Igor Butman

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Strikingly gifted Russian jazz saxophonist, leading figure in the internationalisation of the genre.
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b. November 1961, Leningrad, USSR. Encouraged in music from a very early age by his father, an amateur drummer and singer, Butman first took piano lessons although he really wanted to be a drummer. At the age of 11, however, a music teacher persuaded him to take up the clarinet. He was briefly at the Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music, but then studied alto saxophone with Gennedy Golstain at the Mussorgsky School of Music in the mid- to late 70s. At the end of the decade he was in a band led by multi-instrumentalist David Goloshchokin. He then played in the big band led by Oleg Lundstrem, before joining pianist Nikolai Levinovsky’s Allegro. Because Allegro’s book called for a tenor saxophonist, Butman again switched instruments, this time finding his true métier. Among other bands with which he played were Popular Mechanics, Kino and Aquarium.

Butman had taught himself to speak English and therefore was able to talk to visiting American musicians, among them Gary Burton, with whom he played during Burton’s 1982 tour with Chick Corea. Burton tried to obtain for the young saxophonist a scholarship to study at the Berklee School Of Music and although this was not possible at the time, Butman’s ambition and determination were such that in 1987 he made his own way to Berklee where he was promptly offered a two-year scholarship. During his time at Berklee, Butman studied with Billy Pierce, Andrew McGhee, and Joe Viola. He also led his own band, which included fellow student Rachel Z. , and worked for a time in Rebecca Parris’ group.

Upon graduating from Berklee, with degrees as concert saxophonist and as composer, Butman went to New York where he played with Billy Taylor and Grover Washington Jnr. , recording Then And Now with the latter in 1988. Among other musicians with whom he played during these years were Dave Brubeck, Lionel Hampton and Pat Metheny. He also formed bands for tours of his homeland, taking with him musicians including John Abercrombie, Cindy Blackman, Joe Locke, and Adam Nussbaum. Butman has used his dual nationality to good advantage and in 1998 became part owner of Le Club, a popular Moscow jazz club where he leads his own big band. During the 90s he appeared at many jazz festivals in the USA and Canada. He also played at the Kremlin in Moscow at a state dinner hosted by Vladimir Putin for visiting American President, Bill Clinton. In 1998, Butman was guest soloist with Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and the following year Marsalis was featured with Butman’s big band at Le Club. In 2002, Butman was responsible for a major musical event, The Triumph Of Jazz that took place at the Rossiya Concert Hall in Moscow.

In addition to his jazz work, Butman has also played and recorded with classical violinist Yuri Bashmet and his Moscow Soloists Chamber Orchestra. Highly respected for his all-round musical ability, Butman is also noted for his eager enthusiasm and the energy that resonates through every aspect of his professional life. A strikingly gifted improviser, and with a matchless technique, Butman has become a leading figure in the growing internationalisation of jazz.