Festivities Multiply since Ukrainian Independence: Part 1

Ukrainians have a history of celebration but with the advent of the country’s independence in 1991, festivals of all kinds have exploded on the cultural scene. Layered with culture, customs, music, and art these festivals offer visitors a healthy taste of the country’s passionate approach to life. A small sampling of Ukrainian festivals held throughout the year is profiled on this website.

Ukrainian Jazz Festivals

Already anointed one of the five best European jazz festivals, the International Koktebel Jazz Festival is entering its fourth year. Local inhabitants of the city of Koktebel, translated from Turkish as the “land of blue hills”, welcome internationally renowned recording artists as well as home grown local legends and rising talent for a free performance in the fresh Crimean air.

Past artists and performers have included Japan’s Shibusashirazu Jazz Orchestra, American trumpet aficionado Lew Soloff, German acid jazz stalwart De Phazz, young Canadian blues guitarist Jimmy Bowskill as well as a host of local talent like Man Sound, an a cappella sextet from Kiev, Ukraine and the Kyiv Art Ensemble “All Stars.”

The city of Koktebel, on the shore of the Black Sea and near the bottom of an extinct volcano, is one of the most popular resort towns in south-eastern Crimea. The beaches known for their naturist proclivities are a gorgeous place to unwind with our without clothing. Camping possibilities abound and visitors may also sample the local cognac distillery after an evening of red hot jazz.

In an effort to strengthen the sometimes fragile bridge between Russia and Ukraine, the Odessa Jazz Festival began in 2001 as a joint venture. Held in the ancient city of Vinnytsia on the temperate shores of the Black Sea the growing festival features an eclectic artist lineup from France, the U.S., Israel, Great Britain, Ukraine, and Russia. Musical performances are held at different venues simultaneously including the main festival stage in the Odessa Philharmonic, by the monument honoring the great Odessa jazzman – Leonid Utyosov, and, of course, at the open-air “mega-stage” near the famous Odessa Opera House.

Carnival like in atmosphere, the festival features street parades and open-air performances in many of Odessa’s squares. Last year’s festival played to more than 1,300 visitors and included 40 musicians from Bulgaria, Czechia, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and the United States.

Unforgettable performances crossed borders and cultures and featured American singer Lee Andrew Davison, Polish saxophone player Piotr Baron, American drummer Kim Plainfield and Russian guitar player Arkady Ovrutskiy. Veterans of the Eastern European jazz scene thrilled the crowd as well. This year’s carnival is scheduled for October 2006 so there is enough time for music lovers to make plans to attend.

Part II in this Series, “Festivities Multiply since Ukrainian Independence” will follow in next month’s issue of Ukraine.com!