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Anne Azzi Davenport
Anne Azzi Davenport
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As the fighting in Ukraine continues, we take a musical journey to Odessa, Ukraine’s historic port city on the Black Sea. It is a personal vision of a Ukrainian-born pianist, Vadim Neselovskyi, who teaches at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. But it is also a deeper look at the city’s past and present amid war. Jeffrey Brown reports for our arts and culture series, "CANVAS."
As the fighting in Ukraine continues, we take a musical journey to Odesa, Ukraine's historic port city on the Black Sea.
It is a personal vision of a Ukrainian-born pianist, but also a deeper look at the city's past and present amid war.
Jeffrey Brown has the story for our arts and culture series, Canvas.
It begins at the historic railroad station, entryway to the city, and you can hear the trains.
Vadim Neselovskyi calls his new album "Odesa: A Musical Walk Through a Legendary City." It was written to honor his father, who was dying of cancer, and his home city.
Vadim Neselovskyi, Jazz Composer and Pianist: It's an effort to understand where I'm from. What are my roots? But it was just a starting point.
I think it evolved into something bigger than that, because then my literal journey through my hometown becomes an imaginary journey into the history, into collective consciousness, into the darkest side of Odesa's history.
Neselovskyi is a jazz pianist and composer who teaches at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where we met recently.
It's also the place he first studied in the U.S. He was born and raised in Odesa into a Jewish family during the Soviet era, and at 15 was the youngest ever student to be to attend the prestigious Odesa Conservatory of Music.
Here, he evokes his walks to school as snow fell.
In Ukraine today, the sounds are different. Neselovskyi composed his piece before the Russian invasion began on February 24.
This was Odesa, Soviet port on the Black Sea.
But Odesa has known war before, and one turbulent section portrays the horrors of World War II, when Romanian troops under Nazi guidance brutalized the city and its inhabitants, including the murder of thousands of Jews.
For Neselovskyi, who regularly performs in Ukraine and maintains close ties to friends and fellow musicians there, his music had a new resonance.
February 24 changed my life, and I think it changed my life forever. It's just really before and after, for obvious reasons.
And then I had to ask myself, is this music still relevant? And I realized, yes, it is, because there is enough drama in that story that I created. My drama was based on the Second World War, memories of Odesa. And now we have very often the same images that we saw from the Second World War, but now we see them in the color photography and videography.
So, when you are playing them now, you are feeling and seeing something different than you did when you first wrote them?
Thank God I am a jazz musician. I get to improvise. And I cannot play without imagining those things myself. If I don't feel those things, you won't be feeling them.
Neselovskyi is a rare mix of classically trained pianist and brilliant jazz improviser, a musical omnivore for whom different sounds have always flowed together.
It was always one thing. It was this ocean of creativity in sound, and it could come from Keith Jarrett. It could come from Johann Sebastian Bach. It could come from Paul McCartney or Joni Mitchell.
I mean, it's — I hear all of them in your music, right? You want me to hear them?
I want you to hear them, yes.
The final section of this ode to Odesa speaks to the flowering that had been taking place in recent years, within an independent and democratic Ukraine. Now it too holds new meaning.
And I saw it as a sign of renaissance, as a sign of hope for my city.
But, of course, after February 24, after this horrible war has started, I also play this music as a prayer for peace and for my home country, for Ukraine.
From benefit concerts and sales of his new album, "Odesa: A Musical Walk Through a Legendary City," Vadim Neselovskyi has have to date raised some $200,000 for humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I am Jeffrey Brown at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
What an inspiration, as that country needs it.
Watch the Full Episode
In his more than 30-year career with the NewsHour, Brown has served as co-anchor, studio moderator, and field reporter on a wide range of national and international issues, with work taking him around the country and to many parts of the globe. As arts correspondent he has profiled many of the world's leading writers, musicians, actors and other artists. Among his signature works at the NewsHour: a multi-year series, “Culture at Risk,” about threatened cultural heritage in the United States and abroad; the creation of the NewsHour’s online “Art Beat”; and hosting the monthly book club, “Now Read This,” a collaboration with The New York Times.
Anne Azzi Davenport is the Senior Coordinating Producer of CANVAS at PBS NewsHour.
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