Yakov Okun

The talents of Yakov Okun, a Moscow-based pianist, are not well-kept secrets among the international improvisers living in Russia. Okun, 38, is a leader of an all-Russian trio that includes Makar Novikov on bass, Alexander Mashin on drums and sidemans with the brilliant trumpeter German Lukyanov. He has toured in Europe and Russia with a multi-generational group of luminaries including Lew Tabackin and James Spaulding as well as Donny McCaslin and Mark Turner. Okun explains that his first recordings were Charles Mingus with Eric Dolphy, Duke Ellington and Horace Silver. Okun says that it is the main point of how he wants to play. His father Mikhail Okun was a prominent Russian jazz pianist of his generation. He built his collection using LPs acquired by Soviet diplomats while they were stationed in the West. Yakov played classical music exclusively until age 16, despite listening to them “and to the Bill Evans Trio and Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane. Ornette Coleman. Ornette Coleman. Tadd Dameron. Bud Powell, and other jazz musicians” throughout his childhood. Okun replies, “Never.” It was boring because I never considered myself a performer, but also a composer when improvising. Okun was asked if he had ever thought of pursuing a classical career. This is what I wanted to do in my future. How to connect things “next phrase”, “next melody, or next harmony.” Every song I listened was like a collection of the best music available.” Okun began his professional career in post-glasnost Moscow in 1992. He recalls that it was difficult to become a jazz musician during this time. Good musicians needed to perform in restaurants. My father was a prolific performer, so I would fill in for him when he was too busy with other singers or dancers. He said to me, “Yasha, you should visit the restaurant and play not just lines from McCoy Tyner or Herbie Hancock.” He also suggested that I play old Soviet songs. He said, “That’s how you play the true music.” “After you have learned harmony and rhythm, you can go back to playing by your ear as you did in the beginning.” Okun performs a lengthy, relaxed, swinging solo on “Lover Man” with Johnny Griffin. Griffin is seen clapping, shaking his hands, and verbally complimenting Okun by asking for another chorus. Okun’s Criss Cross debut features a trio recital that includes Ben Street, New York’s A-lister on bass, and Billy Drummond, on drums. It contains three Okun originals as well as five songs from lesser-studied corners of jazz. The trio had only one rehearsal to absorb the material. However, they interact in an equilateral triangle fashion spurred by Okun, a bebop devotee, who isn’t afraid to play licks. He has a wide vocabulary, deep soul, a sense for humor, and an endless desire to swing. His ideas are executed with sharp authority, nuanced touch and imaginative flair. Although Okun navigates paths that are not entirely familiar, it is clear that he has found an aesthetic space of his own. from http://www.allaboutjazz.com Although Yakov Okun takes his place within the modest number of truly distinctive jazz pianists in Russia, hearing him performing on stage was an only chance to meet his composer’s talent till recently. He finally released his debut album with a remarkable trio consisting of Ben Street, Billy Drummond and Okun on piano. Okun’s originals and interpretations by Sonny Rollins and Fats Waller were incorporated into a Criss cross Jazz album that was given the title New York Encounter. Okun introduced a pure New York-style modern jazz sound to the Russian jazz scene. He can be found on the stage at a variety of clubs and philharmonic halls across the country, performing with his trio, which includes American musicians such as Johnny Griffin and Lew Tabackin. Yakov was born to the family of Mikhail Okun (a Soviet jazz pianist). He quickly took an interest in music. After hearing his father’s records, which included recordings of American jazz icons (very rare in the USSR), Yakov decided to change from classical music to jazz when he entered the Gnesin college music department in 1988. Okun began his professional career after he graduated in 1992. This was during the difficult times in which jazz music was in complete oblivion. He eventually found himself sideman in a variety of bands, including flugelhornist German Lukianov’s famous Kadans. After touring around virtually all of the former Soviet Union countries Yakov Okun came back to Moscow and formed his trio, MosGorTrio, an acronym from Moscow City Trio, which included Makar Novikov, a bass player, and Alexander Mashin, a drummer. Yakov is now a well-known Russian pianist and one of the few who bring high-quality jazz to the public through backing American soloists, such as Larry Schneider, Gary Smulyan and Steve Slagle. Okun is described as a “bebop devotee” who does not play licks. He uses a wide vocabulary, has a sense for humor, and a great ability to execute his ideas with clarity, nuance, and imagination. It’s impossible to find a better description of Yakov Okun. It is no surprise that Okun, who’s last name literally means “perch” in Russian, talks about fishing and sometimes leaves the piano in order to play the drums. However, it is not what you would expect from someone with such a strict style. You will be confused when Okun plays Kind Bug». This is a non-sincopated song taken from the 1947 Soviet film classic Zolushka (Cinderella). from http://jazzportfolio.ru

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