Ron Wilkins Sent to Siberia
On March 6th, my compatriots (Joel Dilley-Bassist and Darren Kuper-Drummer) and I flew from San Antonio, TX to Moscow, Russia to perform with Internationally renowned classical and jazz pianist and recording artist, Valeri Grohovski. I met Valeri in 1991 when he was a visiting professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and was immediately impressed by his virtuosity. He’s one of the greatest pianists in the world and it was a great honor to be invited to perform with him. After a couple of transfers in Cincinnati and New York, we were on our way to Moscow. Some eight hours later, we arrived in Moscow, went through customs and happily met Valeri and his two friends, Sergei and Misha, who helped us with our gear and drove us to Valeri’s exquisite apartment overlooking the Moscow river. We settled in, went over the tour schedule, had a marvelous lunch, and hit the road for our first of twelve concerts in sixteen days.
Our first concert was in the resort city of Magnitogorsk, some 3 1/2 hours (by plane) northwest of Moscow. We checked in late that night to the hotel affiliated with the concert hall and got some much needed rest. The next day we were served breakfast at the concert promoter’s office and viewed the hall. It was a large, 1500 seat auditorium (in need of and currently under restoration) with decent acoustics. Later that day, we had our sound check, went over the set list, and got ready for the performance. That evening the hall was packed and we blew them away. The songs we performed that evening, and the rest of the tour were:
- I Got Rhythm-Gershwin
- On Green Dolphin Street-Kaper
- A Kiss to Build a Dream On-Armstrong
- It Don’t Mean a Thing, if it Ain’t Got That
Swing-Ellington (this was particularly fun because the
audience sang the “doo-wah’s”-the Loved it!!)
- I Loves You Porgy-Gershwin (solo piano
improvisation by Valeri-it was magical!!)
- Nostalgia in Times Square-Mingus (a bass
trombone/acoustic bass duet-Very Cool!)
- Clark Terry’s “Mumbles” (some crazy scat singing)
- What A Wonderful World-Armstrong (the Russians
loved this one too!)
- Fly Me to the Moon-a Sinatra Tribute
- Bernie’s Tune-B. Miller
We had standing ovations after every performance, and great receptions after wards. After the third performance, word spread throughout the tour that this group was “outstanding” and a “must hear.” If fact, the Russian audiences nicknamed me “The Black Trombone (go figure).” I felt like a rock star!
After Magnitogorsk, we played concerts in Ekaterinberg (a beautiful concert venue with lots of marble and big acoustics), Kamensk (small, but decent hall), Perm ( an excellent hall, very big city, great people), Chelyabinsk (an 500 seat Organ recital hall-nice!), Surgut (live from Siberia-Brrrrr!!), Omsk (more Siberia-very cold weather, very warm people), back to Moscow for one of four concerts (two at jazz/supper clubs, one at Valrei’s high school, and the final one at Moscow’s main concert hall venue, Dom Musikee). We had one other concert in Kalingrad (they love Valeri there-nice old cathedral converted into a concert hall) before our final three concerts back in Moscow.
Before our last concert, Valeri expressed his joy and gratitude by telling us he plans to come back to Texas this summer and record a CD with us. We were ecstatic with this news, and spoke of plans to return next year for more performances, as well as proposing a European and Asian tour. The tour was a huge success, and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. We also made some great new friends (Sergei, Misha and his wife Tanya) and returned with enough memories to last a lifetime.
I was particularly pleased that my health was good throughout the tour. I had my blood pressure and kidney medications with me and took them twice a day as prescribed. The food was great, we had excellent libations (especially the vodka-magnificent!), all our transport, meals, and lodging were covered, and we took some interesting train rides (including one 28-30 hour trip) on the Trans-Siberian Railway. It’s good to see that jazz music (and American jazz musicians) is really appreciated in Russia, and I look forward to the next opportunity to perform there again. My Edwards Model B454 Bass Trombone (with D slide attachment) was a big hit with Russian musicians (particularly trombonists). They were thoroughly impressed with it’s big sound and flexibility. The horn held up very well on the road, and I’m thrilled with the craftsmanship and detail. It’s an AWESOME horn (lovingly named “Odin”).