha.
Do these two sides fight each other?
All the time.
Do you always notice it happening?
I do. I seem to be having a dialogue with myself. I want to stop. I want to stop being critical. I want to stop the flow of ideas and projects because that’s how you return to the self. No matter how far you come out of your shell, you still return to it, because at some point you bump into a wall, or maybe you even put these ideas into someone else’s brain. You do it to recharge, you do it for your self-esteem and as a result, you always come back to yourself. And these personalities: the open you, the closed you, the critical you, the creative you – are all boiling together. It’s probably a good soup recipe.
What are you most proud of in your life?
I am proud that I started everything from scratch three or even four times. The first time was when I moved from Ukraine to Budapest, Hungary. I had to adapt, learn the language, gain recognition, earn a position in the music world, in society. Then moving to New York and then to Los Angeles. The fourth time was moving back to Ukraine. I am proud of the fact that I never stop. It’s the most important thing. I think that
the meaning of life is dynamics, to have an engine within yourself that pushes you to move from one point to another, to see things in perspective. The horizon cannot end. The horizon will never be close to you and that is its beauty.
Are you more of a creative person or does rationality prevail?
Creative. One hundred percent. I have a lot of emotions, a lot of ideas, a lot of sleepless nights that occur because you suddenly wake up, like in a horror movie. Only in my case, I’m not having a nightmare, but a new idea. So, today, at about three o’clock, I woke up, because I had an idea about my favorite project. I, as a film producer, want to finally find some kind of platform from which to commence a film about Babi Yar. This idea has fueled me for seven years now. And it materializes into something new every time. But to find some next creative progression, somehow to reach another level – that’s the producer’s job. I love it all! It’s both painful and annoying, but it’s creative nonetheless!
What about creative plateaus?
Oh I have those!
How do you overcome them?
I can compare it with my favorite pastime – playing tennis. The moment when you feel a withdrawal, you start hitting the wrong ball. It’s like taking off your tennis cap and putting on a composer’s hat. I remember very well when while working on films, I wrote the score for more than sixty different projects in Hollywood. But here, and in Hollywood, and Hungary, but especially in Hollywood, the only method of dealing with creative stagnation is concentration. You should just become a microscope! You have to transform into a small microbe who looks up and sees a huge human eye. Agassi, who is an excellent tennis player, said that the only way to get back into the active phase from a passive downfall is to try to see the furrows of the tennis ball. He had moments when he concentrated so much that a small tennis ball turned into a basketball. That’s how strong his focus was. Same thing here, the fight against losing creativity is all about concentration. It’s about focusing on detail. It is focusing on ultimate goals. It is focusing on what has already been done and where you are headed next. You have to constantly make 360-degree turns. You have to always return to the starting point and analyze, ‘so, I’ve already done this much, but my goal is there’. Imagine the gaze of God – to rise above any given project and look down on it. Globally, not from the position in which you are now. You might not be in the mood today. Or you lost the thread of thought today. Today you did two pieces of music for the film and you don’t like one. So, you need to stop, get up, see where you are, where you were and where you are going next. Well it helps me. Different people have different ways of dealing with it.
You’ve noted how you’ve started from scratch numerous times. Does it become more difficult each time?
I wouldn’t say more difficult, but rather more familiar. It’s not harder, no. Because you are already filled with certain bruises, which eventually turned into calluses. Say for instance, double bass players, or people who play a huge violin – because the strings are thick, musicians have severe calluses on the index and middle fingers. And these calluses allow them to play very quickly, play loudly and correctly, and in rhythm. So it’s the same thing, it allows a person who wants to start something new to be resilient, to always look in the rearview mirror, and remember what it was like the last time. So next time you know what you are dealing with.
Does inspiration find you or do you have to seek it out yourself?
I can say with certainty that you always have to achieve it! It must be discovered and achieved! There are those lucky ones, very lucky ones, who find inspiration in a dream or a delirium, or even an alcoholic nightmare. You sit down, start moving your fingers on the keyboard, or you will hear a bird sing somewhere. Yet inspiration needs to be finalized, it needs to be developed. It must be transformed from the ephemeral into the material.
So what inspires you lately?
Inspires? I am incredibly inspired by new, phenomenal, talented, young bands, talents. It lifts you off the ground when you hear some incredible guy, girl, ensemble, no matter where from They prove to you once again that at least there are twelve notes on the keyboard: seven white, five black, but the possibilities are infinite. “Who is more talented? Who is more brilliant? Who is fresh? Who saw something that had never been seen before ”? These guys and girls, they prove that the meaning of creativity is all about personality! I think that those people who ask why there is no one like Mozart or Bach in modern times are just those who don’t want to see or hear! It all exists but in a different form, under a different sauce, it’s all happening in the same way as it did 300-400 years ago. There are new Bachs, there are new Mozarts! They are all there! Just in a different style. But they are absolutely crazy, beautiful, melodic. In general, I think that music is one of the greatest human achievements! It is a language that has no analogs. It’s an amazing, bright, emotionally pure language. So music is the future.
What musical instrument would you be?
If I could become a musical instrument, I would become a tenor saxophone. It’s such a swift musical instrument. A tenor in the hands of a real master turns into a miracle, into a riot of feelings. It can express what no other human activity can express.
How do you feel about the cult of a musician’s personality, for example, if as a person the musician is bad, yet composes amazing music, would it affect the way you perceive his or her work?
This question bothered me a lot when I looked up the biography of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. When I found out what a monster this man was, – and he was an immoral, disgusting monster, – I tried to convince myself, perhaps, in re-evaluating his work, but
as soon as you hear a piece from The Nutcracker, you spread like mozzarella over ciabatta, and that’s just it.
Therefore, there is no point in going there, to that room with Freud sitting on his couch. There is no point. No matter how monstrous a person is, at the moment when he writes such brilliant music, he is clearly not a monster. Maybe when he finishes writing, he closes the door, enters another room, and turns into a horrific monstrosity. But I didn’t know him like that and I will never do. So ‘The Nutcracker’ is all I have and it’s enough for me.
If you could travel back in time, chat, meet anyone from the past, where would you go?
America in the 40s when Europe was going through war. At the time when civilization was completely destroyed, there was a new style of music dominating America – jazz. Swing, big band, bi bop, and the beauty of very gallant and fashionably dressed people, gentlemen, classy women, ladies… Such an incredibly cultural environment is very alluring. Especially if you are a jazzman. Everyone wore hats, suits, ties, beautiful outfits. Everyone was incredibly gallant. And the music reflected this. It’s a great time.
What is your own definition of beauty?
Well, beauty is very multifaceted: men, women, children, nature. All of this together… It seems to me that all this goes back to the roots of man. It is a network of everything. Beauty cannot be flat.
What was the most beautiful thing you’ve seen or experienced?
I can say with confidence that these are different locations of the miracle of nature. I think it’s nature. A manifestation of nature can compete in its beauty with anything. Well, it’s certainly above human beauty – above any delights, achievements in music, in painting. The incredibly beautiful places in their divine splendor. When I was driving on the island of Maui from the airport to one of the most remote areas, we even stopped to gaze at that beauty. Such views are imprinted in you forever.
Who is or was your biggest teacher in life?
If there is a person who left an imprint in my life, then it’s probably my grandfather. My mother’s father – grandfather Boris. Boris Moiseevich is a hard worker, a workman. He never stopped at anything and overcame all obstacles in life. He is the one who convinced me early on that I should move overseas. He told me stories about how we are going to board a ship with our friends and the ship will sail for a long time, and then we will eventually disembark on land. Those were his stories that affected me.
What film reality would you like to be a part of?
Several films have left a mark on me. It’s not about acting or the film setting, but rather about the storyline that the people who worked on these films created. Oddly enough, I’ll say a strange thing: one of my favorite films is the film “The Ballad of a Soldier” – a Soviet film. It’s a story taken from life. Grigory Chukhray is the director. But the beauty and experience of Volodya Ivashov and Zhanna Prokhorenko is so natural: in times of war they fell in love with each other, and their love remained pure, unblemished. The entire film is about that. I don’t want to visit the territory of Russia in 1941 because of the terrible war that took place. I also really like science fiction. I love any Ridley Scott film. But I wouldn’t like to exist in those. Like “Blade Runner” – I wouldn’t want to be a part of that. Yet in general there are a few films in one’s life that leave a trace and periodically reappear. But I wouldn’t want to be in those realities, I’d rather talk to the directors that created them or the actors that partly lived in such realities. Or I would like to talk to the composers of these films to hear directly from them how they managed to create such beauty. But I would not mind, for example, visiting the room where Sharon Stone was interrogated in the movie Basic Instinct. I wouldn’t mind.
Who amongst contemporary composers who write music for films would you say stands out for you?
At one time in Hollywood there was a triumvirate and three dominant names in film: John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Hans Zimmer. John Williams is the composer of Star Wars, Indiana Jones. Jerry Goldsmith, with whom I worked for four years. I was an arranger for him, and played synthesizers on his records. He also left a very serious mark on me as a mentor. Hans Zimmer is a generator of ideas, melodies, rhythms, modern sounds. But, time has passed, and now many composers have become, as it were, “nameless”. Because many composers who write music for serious films do not label themselves as the founding author. Gustavo Santaolaglia is the composer who wrote the music for the film Babylon [editor’s note: 2 composers worked on the music for this film, the second was Ryuichi Sakamoto]. I’m just crazy about him. He so captivatingly hooked me to become a soldier in the army of his fans. Instantly. There was a theme that runs throughout the film and somehow he managed to write one melody that suited four entire plot lines. Or, for example, Johan Johannsson, the composer of Sicario: a low note that conveys all the horror of what is happening in the film, catastrophic changes in the fate of people due to the cruelty of the environment. These guys are so talented and technically gifted, that they manage to write what previously took a long time to write with just two little fingers. They are like fish in water. I think today they are mostly melodic. I can’t perceive music when there is no melody. Because to me that melody is the creation of music. If there is no theme, no melody, then it’s not music. It’s more of an excellent technical accompaniment, which is more rhythmic rather than musical. Therefore, for me it’s Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams and Hans Zimmer. Thei powerful themes remain essential to me and they are melodists, melodic composers.
You’ve been in the world of creating Hollywood movies and you understand how everything works. Is it difficult for you to perceive and watch films without analyzing all the shortcomings?
I force myself to just enjoy a good movie. From time to time, some detail, perfect or imperfect shifts me aside and then – bam! I find myself in a mode of analysis thinking about how a musical instrument was arranged. Or I notice a trick that actors use or a specific movement of the camera. But if the film is good, then you are instantly transported to the next scene, to the next turn of events, to the next plot intrigue. It depends not only on me but also on the film. In short, people who know how to create a “universe”, which is the most important thing in the film, achieve that. Whether it’s the American South, the French North, or England of the 16th century – if you managed to create a universe then sooner or later, the spectator will immerse into the plot again, even if he is a professional in the field. One way or another, the film will captivate you. But it’s not easy – that’s for sure. It’s better to be a regular viewer than a technical specialist when watching films!
Is there an existing film that you wish you’d have directed?
Wow! The film that affected me in all ways possible is ‘Angel’s Heart’. It’s a film with Mickey Rourke – a handsome man who made himself look unfamiliar with an unimaginable number of plastic surgeries. This film was so amazingly effective to reveal itself in its incredible plot. Maybe it’s also because I was present on set when this film was being made?! And the director is a genius dude! He followed the path of Billy Wilder, one of the geniuses of Hollywood, who promised that none of his films will repeat either the plot or the genre of the previous one. He also directed such films as: “Sunset Boulevard”, “Some Like it Hot”, “Witness for the Prosecution” with Marlene Dietrich. He made mysteries, comedies, musicals, dramas. So the deceased Allan Parker who directed Angel Heart then directed Fame, which is a musical about teenagers in a New York school for talented children. He directed Mississippi on Fire, a drama with a detective element. He shot each new film in a different genre, in a different way. Now, if it was possible for me to become a producer of the film, Angel Heart, I would gladly do so. But there will be no remake.
On your life path, you’ve met a great number of famous people who are known to one degree or another so you must have a rather calm perception of their personas, yet is there a particular celebrity that struck you the most?
What was so impressive about him?
I have a different case with musicians because I saw them as colleagues. Therefore, whoever I meet in music, even the craziest “superstar”, is still a colleague. Maybe because I didn’t feel such a crazy difference and it never mattered if someone played better than me, the difference was always small. But when you meet with a crazy talented actor and an incredibly talented director, or a screenwriter whose talent you are sure of because you know their films, you willy-nilly become, well, almost an autograph seeker. I never felt that with Sean Connery though because we met in a friendly atmosphere. It’s one thing when you wait for your idol to appear on stage, and there he is – your idol! For example, I’m sure if I got to see Robbie Williams on stage today I would get that feeling. Because I adore the guy in every way! As a singer, as a person, his ease of communication, the level of talent – he’s a star. For example, if Schwarzenegger is in a company of twenty people you notice that he is seeking attention. He tries to lure you into his circle. So you involuntarily become a part of his conversation, his jokes, etc. And then some people are not like that and they are more serious. When they say, ‘nice to meet you’ – they really mean it. So there was this film premiere and Sean Connery played a doctor who found a universal remedy for fighting disease in the Brazilian jungle. The producer of the film told me that during filming, Sean Connery insisted on having a tennis court where they were filming.
A tennis court?
Yes. They were filming in the middle of the Mexican jungle and were living in a trailer in a fairly normal environment with all the necessary conditions. Yet there was no tennis court. They had to cut down the trees, flatten the ground, straighten the tennis court, and put up a fence. A real tennis court! And then it turned out that he had no one to play with haha. No one from the crew played tennis. There was one person I knew well – Bob Midzerowski. He was a line producer on this film. And before that for almost 20 years each Saturday, we played tennis together with Andrew Vine, the main producer of this film. And Bob was the worst player of them all. When we played in pairs, and there were always ten or twelve of us, we almost drew lots to see who would get Bob. It was a punishment! So back to the story – Sean Connery sits next to me. I’ve seen twenty films with him and here we are sitting at the table, everyone introduces themselves, and I just said my name. He didn’t even ask what I had to do with the movie, which is something everything always asks about. Instead, he asked me what I was interested in. We started talking about tennis and at some point he started telling me how he got to play with Bob Midzerowski on this perfect tennis court made for him on the set of this movie. People would come and go, and we all sat at the table. He told me a little about his childhood, how his career was not successful at the start. I then boldly asked him: “Listen, what did you want? You’ve starred in so many James Bond films. You are James Bond! Didn’t anyone advise you, your agents, your manager, that you should stay in this particular genre of the romantic hero who overcomes and conquers the bad guys? ” He said: “If I stayed in that character, I would hate the morning of every day of my life.” I liked it so much that he shared his thoughts so frankly. It was the only time that I’ve seen him. The age difference was pretty big too. It was 1986-1987! I wasn’t even 40 years old back then, but he was already well into his 60s, and maybe even 70s. But I didn’t feel at all that he was looking down at me, nor that he was looking at me like an older comrade would at someone much younger. He didn’t even know my profession or what was my business with the producer. He didn’t know anything at all! But we grasped the topic so quickly, and everything else went smoothly from there. The right angle gives you the opportunity to get close to a person. The viewing angle is not a general topic, but it’s exactly how you look at something. You find the common ground and bam, it all works out.
Could you share some funny situations that happened throughout your life?
Oh! I had the funniest situation in the Seventh Avenue South jazz club. I had a band called the Central Committee. I have collected all the biggest stars in New York in this band. Only stars played in my band: Omar Hakim played drums, Marcus Miller played bass, Chuck Loeb played guitar, Bob Mintzer played saxophone, and I played the synthesizer. We only played my music! It was a dream come true. If you ask me, ‘What is your biggest dream in life?’ That was it! One evening Sting stopped by the club. There was a very low ceiling and I saw him in the room. There was nothing special about the club, it was just a place where both amateurs and professional jazz musicians gathered together. So during a break between sets, Sting entered our dressing room. He introduced himself, greeted everyone. And then he went up to Omar Hakim, the drummer. Omar Hakim was then the “nuclear bomb” in the music industry. He was so resourceful. Not only is he a wonderful musician, but he also played the drums masterly. Just fantastic! They talked about something separately and the rest of us were resting and discussing something of our own. Then all of a sudden some crazy person bursts into the room! A smelly man with no face and no uniform says something and I only hear bits of what he said, and it was something about smoking. Everyone just stared at him. I later realized that it was Jaco Pastorius, the legendary bassist, but everyone knew that he was a severe addict. I didn’t know what to do with him and it was time for us to return on stage and we were already 7 minutes late. So then someone told him, “Jaco, we need to go on stage!”, to which he replies, “Oh, are you playing? What are you playing? ”. Everyone pointed a finger at me. And I say, “Listen, we are playing original music. Everything has already been written.” “Yes I, I know your original music!” Then he runs out onto the stage, picks up a bass guitar while everyone starts to take their seats. We start to play and I have no clue if it’s going to be a fiasco! And Marcus Miller said a simple, “Don’t worry.” We start to play, and he doesn’t even look at the notes. He seizes everything that we play and adds his own improvisation from above. I was completely at a loss. I rehearsed with them for a week. And then this man jumped out and began to play! Two emotions were fighting in me. This person could ruin my entire evening and a lot depended on that performance. But also, maybe, he would play everything well and it won’t be so bad. We played together almost to the end, he played his solo and left. The audience burst into applause as he ran off the stage. But that’s not the ‘fuckup’ part of the story. The next day Omar calls me and says: “Listen, Sting is putting together a band ” and I ask him what was the offer. He replied: “He wants all the musicians to be black”. So he asked if I knew any black keyboard player. I knew Kenny Kirkland, my friend who is an amazing keyboard player but he does not play that style at all. He played clean jazz and did not know how to play the synthesizer. But I took the part of teaching him. So because I’m not black, they didn’t offer me a position in the band. I worked a lot and created an awesome band with a modern sound and Sting liked it. But the requirement was an all-black band. You can look up his performances and see that.
Not the fairest game.
You can say that.
What was your favorite fairytale as a child?
Ivan Tsarevich Good question! Not “Ivan Tsarevich”, not “Upon Pike’s Will” … Probably “The Little Humpbacked Horse”! A wonderful fairy tale.
Did it somehow affect you?
I think yes. It probably subconsciously taught me to take risks. I don’t think that when I was five years old that I understood the full significance of it, that you shouldn’t be afraid. You have to go out there and overcome everything that life throws at you.
Do you think that fairytales exist in real life?
Absolutely! I’m sure of it. We just don’t notice these tales around us, because we don’t believe in miracles. Most people don’t. And I believe in miracles! I believe that miracles are things that don’t fit into the homogeneity of our life, into the banality of our life stories. Therefore, we are told: “Oh! These are miracles! These are fables ”. And yes, these are very old stories but you have to look deeper and listen! I think fairy tales do happen. Well, not every day, but once a week for sure.
Even in the last 15 years of your life in Ukraine?
Yes. Absolutely! For example, I am sure that what happened to jazz in Ukraine is also kind of a fairy tale. Because, at one time, when we played jazz and we were oppressed for it, people were fired from their jobs for jazz. Then there was a downfall in Kyiv. In general, I believe that the transfer of knowledge and experience “from generation to generation” is exactly the relay race that is necessary for the further advancement of art, culture, technology, and medicine! And in Kyiv, it was cut short. In Russia as well. But out of nowhere, a new generation of super talented young jazz musicians emerged. Phenomenal talents are revealed. Again, nobody needs them unfortunately as much as they deserve to be needed, but they are there.
We had an interview with Lyubomyr Melnyk, the world’s fastest pianist. He’s from Ukraine but doesn’t live here. In an interview, he said that he is intimidated by the modern trend that young musicians, instead of playing instruments, use electronic ones. Hence instruments become forgotten and fade into the background. And, as a result, they can become archaisms and cease to exist. What do you think about this issue?
I both agree and disagree. It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s technical progress and technologies allow people without serious musical education to reproduce the sounds of orchestras, make arrangements, etc. And this is clearly a good thing, not a bad one! Because there are talented people who are full of melodies, full of ideas, but they do not read music and do not know musical literacy. So these technologies allow them to reproduce and arrange things as if they were full-fledged educated musicians and arrangers. Again, on the other hand, I agree with Lyubomyr, because this depth and purity of the sound of a real acoustic instrument is becoming lost. But I think time will tell. I think the balance is to find itself, so don’t be scared.
And from the existing musical compositions, which one you wish you would have written?
I am very seduced and encouraged by the fact that nowadays there is a completely new style in music: sequences of harmony, melodies, and consonances that were previously impossible now can exist, whilst previously they couldn’t because they had to follow a certain logic. Harmony could only be a certain way. And today there are many new musical ensembles, and not only in America, not only in Europe. I was killed on the spot, amicably, by a Belarusian ensemble with a Belarusian girl, called DeeTree. They sound so great! What would I like to write today? Something super modern, but in rhythm, again, with consistent harmonies that will be very pleasing to the ear. Which could last longer than three or four minutes and would not be boring, annoying. But it’s a dream. I don’t know whether it will happen or not. Yet I envision large canvases of seven or eight minutes, which sound good instrumentally, and not just as a background, because background music is absurd! Music cannot be a background! Now, this sounds like a background [ed. note – music playing in a coffee shop]. But whoever wrote it did not think of it as something to be played in the background. He was fascinated by these rhythms and flows of different timbres. I want something like that – for it to be more than just a background.
What was the wisest thing you’ve ever heard in your life?
I heard it from Stravinsky. Stravinsky said that “the work of a composer is akin to that of a shoemaker. You get up, put on an apron, take a hammer in your hand, and start hitting the sole. Make shoes or repair shoes. You just have to force yourself to sit down and do the work. ” This is the wisest thing I’ve heard. “No order – no music” – said Mozart. Absolute truth. To just sit down and force yourself to write a piece of work is stupid. You must have some kind of incentive or some kind of pendulum behind you that shakes you and reminds you that time is running out. Like Hemingway who got up at five in the morning, and in an upright position wrote. No matter how drunk he was on the previous night, he got up, and he wrote in a standing position. From five in the morning to ten. He wrote for five hours every morning. And at ten he drank his first glass of rum haha.
What real characters that ever existed or even fictional ones would you like to meet?
Good question! I would like to meet with this brigade of people who lived in Paris in the 30s. It couldn’t get any better. The guys that Hemingway wrote about, and then Woody Allen made the film Midnight in Paris in a comedy version. It was fun there. I would hang around with them!
What question would you like to be asked in an interview?
I would like you to ask me, ‘When was life best for you? What do you think was the most exciting time in your life?’.
And what would you say?
I would say such a moment has not happened yet! Although looking back now there were moments that were so underestimated by me! But I have a good excuse. There is a surprising reason. Because I was so carried away by exactly what I was doing at that moment that it was impossible to think with my heart. There were moments like Seventh Avenue South. I will never forget how one evening when we were playing there, during a break, a couple, a man and a woman, came up to me. And it seemed to me that I knew his face. But jazz musicians are usually not very famous. Especially serious musicians. And this man came up to me, he was 62-63 years old, and said: “You know, you play so well! I can say for sure that you are one of the most talented keyboardists”. And I played a lot on the synthesizer then, that’s what Lyubomir was talking about. Because the keyboard is very light, you can play amazing glissando slides, plus a wheel that gives you the ability to play everything softly. Modulation! And he says to me:
-I have heard many, but few of these keyboard musicians can cope with their tasks so easily.
-Thank you very much for the compliment.
– And in the second part, will you play the same music or something different”?
-Another completely different one. We play five pieces here.
– Whose music is this?
– Mine. I only play my own music. This is the rule in this club.
– Other musicians don’t write music?
-They do, but they need to collect their own ensemble.
-Great! You know, by the way, today is my wife’s birthday, and we decided to spend this day here. She saw the name of the ensemble “Central Committee”. And for some reason, I thought it was the right decision!
-You gave me a gift that you came here!
-This is my wife Anita.
And then another person, whom I knew well, came up from behind. He was the “king” of New York City in music for commercials. He was making crazy money. He had a Jaguar parked, an estate in Connecticut. He invited me over a couple of times. His name is David Horowitz. So David approached the man I just spoke to and said: “Oh! Gil! Hi Gil! How are you?” God, it was Gil Evans! And Gil Evans is not just a legend. He is the meaning of music from the 60s to the 90s! He made a special album with Miles Davis called “Sketches of Spain”, which was based on the music of Spanish composers but in a modern arrangement. He collected large orchestras, and they sounded very original. So he says to David: “Do you know this guy?” He replied that he knew me and invited me to play in his sessions. I sometimes played on his commercials. He continued to praise me. He didn’t pay attention to my accent, didn’t ask where I came from, and so on. These are the days, they somehow slip from my memory, in the sense that you focus on them. So I never emphasize this. Probably, it is not for nothing that they say that people who retire, well, not retire, but, in any case, people are not too active in their careers, and begin to write memoirs. Probably it takes time to go back and give a correct assessment of what was happening. Because at that moment, I still had another set to perform, I had to play on stage, I had to focus. I am, after all, the leader of the ensemble. It was necessary to ensure that everything sounded right, etc. New York is a city where you can find yourself at the bottom and still feel great. Because there are so many floors of living standards in the city. I don’t know, 20-30, 1000, I don’t know. But those people who seek to find themselves at the top and be at the forefront of what is happening, such significant events become everyday life. They become daily. There is nothing unusual about this. Therefore, a meeting with Duke Ellington, a meeting, with Ted Jones, with Mel Lewis remains a milestone in my memory, but many became mega-stars of jazz and cinema. Yet altogether they became a part of the ordinary life path. And now, looking back, you suddenly remember something as extraordinary as, for example, playing tennis with Bruce Willis. And he only played with his manager, who later became his producer, including ‘Die Hard’ and all that. So I will never forget how his manager insolently, rudely lied! He said the ball is out, but I can see that the ball is in. I see the trail of this ball. Because the ball leaves a mark on the court. And he says ‘out’. And everyone had to ignore it. Everyone had to agree. And I said: “Hold on a moment, this is not about business. It’s not even about life. This is a sport! How can you lie in sports? ” And he started to shove at me. And everyone stepped back because this is a person who can kill your career with just one call, put you on the blacklist and you will no longer work in Hollywood. And I didn’t even have the feeling that I could act differently. Because you can’t lie in the game! You can lie during negotiations. You can lie if Bruce Willis is drunk and you say that he is not feeling well, so we need to reschedule the shooting. This is fine. This is normal. But on the tennis court, you can’t be so cunning, it’s wrong. This is mean! The very knowledge that he lied, that he shouted “out” at the ball when he was actually “in” – he had to get banned and never be invited to a game of tennis ever again. Nobody wants to play with such people. There were 2-3 people in 25 years of my experience playing tennis who did this dishonestly. This is awful! And how can you look this person in the face after that!? And he later called and asked: “Well, are we playing tomorrow?” And I said: “No, we won’t play tomorrow. And we won’t play the day after tomorrow! And we won’t play next week! Look for other tennis partners! ”.
Do you think that life is overall fair?
Life is definitely, one hundred percent, not fair! And that’s how it is recorded in the Bible. If it were fair, then why would we need Paradise?! Then everything would happen here and everyone would get what they deserve right here in real life. Life is not fair! It was planned that way. It was created that way. We pay the price for this injustice every day. But at least we shouldn’t add injustice to this life.
If we manage to do that then it’s already a victory. Life is one hundred percent unfair! But that doesn’t mean absolutely anything. We go our own way and do our best and do it with good intentions and honestly. We don’t say “out” when the tennis ball is “in”.
We all meet people who say “out” instead of “in”.
All the time.
And how to live in spite of that?
Find yourself a good, small environment, starting with family, friends, loved ones. This does not mean that they need to be changed. Because many people are doing what? They try, as it were, to rethink the activities of their loved ones because it seems to them that if they work on them, these loved ones will become even closer. Not realizing that the more you talk about the need to change your loved ones, the further they move away from you. You just have to love. The Bible is very well written, and our forefathers bequeathed it to us. Even John Lennon said: “Love is all you need.” Love will win everything! I agree with that. You need to be kinder, nicer, more sympathetic.
Well, it also depends on the culture. It is not customary in the post-Soviet countries to even smile. This makes us seem evil to Asians. If you don’t smile, then you are an impolite person.
I hear that’s common especially in Japan. I haven’t been to Japan, but I want to! I am afraid that if I go there, I will not return. I will stay there.
But that sounds great!
I even bookmarked a location – Okinawa. I want to go to Okinawa. It’s just that I already know so much about Okinawa. I love everything about it. Who knows?! Maybe I will move to Okinawa for my retirement.
That’s a splendid idea!
Yeah, I see that working.
How would you like to be remembered and do you have such a wish?
If I wanted to be remembered, then it would be as someone who went forward despite all the obstacles. I was prohibited from leaving this country and banned in Hollywood, which was a vicious circle. You can’t get a job without joining a union. You cannot become a union member without a job. When they told me about this, I realized that I needed to somehow sneak in somewhere, or I had to walk around many different places and offer my services. This is the most typical American activity – the traveling salesmen. Many started out like this, for example, Henry Ford did that, and so did many others. And that’s how I started. Only I did not knock on houses but went from office to office. I took a telephone directory, looked for where the film production offices were, and went around offering myself as a composer.
Is it true that fame and success go hand in hand with loneliness?
They go hand in hand with absurdity! Everything that begins to happen to you is absurd if you look at it from the outside .. If you took a celebrity that stands on an ivory tower and asked him to look from the outside at how he became a “superstar”, he simply would not have believed his eyes and ears. It’s absurd! Like the number of unnecessary costs of maintenance personnel. Thoughts, intentions – they are absolutely unnecessary. People who reached the “starry” horizon and who remained normal, productive, and hard-working are literally, I don’t know, maybe 2, maybe 3, 5% max. The remaining 95% are completely absurd people engaged in absurd activities. I don’t know about loneliness. Maybe when they are alone with themselves. The moment when they realize that there are no real friends. There is no beauty in life and no sensations. But also unlikely. They have no such thoughts. Everything is like in Hollywood films, which are quite specific and truthful about such people, as far as they have everything – all these egg-white omelets with protein and all that. I saw it with my own eyes. I don’t need such a life. They even recruit people to their staff so that these people are engaged in the same absurd affairs with which their lives are already full of. What is even more absurd is having a”pygmy horse” flying in airplanes with you because you need emotional support. It’s all true. I know and have seen these people.
You see that level of absurdity when you even read news about Ukraine.
Ukraine is a nightmarish caricature of the Western way of life. It’s the most horrible caricature! How Ukrainians pronounce the breed of this dog – “Chihuahua.” It’s CHIHUAHUA [ed. note – in Ukraine it’s pronounced ‘chikhuakhua’]. What Chihuahua are you talking about?! The state of Mexico is called Chihuahua. And the dog is called Chihuahua! That’s it, that’s simply it. Well, what are you going to do? You won’t go around and correct them all the time, right? But it’s true!
What advice would you give to the future generation?
You cannot have too many hobbies. Make your hobby your future! Commit yourself to something.
Moreover, the sooner you do it, the better for you. It doesn’t have to be the goal that you think is the most attractive, the most wonderful, the most inspiring. No! Just find it and take care of the thought ‘I want to devote myself to something’. Put a few things on the table and pick one. God, how I respect young people who, at the age of 12-14-16, find a direction and devote themselves to it. They just commit themselves to it. There are so many things that you can do. Even without leaving your home, you can find yourself doing anything! And literally, everything is available online.
Learn to hammer nails or chop wood. Do anything but something real. Learn to chop wood and don’t chop off your finger. Learn to just chop wood for a start! Or hammer in nails. Pick up some boxes, a birdhouse. For example, Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing and talented! He is one of the most talented actors in the world. The man gave up his career, went to Florence for three years, and became an apprentice to a shoe manufacturer. For three years he lived in Florence, doing nothing apart from studying the profession of a shoemaker: how to create the right shoe, choose the right leather. And now he is a professional shoemaker. That’s awesome! It’s such a beautiful idea.
Is there a new skill that you would like to obtain?
I envy everyone who knows how to work with their hands. I envy them all! Everyone! My maternal grandfather was one of those. He built two houses, which were very similar. He built them and covered them with tin with his own hands. And when he had breaks, the children would gather around, because he made me a whistle made by huge tin scissors. It was a small one that whistled properly. A militia whistle. It was perfect! So then the neighbor’s children came over and started asking him for one too. And he did the same one for every kid. Whistles. I envy artisans who are able to do something with their hands. I think this is the perfect profession – to work with your hands.
You previously mentioned Tchaikovsky. Whose story inspires or impresses you?
There are high matters, places, and people that make everything very accessible and simple. I adore such people with such a high flight. These people as if float in space, not even in the atmosphere. People like Ronaldo, the footballer. When I watch him play – it’s unreal! It’s a man who has already broken all records. Also, you can determine how great someone is by their behavior. In 1971 I came to a hotel to meet Duke Ellington where he was staying with his legendary big band. He was on tour and I did not hope that they would let me in to see him. They had KGB men as security. But I succeeded nevertheless! I knocked on the door, his head stuck out, wrapped in a towel, and I didn’t speak English very well back then. I explained to him that I am a musician and composer. He let me into the room. And he had an electric piano, right there in the room. He sat me down at the piano. Asked me to play and listened. Then played with me and gave advice. An accurate indicator of a person’s greatness is the ease of communication. I think that the simpler a person is in life, the bigger chances that he is, indeed, great. This is my conclusion from what I have learned in life.
Zhenya Evstigneev! That’s a hell of a story! Do you know Evgeny Evstigneev, the Actor? Evgeny Evstigneev is Professor Preobrazhensky in “Heart of a Dog” or he was also in “Zigzag of Success”! He is one of the most brilliant actors of the Soviet era. He has, I don’t know, 60-70 great films. He is an actor of film and theater. The Moscow Art Theater came on tour to Hungary. I worked there for four years under a contract. And my wife worked as a translator at the Ministry of Culture back then, and they asked her if she knew someone who was involved in jazz. And Evgeny was a jazz lover. She said: “My husband!”. So he asked me to come over. In the morning I came to the hotel and Zhenya and I spent three unforgettable days together. Unforgettable! We attended jazz concerts, we were drinking from 10 am to 6 am. These were three days of happiness. For him and me. We were in such dangerous places, where even our Russian accent led to an incident, and everything could end badly. The Hungarians hate the Union for 1956, when the Soviet army entered and there was a crazy bloodshed. But they recognized Zhenya. Not me, although I was on local TV. They recognized me later. But he was recognized by his face.
So simplicity in communication, simplicity in everyday life are indispensable qualities of any person. What is happening in Ukraine now is that being rich somehow assumes that you are significant. Does being rich make you smart? It’s nonsense. It’s a circus, and we, unfortunately share the arena with the clowns. In Ukraine, that’s exactly how it is!
Translation: Elena Savlokhova