Feigin was born and raised in Moscow, acclaimed as one of the best guitarists and
songwriters in Russia. He left behind in Moscow an established folk-music career
hall-marked by four albums released on Russian Melodiya label, major radio, television
shows, national and international tours, and publications in various magazines. The
Russian independent radio station "Echo of Moscow" ended threedays of emergency
broadcasting after the failed coup in August 1991 with Misha's song, "Gulp of
Since coming to the United
States, Misha has performed original and traditional Russian & American music in both
English and Russian in concerts for over 300,000 young people in schools and universities.
He has played in numerous folk festivals and concerts in 47 states in Canada, and in
Europe in hopes of bringing people of all cultures together through music.
Having settled in Louisville,
Kentucky he became an active improvisor in guitar and vocals, working with with Joee
Conroy and Gregory Ackerman of UT Gret. Launching out as an improvisor on his own, he has
performed in the Birmingham International Improv Festival and others around the country.
After eight years in the United States, Misha longed to take his music back to Europe as
an improvisor. This story is his account and experiences from the trip he made in the
Spring of 1988 from Louisville, back to Europe.
A few months later after my return from
Europe, the tour I made felt already like a very pleasant, but distant dream. . .
After spending months working to make this
dream into a reality, I left Louisville with anticipation and enthusiasm about the journey
back to Europe. I played 15 concerts all the way from Zurich to Oslo, meeting many
fascinating people in the process. But it was what seemed to be an "impossible
dream" had actually became a truly possible dream, and perhaps a possible dream for
any motivated improvisor, who is ready to start working on it!
It makes sense that the place to start is by
organizing contacts and booking. That is not an easy job, and many people do not really
know how to begin. I hope that my story will be an encouragement to those who have a dream
to travel and play and an inspiration to do it. Usually things develop one step at a time,
like building a trail. It makes sense to ask the people who have organized a gig for you,
as well as musicians you play with, for contacts which they know. You collect them, and
make a list of them all, and start where you have the most.
Last year, such a place for me was Germany.
I've heard these somewhat fantastic remarks about the improvising scene in Germany from
many American and British players. "Oh, in Germany, people really appreciate the new
music. They pay real money for playing it, and they have plenty of gigs." That
sounding inspiring enough, in October of 1997, I developed a list of forty or so contacts
in Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden, and I began the process.
I started by sending my musical biography
with the description of my music. Two or three weeks later, I called everybody and asked
if they would be interested to receive a tape from me. Almost everybody said yes, in quite
good English. I sent my demos, and started calling again a month later. Reaching people
who book concerts overseas by telephone is a tedious and expensive thing. The time
difference, uncertain schedules, and so on, but it was easier for me to do booking in
Germany, than in America. This was because the German organizers were not afraid to tell
me a straight no, when they could not, or did not want to book me. It saved me a lot of
money on telephone calls, and some peace of mind.
A similar experience in my first year, in the
USA was very frustrating because everybody was so nice to me on the telephone, and never
said no, just- "call me next week", or "I'll call you later". Then of
course, nothing happened. Thankfully, Germans were much more simple to work with. People
who didn't book me would frequently give me other contacts to try. So after two or three
rounds of calls, I'd start to receive the first positive connections. And at the same
time, it became very clear that I wouldn't be able to connect all my gigs with a straight
line on the map.
On the Road
In Europe you can enjoy all the pleasures and
benefits of excellent public transportation. I recommend buying a Europass, or any of the
local discount train passes. Then you just walk on the train, a fast one, and settle into
a comfortable seat for enjoying views from the window, and perhaps a sandwich, and a beer.
A few hours later, you will walk out of the train in a different country. It is an easy
travel experience, indeed, if you are careful enough not to hurt your back in an attempt
to squeeze an overstuffed bag in the overhead storage on the train. Just take it easy!
My first stop in Germany was Bielefield, a
city of 400,000 people 300 kilometers north from Frankfurt. The venue I played was called
the "Bunker". It was an actual underground WW2 bunker converted into a
performing space, a fine form of conversion. (It is typical in Germany now to find
bunkers, and old WW2 vintage factory spaces recreated into clubs or art & music
spaces--a common European approach to recycling outdated industrial architecture is to
turn it over to the artists-ed.) At the Bunker they have all sorts of music and theatrical
events, including one free-improvisation concert every month. My contact in Bielefeld ,
Erhard Hessling, was both an organizer and a fellow improvising musician, a typical
combination for an artist in the improv-scene all over the world.
The performance set up at the Bunker felt a
little strange. The audience is seated on the left and right flanks of the stage, and the
performer plays facing the entrance without really seeing people in the room, rather
sensing them. That way a temptation "to impress" your audience just is not
there. You just play music for yourself, and for the people whom you can feel, but not see
in the close proximity.
There were seven or eight players who joined
in improvisation at the end of the event. The audience in the Bunker felt receptive and
knowledgeable of the genre. And that was true at most of the venues that I played in
In Hamburg I encountered a very active group
of improvisors and new music fans, who organized improvisation gigs monthly in a nice, big
loft. They also have a weekly Friday night two hour radio show on a small independent
radio station. My contact, Heiner Metzger, was also my generous, caring host.
I can suggest to you if you travel--don't
miss the East part of Germany! In economically depressed and politically disturbed Dresden
(neo-Nazi's are there), I have found many people emotionally vibrant, responsive, and
outspoken. Perhaps when you still live on the edge, not safe and satisfied completely yet,
it's natural to be more creative and sensitive. Some resemblance (even in landscapes) with
mother Russia was obvious. I spent a few very memorable days around Dresden with
improviser and theoretical mathematician Gunther Heinz.
So much playing, walking, and talking! And a
trombone player, Yohannes Frish organized an excellent concert in Karlsruhe in the South
We met for the first time twenty minutes
before the gig. Yohannes asked me after shaking my hand: "Would we play some now, or
would we save it for the gig?" We saved it for the gig, of course. It's a quite
remarkable event, to meet another player for the first time in music. You gently open
channels for each other, and extend yourself musically towards the other with respect and
awareness. Then a miracle of communication and togetherness might occur. After you meet
once, it will never be the same. With the new knowledge and awareness of each other,
friendships are born.
In Zurich, Switzerland my concert was
sponsored by WIM, a motivated group of local improvisors, who run a very well known
concert series. They have an established space as well as an active radio station. The
person who organized my concert was Christoph Gallio, a full-time musician well known for
his saxophone style the work with his group, Day & Taxi. It is a privilege, not so
many improvisors around the world can exalt. So many of us, even the best, stay on the
margin, and sometimes have to perform strange and unrelated jobs to support our earthly
In Bern, I was fortunate to share the gig
with Eugene Chadbourne. We played at the Reitschule, a quit interesting, peculiar venue,
some sort of squatters community. For that one, contact Sandro Wiedmar.
Free improvisation is taken quite seriously
in Germany and Switzerland, and it is not considered elitist or extreme from other styles
of music, jazz in particular. There are a good number of jazz clubs in Germany where free
improvisation is also a regular part of the menu. There are German Jazz Club Directories,
good to have for booking reference. German people are seasoned and good listeners, but
their response to anything they consider schmaltzy will be very straight in your face. So
you better be good. And another warning: don't expect people from the audience to come to
the stage after the show, and shake your hand or hug you, even after ovations and encores.
They just don't do it!
Once again my experience has proven what
everybody else knows already: that the Germans can organize things! In many cities, and
even in towns not bigger than 10,000, you can find groups of people, both musicians and
listeners, who put on improv concerts on a regular basis, one or two times a month. Often
they manage to get funding from the government, but the money that can be collected at the
door in most places is quite reasonable, because promotion and attendance at new music
concerts is good in northern Europe, at least in my experience.
For instance, in the little town of Hofheim
near Frankfurt, my concert was organized by Esther Arvay, a devoted new music fan.
I saw concert posters practically on every
corner, and we got 60-70 people at the gig. I can't imagine anything close to that in any
small, or even in a reasonably big town here in the United States. That was a really
impressive display of the community appreciation of music.
I also suggest that the relative success of
new music in Germany has something to do with the public attitude to music in general.
What we call classical music is rather treated like folk music in that country. How else
can you perceive it, when every second person can sit in with a quartet playing Brahms,
and in the schools almost everybody experiences playing in the orchestra? People don't
consider new music and free improvisation as something weird, just an extension in the
evolution of music. They hear it just like any other genre, judge good from bad, and they
let you know immediately if they think it is boring!
In my journey to the North I made it to
Sweden, where in the little town called Kungalv near Getheborg a couple of improvisors,
Biggi Vinkeloe and Peeter Uuskyla, keep the genre alive and well. They have a number of
venues which they can access for producing touring folk, including a gig on a beautiful
Going North, why bother?
If you keep up with the spirit of adventure
and discovery, you have to cross the borders. And after you cross them, you might realize
the borders are not really real. Going north, I encountered yet one more time the world
community of improvisors, a global improv village. I felt myself at home there. It doesn't
really matter what town, country, or continent. I feel at home, anywhere I go. People
shared with me their homes, ideas, food, and music. A few deep friendships began. I see
the world map differently now: Here, in the middle of Europe- Gunther, down below- Ute and
Gerhard, all the way up- Biggi, Peeter. Good friendship is perhaps one of the few
stabilities in our world of relativity.
Every new encounter with a good improvisor
extended my relationships, musical vocabulary and technique, and gave me very unique and
pure joy. Every new connection I made with people by the means of music and beyond,
extended my mind, heart, and spirit.
So don't hesitate. Just go North,