Informed by his early studies in classical music, Russian pianist Artem Panteleev only has to think of JS Bach to spark ideas. On stage, he has a blinding energy that feeds the coffers with jazz phrases and theme fragments that come quickly.
In his music project promo, Artem and his guitarist, drummer and sax player are bathed in purple light with smoke and flashing images, enhancing the synapse-burst of short novel melodies and unexpected rhythms.
No CDs out yet – but he says he’s close. It’s easy to imagine that with such superb command of 88 keys, whether delving into classical or his own jazz compositions Artem will continue to excel and surprise audiences.
What is the jazz scene like today in St. Petersburg?
We have a very conservative jazz scene in St. Petersburg. Due to some issues in Russian history we couldn’t play jazz or have much cultural exchange.
I think it’s one of the most important things in jazz music: always to have a new cultural experience and grow together with the world’s music history. That’s why we are young in jazz.
Of course, we started from basics. Swing and bebop. Bebop now is very popular in St. Petersburg. We have a lot of places and bars with live jazz, like The HAT bar which is one of the top 150 jazz bars in the world, according to DownBeat. We have Jazz Philharmonic Hall where you can always find traditional swing and sympho-jazz.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about contemporary jazz. We have great and talented musicians, but contemporary jazz is not very popular. But year by year, more modern musicians and modern music are appearing in St. Petersburg. A lot of musicians go to St. Petersburg from all over Russia, all young and talented, and it’s great.
What are the challenges to jazz musicians specific to Russia?
The weather; other than that, there are no challenges if you really want to do something.
How do audiences typically react to your music?
If you play music for the right audience you will always win. Because music in the wrong time or for an unprepared audience is a failure, I think. Musicians should always remember that.
When did you learn piano?
When I was 4 I started to play the piano and still can’t stop.
Talk about the highlights of your music education and how you got your first break.
I graduated from St. Petersburg Musical Lyceum and St. Petersburg State Conservatory. I have a lot of diplomas from youth music competitions in classical music.
Why do you gravitate to the classical-inspired motifs in music, and how does a foundation in classical help you write good jazz?
I can’t say that I use or want to use classical motifs. I grew up with this music and it’s inside my brain. When you play classical music it’s always clear. You need to know how to start the long phrase and develop it into 32 bars, for example. To look forward is a good thing that I learned from classical music. And piano technique, of course.
When you study classical music, the sound is very important. And I can play anything in any tempo. It’s great to have opportunities, to have no borders in technique and sound.
Which composers are your favorites?
I know a lot of composers and all of them have great things that I love. I like Bach because there are a billion ideas that you can find and use.
Which jazz artists do you like and why?
I like the great Russian trio L.R.K. trio. Most of all I like piano trios with three letters. E.S.T. is one of my favorites. I like the ACT music label.
Your tenor sax guy is phenomenal. How did you choose the right musicians for your band?
The best way to find the right musicians is to understand what you need. I like to find people and use their major skills. There is Dmitry Semenov on sax. He is very famous in St. Petersburg. He graduated from Berklee College of Music and plays with the greatest jazz musicians from Russia and all over the world. Sometimes he plays with me.
Does your cultural background or folk music inspire you?
While playing different music I understood one thing – ALWAYS PLAY MUSIC. Music is not about sheets, measures or tempo. Make music beautiful, feel it.
I always remember that and just let music go thought my heart, head, ears and hands.
What do you like most about improv?
That’s an easy question! It’s always different.
What ideas give you energy when you are writing?
On holidays I can’t write anything. I can do it during soundcheck or on tour when we’ve finished our show and I have five minutes until we go. I record it on my phone or write it on a piece of paper, then I work on it at home.
Do you think jazz has the power to change minds or to bring people together?
Jazz is very different and it can teach us that life is more interesting and has more sides than we can imagine. Being open-minded is the best way to understand other people.
You seem to like performing with heavy moods, like colored lighting, smoke, etc. How does this add to the excitement?
These effects are not the main part of the show, but if I can, I use all possible ways to tell my story. And it also helps to make beautiful photos and videos. Now I’m thinking about a show with 3D mapping. It’s not easy to implement, but I hope we will.
Do you run out of energy after a performance?
It depends. Sometimes we go to play something after a long show and these are the best moments. When you play a show, you are not as relaxed as you could be. And it’s like when you pass the exam then you can have fun.
Who are your band members?
The drummer is Anton Novikov. He is a great man. He comes from the Sakhalin Island (not far from St. Petersburg). He has a powerful style. I like his groove. He plays in many bands in different styles. I wanted to add more power to my music and Anton is the best person to do this. He has a great memory! He remembers all the songs! For example, he can play by heart compositions that we played only once, more than a year ago.
Vladimir Shalnev is a great bass player with amazing sound and time. He is always in the pocket with the drummer. He is the best bass player of the Far East of Russia. When we are together we always have fun and understand each other. Vladimir plays in any style of music. He has his own music project called OYA, which is a rock band with cool and unique music, and English vocals.
Our sax player is Dmitry Semenov. He graduated from Berklee College of Music. And he is the most jazzy person in my band. He always plays cool improvisations and takes his job very seriously. He always plays his solo and I always smile because I can’t stop doing this. Now he plays in many bands and teaches in the State University of Culture.
It’s my project, so all the music is written by me; but I always leave some space for the guys to play what they hear in this music, and if they want to say something they can. One of the important things for me is that all these guys play sheet music. I always make sheet scores. It looks frighteningly but it’s cool.
Have you played in Europe, Asia, the U.S.?
I played in different projects in Europe. We have a great music band called Maria Majazz. And we played in Tallin, Cologne, Rhodos and other different cool places. I go to Europe about 11 times a year to play with different projects and collectives.
Where in the world would you most love to play?
Wherever people want to hear me. I think it’s the best place.
Do you have a CD coming out?
Not yet. Now I have close to 15 compositions. But I want to choose the best and then I will record it.
Talk about some of the songs you’ve written and what inspired them.
It’s very difficult to talk about because it’s too personal. Emotional distress inspires me. I think that I let my pain go through the music, because I consider myself to be very calm and unemotional in life. I can’t say it but I can play it.
Do you have any tours this year?
I’m working on it.
How do you wish to develop your music or explore new ideas?
I’m working with analogue synths and effects. I like the way the band E.S.T. uses acoustic instruments together with different effects.
What’s the future in jazz?
I think that the future of jazz lies beyond classical roots. Look at Hiromi Uehara. Brilliant playing and the greatest jazz phrases. Supreme solos and great technique. Now the level of musical performances is so high that I think they will go to space one day.
To mix acoustic sound with electronic effects and some synths is the new way too. Did you hear Anomalie? Incredible!
How does music make you feel?
What is the biggest challenge for a professional musician today?
To introduce their music to people. Now there is too much musical content in the world. You can find dozens of artists on the internet representing their songs, performing, broadcasting. Always it is also a challenge to learn the songs.
And money, of course.
For more information, visit www.panteleevartem.com.