Posted by: James Wolfe, Press Attaché
Uzhhorod can be difficult to reach after the summer season, when there are no longer direct flights from Kyiv, but I have discovered that getting there is worth the effort, particularly when the visit includes attending the annual Pap Jazz Fest. Having business in Ivano-Frankivsk gave me a good excuse to build on my trip there to head to the charming city near Ukraine’s western border with Slovakia. Having flown west from Kyiv the evening of Saturday, November 10, I was able to celebrate the U.S. Veteran’s Day holiday by having a leisurely breakfast in my hotel before jumping in a hired car for the four hour drive west. My driver, Ivan, a graduate of Ivano-Frankivsk’s Oil and Gas University and a veteran of the petroleum industry, also happened to be a student of the history of Ukraine, and western Ukraine in particular. Throughout the drive, he provided an ongoing lesson that also tested my Ukrainian skills. I had, of course, read histories of Ukraine and the region, but still learned a lot on the drive.
I had barely checked into my hotel before Willi Pap, the festival’s organizer, stopped by to meet me. Willi Pap is the son of the late Vilmosh Pap, the celebrated saxophonist, social activist, and originator of the Pap Jazz Fest. Willi played keyboards in a few of the bands that played during the evening and was the teacher of many of the young musicians who played, including his son, whose cool sax playing showed that the Pap family’s third generation is ready to carry the family’s jazz credibility well into the future. The 15th edition of this highly regarded Roma jazz festival took place in the Oblast Children’s Palace “PADIYUN,” which seemed to hold about 400-450 at its most crowded during the five hour festival. I met Willi Pap’s charming wife and two daughters and had a great seat in the 4th row, a great spot to listen to the music and snap shots of the performers (all shots included in this blog are my own). The entire festival was shown on local television, including the welcoming remarks to open the festival, delivered by Willi, a few local officials, and myself. I was invited to speak because the embassy was among the financial supporters of the festival.
Willi Pap and his son each played with more than one of the seven bands that performed during the course of the evening, ranging from quartets and quintets of veteran musicians to two groups of young music students. The second student group was a quartet that brought down the house, which was clearly filled not only with music lovers, but many of the performers’ friends and family. The Uzhhorod Roma community comprised most of the audience and many of the performers. One excellent, non-local quartet hailed from Donetsk, and had the misfortune to follow the high-energy, crowd-pleasing youth quartet, taking the stage while many of that group’s fans were still filing out to the lobby.
The evening’s headliner was the great trumpet player Michael “Patches” Stewart, who hails from New Orleans, Louisiana. The Embassy’s support had gone in part to bring “Patches” to Uzhhorod, where he played with the Slovakian group, AMC Jazz Trio (keyboards, drums, and upright bass). A talented player since his school days, Patches played his first professional recording gig with the group LaBelle on its international hit “Lady Marmalade.” Since then, he has played with the likes of Quincy Jones, Al Jarreau, David Sanborn, Anita Baker, George Duke, Bonnie Raitt, Rickie Lee Jones, Soul II Soul, Marcus Miller, Babyface, Diana Ross, and Whitney Houston. The union of Patches and AMC Trio produced the evening’s most sublime moments – and brought many of the festival’s other musicians out into the audience to watch the performance. If the evening had consisted only of Patches and AMC Trio, it would have been worth the four-hour drive from Ivano-Frankivsk. The fact that several other talented and exciting bands also performed left me wondering how I could manage to come back for a future edition of the festival.