Jazz at UofL has no boundaries
Jazz may be America's native art form, but you would never guess that from the foreign accents that can be heard outside the third-floor offices of the Jamey Aebersold Jazz Studies program at the University of Louisville's School of Music.
There you are likely to hear students from a variety of continents - all of whom feel at home in the United States, the birthplace of jazz.
One of those students is Alim Nastaev, a native of Russia who is working on his master's degree.
"I wanted to come to the U.S. because this is where it began," Nastaev said.
He came well prepared. A graduate of the most prestigious Russian jazz program at the Rostov State Rachmaninoff Conservatory, Nastaev is noted in his homeland as a virtuoso jazz guitar player, performer, arranger and composer.
He has performed at major music festivals in Russia and achieved international acclaim at Switzerland's 2006 Montreux Jazz Festival Jazz Guitar Competition. In 2007, he received a Fender Scholarship Award, Outstanding Musicianship Diploma and a Berklee Scholarship Award to attend Boston's Berklee College of Music as a full-time student.
Instead, Nastaev chose to accept a two-year full scholarship to attend UofL as a graduate student and teaching assistant in the jazz program.
"UofL is well known and highly regarded in the Russian jazz community by hosting Open World jazz concerts," Nastaev said. "Mike Tracy (music professor) is a traveling ambassador for jazz and helped me find a way to come here."
Nastaev has joined with other master's students to form a group called Mixolegion.
"Just like a 'foreign legion,' we bring a mix of styles as well as our backgrounds to our compositions and performances," he said.
Mixolegion is formed by Anderson Pessoa, a saxophone player who has played all over Brazil, receiving honors for music composition; Saulo DeAlmeida, bass player who played violincello for the National Symphony Orchestra in Brazil; Daniel Falter, whose signature drum style was formed as a member of the West African Drum and Music Ensemble in South Carolina; and Kentuckian Craig Twedell, who has played with the Temptations and was outstanding soloist at the 2004 and 2005 UofL Jazz Fests.
The group completed a debut tour of Russia last fall - an idea of Nastaev's that Tracy helped turn into realty by drawing on both their connections with the Russian jazz community.
For 10 days, Mixolegion performed nightly at jazz festivals and other venues. Tracy joined them by day to give workshops on jazz and improvisation.
"The trip was an eye-opening experience for all," Tracy said. "The world is becoming smaller and jazz is absorbing many influences. We gave audiences opportunity to hear new compositions written by the members that have been influenced from many sources. Our students received an immediate response to their music from appreciative audiences."
Nastaev took advantage of the opportunity to introduce and explain as much of Russian culture as he could to the other members of the band.
"Now I'm pretty sure that all the guys love the Russian language, food and the subway in Moscow," he said.
Mixolegion now has a new venture - its first CD - and is giving everyone an opportunity to be part of the experience.
In true jazz and American entrepreneurial style, they are improvising an online "micropatronage" program to fund the effort. They have incentives for donors to give $10 and up.
Nastaev will graduate in December and already is reflecting on his last year at UofL.
"It is a really awesome experience for me and a great investment in my career," he said. "I came to the U.S. with another culture, traditions and mentality. Now, I feel like I have a greater appreciation and vision of the world where we live. I was born in a little city in southern Russia and now I'm fulfilling my dream to study in the United States."
The only real passport he needed was a passion for music and the desire to play it as never before.