From Russia with Yiddish

Russian rocker Andrey Makarevich brings his Yiddish Jazz program to Israel.

March 22, 2015 15:23
Russian rocker Andrey Makarevich

Russian rocker Andrey Makarevich. (photo credit: PR)


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They say that true rock musicians, by nature, often court danger. Back in the day, the likes of The Who, Pink Floyd and, naturally, The Rolling Stones, put out music with rough and ready edges and also proffered a public profile that often put the authorities’ noses out of joint.

Andrey Makarevich also appears to be a bona fide member of that devil-may-care league.

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The veteran Russian rocker has voiced his opposition to Vladimir Putin’s decision to annex Crimea and, thus far, has survived the inevitable fallout from the powers that- be relatively unscathed.

The 61-year-old Makarevich will come to Israel with a ten-piece band for gigs in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Ashdod and Beersheba from March 28 to April 1.

As a youngster growing up in the Soviet Union, it was difficult for Makarevich to get a handle on what was going down on the pop and rock scene in the US and Britain. But, it seems, where there’s a will there’s a way. Makarevich and his pals, who hungered for what was for them the sound of freedom, managed to get into the grooves of the 1960s by tuning in to radio stations like Radio Luxembourg and Radio Free Europe.

That is, when the Soviet authorities didn’t jam the airwaves.

It was the Fab Four who first tugged at Makarevich’s musical heartstrings.

“Yes, sure, we got into The Beatles, and we started our first band because of them,” he recalls. “That was very important for us, to hear and play that music. We got hold of tapes smuggled in from abroad and sent by Russians living outside the country.”

Makarevich and his friends dived headlong into the well of Western rock and pop and, by the time he was 16, Mashina Vremeni had been formed. That was in 1969, right in the middle of the rock heyday. The band’s output was predominantly inspired by contemporary Western rock and blues, with Makarevich, who sang and played lead guitar, writing all the lyrics.

Naturally, the Soviet authorities took a dim view of such Western pursuits, but the youngsters happily plowed on with insouciant fervor.

“When you’re young, you’re not afraid of anything,” Makarevich notes. “We lived the music, 24 hours a day – listening to music and playing music. Nothing else interested us.”

The band quickly gained underground popularity, playing at small clubs and colleges, and always on the lookout for the police.

“We had to be careful, but we had a great time,” Makarevich recalls.

Things became more serious in 1979.

“It stopped being funny then because the 1980 Olympic Games were coming up, and the Soviet authorities wanted to make sure everything was nice and clean and there was no trouble before all the athletes from other countries came here,” he explains, adding that, surprisingly, things soon improved.

“There was a liberal minister of culture in the Soviet Union back then, and in 1980 the group was invited to tour the country. We played stadiums, and it was great.”

The good times lasted for a while, and then it got even better in 1985 when Mikhail Gorbachev became president and initiated his glasnost – openness – approach. Suddenly the world opened up for Makarevich and the band, and invitations to play in places like Japan and the States came flooding in.

“People had heard our music abroad, probably because of Russians who lived outside the country,” says Makarevich. “We found out that we had been sent invitations before that too, but the authorities didn’t let us know.”

While Makarevich made his name plying his trade on the grungier side of the rock scene and flying in the face of authority in the process, he says he has spread his musical wings over the years and is coming here with a very different musical offering. The repertoire he will play at his four shows here comes from his Yiddish Jazz program, a project that has spawned two albums to date – Yiddish Jazz and Yiddish Jazz 2.

The numbers he and the band will perform in Israel include songs in Yiddish, Russian and English, with such timeless nuggets as “Bei Mir Bist Du Schein,” “Matza Balls,” written by non-Jewish jazz pianist-guitarist Slim Gaillard in the 1930s, and “Minnie the Moocher,” which was written by Jewish songwriter Irving Milles and Cab Calloway, with the latter making the song a smash hit in the 1930s. The Yiddish Jazz song list also features some Makarevich originals which, he says, will add “something a little different” to the feel of the shows here.

“Now I get more pleasure from playing jazz because rock and roll is mostly music for young people, and you can play jazz whenever you want. It doesn’t depend on your age,” he says. “I like jazz from the 1950s and people like [pianist] Oscar Peterson and [iconic composer-pianist Duke] Ellington and, of course, divas Ella [Fitzgerald] and Billie Holiday, and singer-pianist Ray Charles. My dad was a jazz fan, so he had some records.”

As the program name suggests, Makarevich also feeds off Jewish sentiments. His mother was Jewish, and he says he has a cultural ulterior motive for the project.

“Yiddish is a dying language, and maybe in another 20 or more years there won’t be a lot of people who know Yiddish. The music which comes from that is wonderful, with a lot of happiness, and there were lots of funny Jewish songs in the 1930s and 1940s. I think people will enjoy hearing the songs I am bringing to Israel,” he says.

Andrey Makarevich will play on March 28 at 8:30 p.m. at the Haifa Auditorium; March 29 at 8 p.m. at the Gesher Theater in Tel Aviv; March 31 at 8 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center in Ashdod; and April 1 at 8 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center in Beersheba. For tickets, call *3221 or 072-275-3221

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