Jazz pianist Vadim Neselovskyi and his new album “Odesa”

Musik always tells a story. But sometimes it’s particularly haunting. Like on this album. The tones fall like snowflakes, as if it were an impromptu by Robert Schumann, the piece is called “Winter in Odessa”. Again, the number is called “Central Station”, a beat moves powerfully, you can hear the trains coming and going, though it’s all just a solo piano.

It doesn’t matter if you like classical music, jazz, chanson or ragtime, it all comes together here. Certain passages are somewhat reminiscent of the pieces of Charlie Chaplin, who also composed, or of George Gershwin, in particular “Americans in Paris” – powerful music, very intellectual, but always full of swing. And then comes a solo, such a striking and clear improvisation that effortlessly reaches the pinnacle of contemporary jazz.

The man who plays the piano so brilliantly is called Vadim Neselovskyi. He has a German and Ukrainian passport. He is a professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, the best music school in the world. He plays with the greats of jazz. Hardly anyone in this country knows this 44-year-old man. This should change – now with his album “Odesa”. This is Odessa, the Black Sea metropolis, which is currently being hit by rockets. Neselovskyi had no idea when he recorded it, he worked on the album for two years and it was ready shortly before the outbreak of war.

This should actually be the story of an intelligent and very talented musician who is recognized in international jazz and could also be discovered in Germany. But because war eclipses everything, it’s suddenly a story about how art too has become politicized.

“Unfortunately, I can’t think of anything else,” says Neselovskyi. “We thought in this world that there would be no more wars, instead we work on issues such as equal rights for women and men, environmental protection, and now everything is back to normal. reduced to a single question. Evil and good, black and white. It changes art, it changes everything for us artists.

War changes art

As a music teacher, he teaches people all over the world. Two Russians are also in his classes. They are now demonstrating with him against the war. “Since February 24, I think: everyone is lost. The world will not be the same as before,” says Neselovskyi.

And: “Can you still say: Let’s groove?” He also says he sees the war in Syria differently now. It is painful for him that we have concealed the situation in this way. “How many times did I carry on as usual while bombs were falling in Syria?”


Vadim Neselovskyi at a benefit concert for Ukraine in Krefeld in March.
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Image: Vadim Neselovskyi/Facebook

War, migration, system change – all this is closely connected with Odessa, and also with Neselovskyi’s own life. In 1995 he came to Germany as a Jewish quota refugee, the word meaning refugees who, by direct order of the Ministry of the Interior, were allowed to live in Germany without examination. From 1991, people with Jewish ancestry were able to emigrate from the disintegrating USSR.

With good reason, Neselovskyi thinks: “Anti-Semitism was quite normal in the former Soviet Union.” As a child, he often heard “Go to Israel!”, His father’s college career was made difficult, there were so-called “Jewish quotas.” The occupation of Odessa by Romanian fascists was never mentioned at school. There is now a track on his album called “October 1941 Prayer” which refers to a mass murder of Jews in Odessa and Transnistria in October 1941.

Fleeing Russian anti-Semitism

In Germany, Neselovskyi and his family found safety. He said he “always felt very good” here. He lived in Unna and studied in Detmold. Right-wing protests were also distasteful to him. But the bottom line, he says, is that the country remains a model for how different ethnic groups live together. “In Russia’s sphere of influence, it was never like that. Nor is there any compromise with the past as the Germans did. Now you can see what happens if it doesn’t.”

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