When Putin summoned his favorite jazz saxophonist from Mumbai –



Igor Butman during his performance at the Tata Theatre, NCPA. Photo: Narendra Dangiya

As clouds of war hang ominously over Europe – once again (one would think they could have learned from their escapades in 1914 and 1939), hard times and a terrible and uncertainty hover over humanity.

I’m willing to bet a lot that no artist, musician, painter, writer or poet has ever gone to war at any time in the history of this earth. They are, in fact, those who heal wounds, soothe numbed nerves and bring relief from the ill fallout and misery of war. Who are these troubled souls who entered other people’s homes and demanded them – through crude and violent means?

A few years ago, a famous and very popular Russian jazz saxophonist, Igor Butman came to India for a three-concert tour. With him was the beautiful jazz singer, Fantine (part Russian, part West Indian!), an accomplished young jazz pianist, and others to complete a jazz sextet.

Butman had previously played in Mumbai and New Delhi. He had been very popular with audiences in both cities as he played a mix of well-known jazz numbers with a popular tune thrown in to stir the audience.

His 2014 concert tour of India included a show in Mumbai at the NCPA, another in New Delhi and a third in a hotel in Gurgaon (Gurugram).

That was the plan, but during his concert in Mumbai, something strange and quite unprecedented happened. Butman received a phone call from Moscow, from none other than President Vladimir Putin. The supremo was throwing a party in the resort town of Sochi for some friends, and he summoned Butman there to play for his pals’ entertainment! Butman was to leave Mumbai that very evening. There was no room for discussion, much less for negotiation. When Shri Putin calls, you go, comrade.

Butman surprised us all by saying that he will be back for the concert in Gurgaon the next day, just missing the concert in New Delhi. Surprised, we asked how this was going to be logistically possible. “Mr. Putin is sending his private jet to fly me to Sochi and then fly me back to New Delhi after his party,” was Butman’s pragmatic response. Talk about friends in high places!

True to his word, Butman was back for his third gig in India. Needless to say, the New Delhi organizers were neither impressed nor happy with Putin’s intervention in the program which saw the band Butman without the leader perform in front of a disappointed New Delhi audience.

Trumpet playing jazz, the great Arturo Sandoval, grieved by the fate of the Ukrainian people, composed and performed a piece entitled “March towards the indomitable Ukrainian people”.

Sandoval can perhaps feel the pain of the Ukrainian people. His fate was somewhat similar in that he was crushed by a powerful dictator. He was born and raised in Cuba and, as a youth, was imprisoned by the government led by Fidel Castro simply for listening to jazz on the radio. Cuba had banned playing or even listening to jazz, considered a tool of imperialism. Subsequently, Sandoval was able to defect to the United States. He lives there now. Dizzy Gillespie was his mentor and remains his inspiration to this day.

And speaking of Gillespie, the ultimate commentary on jazz and war and that kind of stuff came from him. He had said, “If everyone in the world listened to jazz, there would never be another war!”

Why don’t people listen to this great wisdom and put on their jazz records?

Maybe Igor Butman didn’t play jazz for Putin bay that day in Sochi A case of not only jazz by the bay.

Sunil Sampat is a jazz critic and editor of Rolling Stone India. Write to Sunil at [email protected]

Ada J. Kenney