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The 1980s are often called the golden age of Lithuanian jazz.
Long cultural isolation, the turmoil of the perestroika and the years of the national revival did not seem to interrupt the development of jazz. On the contrary, it took root in the realm of Soviet culture. Musicians with academic training began to play jazz, and it came to be identified with a manifestation of extraordinary creativity, entitled to employ even the most radical means of musical expression. The bands, performers, composers and their works of that period continue to bring fame to Lithuanian jazz worldwide. Jazz festivals were organised in Birštonas, Vilnius, Panevėžys and Kaunas.
Already back in the late 1970s, the trio The 1980s are often called the golden age of Lithuanian jazz.
Long cultural isolation, the turmoil of the perestroika and the years of the national revival did not seem to interrupt the development of jazz. On the contrary, it took root in the realm of Soviet culture. Musicians with academic training began to play jazz, and it came to be identified with a manifestation of extraordinary creativity, entitled to employ even the most radical means of musical expression. The bands, performers, composers and their works of that period continue to bring fame to Lithuanian jazz worldwide. Jazz festivals were organised in Birštonas, Vilnius, Panevėžys and Kaunas.
Already back in the late 1970s, the trio of Viacheslav Ganelin (GTC – Viacheslav Ganelin, Vladimir Tarasov and Vladimir Chekasin) reached the perfection of artistic achievement and having opened a window to the West won international recognition. Besides, they went to the other side of the Iron Curtain by invitation from professional musicians and festival organisers rather than on an ideological mission. The musicians of the GTC as well as their colleagues who formed bands later were trained in the orthodox, academic spirit and nurtured by the aesthetic traditions of European musical culture. They formed the so-called Vilnius jazz school, whose founders undoubtedly were the GTC. One can say that the trio paved the way to west European jazz venues for other Lithuanian musicians as well.
It was in the early 1980s that departments of pop music were established at the Lithuanian State Conservatoire (now the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre) in Vilnius and Klaipėda, the Juozas Tallat-Kelpša Higher School of Music (now the Vilnius Conservatoire) and the Balys Dvarionas Children’s School of Music where the basics of jazz were taught. All members of the GTC were invited to teach at the Dvarionas school. They not only taught jazz vernacular, but also nurtured the innovatory spirit of Vilnius jazz.
In the 1980s Lithuanian jazz was represented by three bands: the GTC, and the quartets of Vladimir Chekasin and Petras Vyšniauskas, the only bands that were recognised by the State Philharmonic Society, which meant that they were entitled to go on concert tours in foreign countries without much difficulty. When the trio was disbanded its members continued their independent careers. At the end of the decade, the multi-instrumentalist Chekasin and his pupils took the lead. Soon came the era of the saxophonists Petras Vyšniauskas and Vytautas Labutis and their bands, the percussionist Tarasov, who also developed international projects, Gintautas Abarius’ bands and others.

Though jazz was tolerated, it did not belong to the elite of the cultural establishment and was played only episodically in restaurants and cafes, pop music festivals Baltijos Jaunystė and Gintarinė Triūba in Kaunas, and on rare occasions at the Lithuanian State Philharmonic Society. With the founding of a jazz section at the Art Workers’ Palace in 1977, talks about reviving the Elektrėnai Jazz Festival in one of the cities were in the air. However, the history of the first festival took a different course.
In 1980 a venue devoted exclusively to jazz, the Culture House of Birštonas, a resort town in Central Lithuania, finally appeared. All organisational issues were solved by a graduate of the Klaipėda faculties of the State Conservatoire, Zigmas Vileikis, who had been appointed to work at the Culture Department in Birštonas. The first festival took place on November 1 and 2, 1980, with the participation of Lithuanian bands and the Estonian composer and pianist Tonu Naissoo. The festival was dedicated to the 16th congress of the Communist Party and World Youth Day, though nobody really cared about these obligatory issues. The most important fact was that finally Lithuania could boast a venue where jazz was played freely. Thanks to the wise strategy of the organisers, the outstanding jazz musicians and critics of that period from Leningrad, Moscow, Riga and Yerevan such as Vladimir Feyertag, Alexey Batashev, Konstantin Orbelian and Yury Saulsky visited Birštonas and participated in the work of the jury. Until 1994, the patron of the festival was the musicologist Liudas Šaltenis, one of its founders who worked at the Ministry of Culture at that time. The authority of all these personalities protected the festival, and it gradually developed into an important international event. Being included in its programme was a mark of high credit for musicians, and for jazz aficionados listening to all concerts – a real jazz marathon – was a matter of honour. Taking interest in jazz at that time especially playing it testified to inner freedom and non-compliance with Soviet ideology (already from 1984, the Lithuanian radio had stopped broadcasting foreign pop and jazz music). With the wave of the perestroika, lovers of jazz from all over Lithuania and the Soviet Union used to gather in Birštonas, and part of the audience exceeding the number of seats in the hall two or three times had to remain outside.
In 1982 the festival was held in spring. A tradition was formed to hold it every other year, on the last weekend of March. Its participants were encouraged with various prizes: for the best instrumentalist, vocalist, band, most original composition etc. The most outstanding musician of the year used to be awarded with a specially created Grand Prix for the contribution to Lithuanian jazz. The programme mainly consisted of performances by Lithuanian musicians, with the participation of guest musicians from Riga, Tallinn, Moscow, Yerevan, Kaliningrad and elsewhere (the festival lasts for three days). In 1986 the festival hosted a large group of the youngest jazz musicians – pupils of the Balys Dvarionas Children’s School of Music, the band and big band of the Juozas Tallat-Kelpša Higher School of Music, and the big band of the Lithuanian State Conservatoire. The first guest performers from abroad arrived in 1988, and it was the famous Zbigniew Namysłowski and his band.
From the outset, the visual style of the festival has been designed by the artist Rimvydas Kepežinskas, with witty improvisations on the theme of musical instruments, and an impressive stage design by Algis Lapienis. Glimpses of the concerts and performers captured by Lithuanian photographers were always exhibited in the lobby during the event. The Lithuanian Radio and the Vilnius Recording Studio began to record the concerts. Records of the winners of 1982, 1986 and 1988 were released. Along with the albums of the Ganelin Trio, Chekasin Quartet, the big band of the State Conservatoire, the “Atto” compositions by Vladimir Tarasov, the Vilnius Recording Studio (a branch of the Soviet Melodia label at that time) released the first programmes of Petras Vyšniauskas’ quartet, Gintautas Abarius’ and Saulius Šiaučiulis’ bands, of Kęstutis Lušas, Marina Granovskaya and Skirmantas Sasnauskas. The present collection of the Lithuanian jazz of the 1980s is a collection of the mentioned recordings.

The Birštonas Festival was also held in 1990 when Lithuania proclaimed independence on 11 March. That year, Birštonas hosted an unprecedentedly large number of foreign musicians, among them the famous Azerbaijani Aziza Mustafa-Zade,the  Finnish guitarist Tymo Lahto and Frederic Noren’s band from Sweden; the Germany-based saxophonist Remy Filipovitch (Remigijus Pilypaitis) visited his homeland after almost a quarter of a century. “Time has never stopped ... I am very glad to be in Lithuania,” he said in an interview after the festival.
The Birštonas stage has always been open to all talented musicians, both young performers and the world-famous masters of Lithuanian jazz, some of who were initiated into jazz on this stage.
In the autumn of 1988 other festivals appeared on the Lithuanian musical scene: the Sing Group Jazz Festival of vocal jazz choirs and bands in Panevėžys and the Jazz Forum in Vilnius (since 1989, Vilnius Jazz). In 1990 the Kaunas Jazz Festival was launched.
The present collection also contains two pieces of the concerts of the Vilnius Jazz festivals (the quartet of Vyšniauskas, Viacheslav Gaivoronsky, Vladimir Volkov, Arkady Gotesman, and the band Gitarmanija). The emergence of the festival in 1987coincided with the national revival movement in Lithuania, At the present time it is one of the major international festivals of new European jazz and one of the oldest traditional events of Lithuanian jazz held annually in Vilnius. The festival is also called “a threshold between the East and the West”, and foreign critics regard it as a music centre of East Europe influencing contemporary jazz tendencies. Vilnius Jazz is included in the catalogues of world jazz events Eurofile Music Industry Directory, Music & Media (the Netherlands), Jazz Times Annual Festival Directory (the USA), and is a regular member of the European Jazz Network. The festival seeks to present the tendencies of contemporary world jazz and develops international projects. Since its first editions, Vilnius Jazz has been noted for its somewhat radical and innovatory character. In addition to jazz and free improvisational music, academic, ethnic, rock and industrial music expands the stylistics of the festival.

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