Aliya Stories: Singing for his supper

Oleg Zolotnitskiy, 27, made aliya from Ukraine to Givatayim in 2014.

Oleg Zolotnitskiy (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Oleg Zolotnitskiy
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
‘Frank O.Z.” is how Oleg Zolotnitskiy prefers to be known. It’s the stage name of the 27-year-old musician, who made aliya in 2014 and today has a band, In Bloom, which performs all over the country.
It has not been an easy ride, and the road to success in his chosen field included a dangerous job as an elevator installer, which he took to make a living while he struggled to become known as a musician.
Today his band plays in embassies and other prestigious venues, performs for weddings and other happy occasions, and he is always busy.
He was born and grew up in Ukraine, and he qualified as a language teacher.
Judging by his impeccable English, he was probably very good at it. But Zolotnitskiy always loved music and, although completely self-taught, always played and sang, especially the English and American pop music that was hugely popular where he grew up.
“Then, at some point, I became very interested in classical wrestling, and put my guitar away,” he recalls.
As a teenager, he concentrated all his love on wrestling and forgot about the music, until one day his brother, who had moved abroad, came back for a visit and took the guitar down from the top of the wardrobe.
Zolotnitskiy began to play and his love of music came flooding back.
“We went to a local jazz bar – it was owned by Jews – and I played guitar.
They said I should come and play once in a while,” he recalls.
With help from his parents and the bar owners, he bought all the necessary sound equipment. Before long he was a regular, picking up all the great songs by ear and playing regular gigs.
“I really respect the songs of that era – Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Ray Charles – it was good music,” he says.
At some point, he realized he was stuck in a rut and had to try and move forward to make a name for himself.
“I made a disc of covers,” he says.
“Now when I listen to it, I’m embarrassed and it makes me laugh, although at the time I thought it was great.”
He got himself out of the rut by making aliya. His brother wanted him to come to Canada, but he decided instead to try out life in Israel.
“In two months I’d packed up everything, and [then] I was here,” he says.
He discovered family he had not known about – his grandmother’s brother was a pioneer and his descendants live near Modi’in.
“I took a taxi out there and spent a couple of days getting to know my relatives,” he says.
A few days after arriving, he started working in an elevator company where a friend of his was already employed.
“It was an interesting period of my life,” he says. “It was hard and dangerous work – but the Russian foreman was very pedantic. He had been the chief electrician in nuclear submarines before his aliya 12 years before and he taught me the right way.”
The job lasted 10 months. But he was missing the music, and he wanted to find a way to bring it back into his life.
“I discovered the Israel Blues Society, which had a jam session every month,” he recalls. “I began to make connections with other musicians. Some just played for fun, for others it was a career.”
He heard about a competition for jazz bands held every year in Memphis, and he created a band that he entered in a preliminary competition in Israel.
“We rehearsed three times a week,” he says. “I pushed them to believe they could do it.”
All this time, he was still spending a full day working on the lifts from 5:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., traveling north to rehearse until 3 a.m.
By this time, his girlfriend, Elena, had also come to Israel from Russia.
All the hard work paid off. The Papa Blues Band, his creation, won the competition and was chosen to represent Israel in Memphis. The two weeks in the US were a great learning experience for him.
“It made me realize what was lacking,” he says. He was flattered that the winners, black musicians, invited him to play with them.
“But I didn’t want to stay in Memphis,” he says.
Back home, he set about creating the band he wanted. He found his keyboard man, Tal, on Facebook, and legendary drummer Israel Nachum was persuaded to join, among other musicians. In Bloom was in business, playing gigs in clubs and bars around Israel.
“I had the chance to play with the best musicians and learned a lot,’ he says modestly. “It’s a huge compliment when the highest professionals trust you and believe in you.”
Soon he was being hired for prestigious social gatherings and upmarket hotels.
“We have a diversity of styles,” he says. “Rhythm and blues, gospel, pop, rock, punk, soul – you name it, we perform it.”
He chose the name Frank in tribute to Sinatra, whom he can impersonate brilliantly with his deep sensual voice.
A year ago, he and Elena popped over to Cyprus to get married. They haven’t thought too much about having her convert, but they’ll get around to it. For now, they live in a rented apartment in Givatayim.
In Bloom has just released its first single and plan to record many more original songs. But Zolotnitskiy still has one unfulfilled dream.
“One day, I would like to perform in the Albert Hall [in London],” he says.
He has so much talent and determination, it’s only a matter of time before he realizes that dream too.