Exploration & Celebration Outside the Boundaries: Sasha Mashin

Sasha 2

After an incredible drum solo by Sasha Mashin that opens the song “Sipiagin’s Mood,” the band takes off with a funky and boppy energy. Keys carve a groove; vocals lift the song higher; then a melodic and soul-searing trumpet takes the spotlight. Not to be forgotten, alto sax jumps in the fray with deep and fast keywork. This track, from Mashin and a host of other very talented musicians, is one of nine sparkling songs on their new CD called “Outsidethebox.”

“Strange Party” is aptly named for the stops and starts and rhythmic curiosity, the darkish feel, and the overlay of a sax line that goes running into all acoustic corners. And in his own way, the bassist explores the instrument’s entire range. You can’t necessarily get a firm handle on these songs, and the unpredictability is what makes it elusive and exciting.

What was your very first experience with the drums?

That was a really funny story. I was a child like maybe six years old, and my grandmother bought me a toy snare drum as a birthday gift. I was so happy and enthusiastic about it so I just destroyed the drumhead with the first stroke. My mother said, “It looks like the child has a passion for music.” That’s how I got to compete for music school. 

Are you always attuned to life’s rhythms?

Since I started learning drums, I discovered that there are rhythms everywhere around me. Drops of water, the clock on the wall, a tractor engine, you name it; but my true passion for that kind of stuff has always been trains. Especially railroad trains passing through obstacles on the crossroads! That was and still is my favorite and this reminds me of Elvin Jones a lot due to its triplets. Please check it out the next time you are on a train, even record it and transcribe it. It’s a great source of rhythmic ideas. 

What decided you on a career in music?

That wasn’t my decision. Everything was so smooth and natural, there was no other option. I’ve just loved playing drums, all day long, for years.  

What is the biggest challenge to being a musician today?

It isn’t enough to be a good musician to get attention or be successful. You have to learn to be your own manager, promoter, publicist, SMM (social media marketer), videographer, video editor, audio editor, photographer, picture editor, copywriter, etc.

This sounds like a nightmare but I found my way to love it and you know what? I strongly believe that somehow learning all that crazy stuff made me a better musician.

Being an artist means you need to say something. When you spend all your lifetime practicing just drums or even music in general you don’t get a new perspective and this is unfortunately often the case with musicians of all genres.

You have to learn something else to get better in your own field and as a benefit you can promote yourself more effectively unless you have enough money to hire pros.

What do you like most about producing?

I love to create stuff. Bringing something to life is one of the happiest and most satisfying feelings for me. I’m really happy to being a part of new vinyl record company we just started last year called Rainy Days http://rainydaysrecords.ru So now I’m not only a drummer but the musical producer of Rainy Days Records and the musical director of Rainy Days Jazz Festival http://rainydaysjazzfest.com  in both Russian megalopolises, Saint Petersburg and Moscow. 

For 2019, we have four resales and I’m really happy to produce such good music working with the best musicians from different countries. 

What is the most fun and the most difficult about touring?

Touring is probably the best and the most challenging aspect of the artistic life.

If you ask someone who is working daily at the same office what is their dream probably the most common answer would be: “I wanna travel.”

When you are on the road you are mentally away from all your problems and anxiety. That great feeling on the plane. Beautiful clouds from above, sun even if there are thunderstorms underneath. Feels like you are on a constant, pre-paid vacation, right?

Not really!

Say you have a gig every night in a different city. That means really early in the morning after probably four to five hours of rest you are going to the airport, through all those crazy security procedures,  to take a flight (please note that to cross Russia from west all the way to east, like say Moscow to Vladivostok, takes nine hours!!! and this is just in the same country). Of course, that distance is rare but the average flight is between two and four hours. Then you go to the hotel and if you are really lucky you have an hour to rest and shower. Than you have the sound check, the gig itself, you hang with organizers and there you go – the next day the same thing, and the next day too…

Hey office people would you like traveling like this for 20—30 days? I don’t think so. But I still really love it! Two weeks at the same place probably would kill me. I just love travel!

Your top collaborations?

This one is really easy to answer:

Alex Sipiagin and Dhafer Youssef.

Both give you a lot of freedom inside really challenging musical material. For example, for Dhafer’s first concert, I practiced a full month for four hours a day just to internalize this material; I guess due to its complex time signature which for the one song was 39/16. 

Do you prefer a smaller ensemble or a big band?

This is when size doesn’t really matter.

The key is the quality. I love music. I love freedom in music but for big bands it’s rare when you have that freedom to express yourself. Everything pretty much is pre-written so I guess I can answer I like small bands a little bit more.

With your international touring, what have you observed are the differences between audiences?

In general, European listeners are more open and enthusiastic about jazz. I love to play for a European crowd. Americans I would say are more picky about jazz just because this is part of the culture and they are know this music, and probably can hear it everywhere from Starbucks to Macy’s. 

In Russia’s big cities it’s hard to attract people to jazz concerts, but we were lucky with the Rainy Days Fest and all the concerts were sold out. We definitely have a lack of good quality modern jazz in Russia right now and this is what we are trying to change with our label. 

How did you get into NYC’s Open World Program?

We have jazz promoter Michael Green in Moscow so he recommended me for the Open World program and I have to say that I was really lucky because only one group from the whole program went to New York. And for me, as a jazz musician, that was absolutely crucial.

I think I’ve completely changed after those two weeks in NY at the New School with such great teachers as Clark Terry, Jimmy Heath, Kenny Baron and Reggie Workman.

I’ve changed not only as a musician but most importantly as a person. That was the beginning of my transition from the old Soviet mentality when everyone was full of criticism and sarcasm versus the supportive approach I found during my visit to NY.

That was 2005 but I still feel that impact and have been teaching my students with this approach in mind.  

Who are the musicians in your quartet?

My album is full of different combinations but for live shows I prefer my quartet. There are many great musicians who have played with my group for the last few years like Alex Sipiagin, Rosario Giuliani, Zhenya Strigalev and Josh Evans.

I have various piano players but I tend to call on the same bass player, Makar Novikov, for his amazing rhythm and ability to be outside the box. With him, I can play any kind of music.

Why the name “Rainy Days”?

Our new and upcoming label is based in St. Petersburg and, like London, it’s famous for that rainy weather. That’s how the name came into being.

What is most spectacular about this CD?

That it’s my first time producing a record. You need to learn a lot of new stuff in a really short period of time. That was the best challenge ever for me! 

Another thing was that all the musicians helped me to the point that you can’t tell if they are working on my album or I am working on their album. And I’m really grateful for that attitude. 

Sasha Mashin CD cover

What was the hardest track to produce on it?

The hardest one was 7=5 by Alex Sipiagin. There are a lot of horn parts and a lot of polyrhythms. The musicians had never played it together until they came to the studio. You know, sometimes it’s hard to schedule because everybody is so busy and successful.

Where do you think jazz is heading?

There is a lot of speculation on this topic but every new generation makes their small revolution and then when the next generation comes up, they are really against new ideas to protect their gains. You know, all that generation gap stuff. It repeats each time young people come into the jazz scene. That’s okay!

Jazz is meant to be a platform for experimenting. Let’s not forget about this, with all the love and respect for previous artists. Learn the roots, and take their ideas but do something with them. Make it today’s music.

I believe jazz is as alive as never before, it’s just different.

What is better, a hard copy book or an iPad? It’s just different… 

How do you feel about the brotherhood of jazz in today’s world?

Oh, it is amazing when you come to a new country and meet other jazz musicians and they’re so happy to meet you and play with you. Jazz is probably the best way to make new friends. We are definitely really lucky. 

Other comments?

Debbie it was really a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you for those interesting questions.  

Before saying goodbye to all the readers of your beautiful blog, I’d like to shout out two books I liked the most for last few years and  this is what was pure motivation for me:

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin

Being Here by Radhika Philip

And yes I have my second album coming in 2019 called “Happy Synapses”!

For more information, visit www.sashamashin.com.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Sasha Mashin. Top two photos © Kirill Smyslov.
© Debbie Burke 2018



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