Don't give me no jazz: what is happening with jazz festivals in Russia

Jazz May Festival. Author: Donatas Dapkus. CC BY-SA 3.0

International Jazz Day is celebrated on April 30. The date has been chosen at the initiative of UNESCO and celebrated since 2011, under the premise that this musical genre is capable of ‘promoting peace, dialogue, and mutual understanding.’ Independent media outlet ‘Novaya Vkladka’ examined the jazz festivals in different regions of Russia and their fate. Some projects ceased to exist after the start of the Russian war with Ukraine, while others continue to be held, albeit often dependent on local authorities and state grants. Global Voices translated the article, edited for clarity and republished with permission from ‘Novaya Vkladka’

‘Jazz May’ Fest

It was held in Penza since 2011 with the participation of star musicians from the United States, Europe, Israel, as well as from different regions of Russia. Since 2022, ‘Jazz May’ started being curated by the regional Ministry of Culture, ‘Penzakoncert’, and the key organisers have left the organizing committee. After the start of the war, the festival lost its international status, and foreign artists were replaced by musicians from the so-called LPR [GV: occupied by Russia territory of Ukraine, so-called Luhansk Peoples Republic]. In 2023, the creators of ‘Jazz May’ came up with a new project – the anti-stress festival ‘Koshkin Jazz‘. It was held in July simultaneously in three cities: Ulyanovsk, Samara, and Penza with the support of the Presidential Fund for Cultural Initiatives. The organizers believed that their project could be ‘a breath of fresh air’ for many. Judging by the posts on social networks, the festival received many positive reviews. The organizers said that although they felt a shortage of musicians, they were able to introduce the audience to Russian bands better. Organiser Oleg Rubtsov explained:

I was depressed by the fact that Russian musicians were being left in the shadows. Although, in general, there are enough interesting lineups to gather in the country.

However, in 2024, ‘Koshkin Jazz’ will not be held. The organizers said they did not apply for a grant for the second time ‘due to exhaustion': the project team still has to report the last year’s organizational details and respond to the foundation's inquiries. Olga Pripisantseva, co-organizer of the event, commented:

I think we're all tired of fighting windmills. Everything has become too difficult both physically and morally.


‘Kaliningrad City Jazz’ Fest

This fest has been held in Kaliningrad since 2006, attracting jazz musicians from Russia, Europe, and the USA every year. For example, in 2015, the popular French singer Zaz came to the festival. ‘Kaliningrad City Jazz‘ still positions itself as an international event, but compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019, the lineup has been reduced threefold, and there are almost no foreign performers left.

In 2023, several musicians from Europe, Georgia, Israel, and the Republic of the Congo still performed at the Kaliningrad festival. The festival's general producer, Andrey Levchenko, said that the organisers were ‘happy to restore the festival's international status.’ In an interview, he still justified the reduction in the number of foreign musicians by citing the pandemic. The festival is supported by local businesses and the regional government.

‘Usadba Jazz’ Fest

One of the largest jazz festivals in Russia was born in Moscow in 2004 and first took place in the Arkhangelskoye estate in the Moscow region. In 2017, the project expanded to the regions: the event was simultaneously held in Voronezh, Yekaterinburg, Sochi, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. The festival was conceived as a jazz open-air and maintained its concept throughout the years. The organizers also aimed to gather star musicians from different countries. Among the headliners were not only famous jazz performers, but also, for example, the hip-hop group Black Eyed Peas and Ivan Dorn. The last time ‘Usadba Jazz‘ took place was in June 2019 in the village of Kolomenskoye. It was not possible to hold it in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. The abandoned VK group still has a cover with a message about postponing the festival to 2022. And although no more messages have appeared on social networks since then, the fate of the festival's creator and president, Maria Syomushkina, can be traced through her social networks. After the start of the war in Ukraine, she created a new jazz project in emigration called ‘Music Saves the World.’ The music marathon from the creators of ‘Usadba Jazz’ took place in Armenia, Montenegro, Georgia, and the United Kingdom. Part of the proceeds from ticket sales was directed to refugee musicians.

SibJazz Fest 

Novosibirsk, often referred to as the jazz capital of Siberia, has its own festival, which also used to involve foreign musicians. The project is part of the so-called [state sponsored] National Project ‘Culture’. In 2021, Deputy Minister of Culture of the Novosibirsk region, Yuri Zimnyakov, emphasized that by supporting the festival, the authorities seek to make ‘famous performers of Russia and the world’ accessible to the general public. By 2023, however, the festival's poster mainly featured Russian performers.

The fate of other jazz festivals, which used to unite Russian and foreign musicians, has developed similarly. For example, the Irkutsk festival ‘Jazz on Baikal‘, which has been held since 2006 with the support of the Presidential Fund for Cultural Initiatives, used to invite performers from the USA, Japan, Brazil, and Europe. Now the event mainly features local musicians and invited guests from other regions. At the ‘Jazz over the Volga‘ festival in Yaroslavl, until 2021, performers from New York used to perform on stage along with Russian jazz musicians. Other jazz festivals in the regions, such as ‘Jazz Fever‘ in Perm and the Sochi Jazz Festival, still retain the ‘international’ prefix, although since 2022, only Russian musicians have appeared on the posters.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.