Leonid Utyosov

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Leonid Utyosov was the founder and longtime (1929-1982) singer and director of a very popular Soviet Union jazz orchestra. He became a legend and the pride of Soviet culture. Regardless of his lack of…
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Leonid Utyosov was the founder and longtime (1929-1982) singer and director of a very popular Soviet Union jazz orchestra. He became a legend and the pride of Soviet culture. Regardless of his lack of musical background, he became the most popular singer of his time. In a country where jazz was declared "music of the fats," he managed to not only establish the music, but to also preserve it for many years to come, as the first wave of Soviet jazz.

Leonid Utyosov was born in 1895, in Odessa, to a middle-class Jewish family. In 1911, he became an actor in a provincial theater troop. Traveling with his troop from town to town, and actively participating in various theatrical productions, Utyosov quickly became a real professional; in the beginning of the '20s he already performed in various venues in Moscow and Leningrad. All of those years, however, he'd dreamt about forming his own jazz band. At the end of 1928, he started making his dream come true. In a few months, Utyosov gathered motivated together musicians to make up his first program. And, on March 8, 1929, the stage of the Leningrad Small Opera Theater became home to the first debut of his new jazz band. The success of this performance was greater than many hoped for. This is how Leonid Utyosov himself attempted to explain it: "It is easiest to say that our success was in the novelty-such numbers like our thea-jazz had not yet been performed. There was of course jazz created by a blueprint, a foreign blueprint...We, however, suggested a completely new genre, untried, theatrical jazz...Our whole program was sprinkled with jokes, sarcasm, humor. In front of the audience not only a band was born, but also a company, a gathering of the happy, not dampened by sadness, people, with whom one could find joy and with whom one was certain to have a good time...I think that the success of our first program was grounded particularly in our optimism and humor." From that point on and until the end of his life, Utyosov was an irreplaceable leader and a soloist of the self-created band. Although many cursed and criticized Utyosov's jazz, the public fell in love with his jazz immediately. The first program which the group performed was mostly composed of popular American and European jazz compositions. Eventually, works of Soviet composers such as Isaac Dunayevsky, L. Diderihs, Matvey Blanter, and others became a part of the group's repertoire, and the group started to include popular songs in its repertoire. Utyosov was the first performer of such a wide array of songs, which left the whole country singing. Among those songs were "The Heart," "By the Samovar," "Everything Is Right My Beautiful Marquise," "Polyushko-Pole," "The Cherished Stone," "The Sea Is Spread Out," and many others. The movie The Cheerful Guys (1934, directed by Grigory Alexandrov), in which Utyosov starred in the main role, with his band, was a great success. At that time, Edit Utyosova, daughter of Leonid Utousov joined his group and became a longtime vocalist for the orchestra. During WWII, Utyosov and his band performed while in the army, and his performances brought liveliness and optimism back to his thankful listeners. In 1965, Utyosov received the title of the people's artist of U.S.S.R.. Leonid Utyosov died on March 9, 1982. Luckily, his voice remains on tapes and records, as well as in his books.