Jazz Bridge Journal Post #8: New Plan

Posted on December 18, 2011


Kiril Bordilovskiy is the thinker I’ve been looking for.  He is twenty-two.  He is a teaching and research assistant at the Pacific National University, which we will visit on Monday.  He seems to be a renaissance man. Our Russian student Inna calls him the genius.  He teaches science.  He loves music, and wants to write about it. In his spare time he and a partner are developing a consulting business doing leadership training and team building.  In his remaining spare time he reads books in English on leadership development, marketing, and business. His role in the company is to find the middle way – between the Western style of doing business and the Russian way.  Last night around 11:30 pm, after we finished giving our third performance of the day I got to sit in a booth at the Club Rock & Roll-a and trade ideas.

I tell him about my desire to connect with Russian people who want change and to see how they function here.  He tells me that Russians aren’t so enamored of change, because in Soviet times change was rarely something to look forward to. He also says that Vladivostok, where we go on Wednesday, is different.

“You will see, when you go there,” he tells me. “Vladivostok is a more vibrant city.  In Vladivostok I tell my friends, ‘let’s do this idea, let’s start this thing’ and they say ‘sure why not.’ ”

He tells me that In Vladivostok they have business incubators.  In Khabarovsk they love culture.  The love music and museums. They love walking outside on the river.  He wants to create a “third place” in Khabarovsk.  I know this term, and I know that his reading must have covered the creation of Starbucks, because that is the term entered the business lexicon.  Just for fun I throw out the idea of creating affordable live-work spaces for young artistic types, which might become a magnet for development and maybe fuel a creative economy.  He likes the idea, but says he thinks it would be a challenge in Khabarovsk.  People are just too conservative here.

He also breaks down for me the Russian penchant for discussion.  He says it comes down to leadership style.  In America we are trained to lead from the front, and make independent decisions. In Russia they make decisions as a group.  It is a collective rather than an individual mentality.  That is why when someone asks the American side of our delegation a question, we each give our own answer.  But when we ask a group of our Khabarovsk friends, they immediately put their heads together and start talking.  Kiril says it is because in Russia, it is more important to move forward as a community than for the individual to advance.  He says this has enormous implications on how business is done.  There is a “western way and there is a Russian way.

As I watch Vladimir Sidarov, our host and the impresario for the event we were playing, I see more clearly how he personifies a blend of both.  We have all noticed it.  Its what sets him apart. He can listen and discuss.  He can also announce a decision and make it stick.  If he says we are playing in 2 minutes.  We are playing in two minutes.

Overall though, the longer we are in Khabarovsk, the more “Russian” our experience is becoming.  At the beginning of the trip we discussed things that would take place several days ahead, then we settled for knowing the schedule for the day, then just the next thing we were supposed to do. We have now reached the point where we don’t even try to figure out what the schedule or plan of action might be. When someone in the group asks me where we are going, I no longer attempt to answer.

Here is our day.

We finish our morning concert and workshops at the college. Wonderful concert by the way.  The schedule says we have free time until our five pm concert at the Baptist Church.  I had lined up a shopping excursion to finally pick up the Russian legos I had promised my son. But no, apparently we do not have free time, we have one hour before we go to observe a performance of the student folk orchestra, which I have been very excited to see, but thought was on a different day.

So, we are having lunch, get your coats.


But on the way to get the coats, our student Katie comes up and says, no we don’t need coats, we are eating downstairs in the school cafeteria.


She and I turn around and head back toward the stairwell.  But wait, Sergei stops us and says we need coats, we’re going to lunch.


So we straggle off the restaurant, where we expect to have now customary pre-set “combination menu.”  But no, this is a very nice restaurant with real salads and soups and pasta and-even (gasp) hamburgers.

Now the American’s at the table outnumber the Khabarovskanians, but experience remains Russian.  Sergei announces that we have a half hour to eat.  We spend ten minutes translating the menu, and waiting for the waiter to come.  We spend another five minutes discussing whether or not to have salad, how many of what kind of salad we are ordering, what kind of meat should be on each of the salads. Then the server arrives.  We literally go through the order four times before we seem to have communicated our salad desires.

Meanwhile Sergei’s phone rings.  Turns out Valery is waiting for us at the school, where the folk orchestra is set up ready to play for us.  It seems that the masterclasses we were all teaching ran long (it wasn’t clear how long they were to be) and ate up most of our lunchtime.  So we actually didn’t have time to eat lunch at all, (hence the restaurant vs. school cafeteria debate).  Upon getting this information I’m thinking lunch will turn out to be just the salad, which still haven’t arrived.  This is fine with me actually because my body is still working on the red caviar and salmon I had at breakfast.

But for some unknown reason we proceed to order a soup course, and a main course, both of which take a similar amount of time as the salad order to translate, enumerate and communicate.  Then we proceed to wait for our food.

“Why is service such a struggle in Russia?” I ask. “Wouldn’t a restaurant that had fantastic service and great food just blow away the competition?”  Apparently blowing away the competition is an American mindset.  That, and the challenge of gathering the critical mass of visionary ownership, skilled management, motivated workforce, and employee training, are why an hour into our lunch we still don’t have one order of French fries, and our Russian friends had not been served at all- not even their salads.

But somehow, when we arrive back at the school, the folk orchestra is still in the hall waiting to perform for us.  Although the conductor, a slim woman in jeans and cool looking leather vest is not looking at all happy about it.

I’m glad they waited.  Hearing this assembly of accordions, balalaikas, a huge Russian autoharp, and another stringed instrument called a dobra was the highlight of the trip so far.  They absolutely rocked.  They played arrangements of Russian classical music – the slow pretty kind and the fast and furious kind, and they played it with groove, virtuosity and soul.  It is important to note that other than the autoharp, no instrument in the group has more than 3 strings.  But the virtuosity and expressiveness was a revelation for us.  Try to imagine playing Rimsky Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” on 3 strings. They finished off the performance with an arrangement of Yankee Doodle that featured their star dobra player, who proceeded to blow us away.

I now know one outcome of this trip, which is that I’m going to bring this group to Portland. I don’t know how, but sometime it is going to happen.  Alan Jones and I left the concert scheming about how we could compose music for the group that combined the power of what they do with jazz.

The performance had taken up the remainder of our elusive free time and it was off to the sound check.  Though whether it was to be for the 9 PM fundraiser concert/jam session or the 5 PM performance at the church was unclear.

It turned out to be the church.

The Baptist Church of the Ponds is a beautiful old steeple-roofed building right next door to the new sports arena.  I thought going in that we were to play a jazz concert that featured our vocalist Marilyn Keller. As usual, the appointed time revealed a new plan.  What they actually wanted was a jazz service, similar to the one Marilyn leads each Sunday night at Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland.  Fortunately this was not difficult to do because Marilyn is such an amazing artist who performs a very diverse repertoire.  So out went the jazz tunes.  Out went the Dixieland and blues.  In came the spirituals and the gospel songs.

Getting set up was a bit challenging.  They had brought in a bass amplifier the size of a cracker box.  It took some delicate negotiation to get them to send out to the college to get a functional one.  Another delicate moment came when Valery came and asked if Alan would mind not drumming in bare feet, as is his custom.  Given that we were performing up on the alter of a very traditional church, this seemed a reasonable request. Alan was of course accommodating, and played in shoes for the first time in my 15 plus years of performing with him.

It was a fantastic and moving performance.  Marilyn sang beautifully, gave her testimony.  Even got an “Ah-meen” from the Russian Baptists.  Her beautiful spirit deeply touched people. After the concert there were more pictures and autographs.  They gave her flowers and a little bell.  A gentleman walked up and handed me a stack of old Russian pop albums.  I had to agree with Valery’s comment in our introduction that having Marilyn here was “God’s will.”  There is not a singer I can think of who is more a perfect ambassador for this exchange.

9:00 PM. Last gig of the day.  Benefit performance for the children’s cancer hospital at the club Rock and Roll-a.

We had dinner at this club on our first night in KHV.  At that dinner we had a long detailed discussion about just how the night would go.  I want to be clear that our hosts have been extremely accommodating.  At this club and elsewhere they have bent over backwards to see that we were well fed, safely transported, comfortable and happy.

The initial decision was that we would play sets then there would be a jam session.  But as usual, in the moment, new plan.  We play one set, then another band plays, then jam session. OK. We take off our coats and go to look at the stage.  Sergei comes up to me.

“Ok, Darrell.  Here is the plan. You all play two sets, then the jam session.” But this time I’m not giving up so easily.  Because I was told the plan not 10 seconds ago by the owner of the club and it is not the plan you are telling me now.

“No, no, we are just talking about it and here is what will happen.”  OK. New plan.

Charley, Alan and Marc are sitting a table having something to drink.  What’s the plan,” they ask?  I shrug.

I forgot to mention that while the tiny stage at the rock club is set up with the instruments and sound equipment we asked for, there are no music stands, and no light to read music by even if there were.  So I guess we won’t be reading music, which means that we are not going to plan any of the music that we prepared.  That’s ok.  New plan.

We go back to basics.  We play the simple jazz and funky tunes we all know.  Marilyn sings My Funny Valentine and blues.  And we rock the place.  They love it. They dance, they cheer.  There are TV cameras.  We walk of the stage and do on camera interviews and promos for the local Khabarovsk entertainment show.  We have dinner, and play another short two-song set and we are done. So it was two sets, kind of.  And it was OK.  Really.

Maybe There is something to be said for the Russian way, which is also the African Way and the Iranian Way and the Italian way, and the way in so many other places that don’t “have it together” like we in the US do.

Maybe I can remember this in the middle of my super-scheduled, day planner,  to-do list, iCal, task-a- minute filled, stress-filled American life.

There can always be a New Plan.

Alan Jones walking the blues on a bass balalaika

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