Anastasia Ivanova isn’t just your typical 19-year-old female Russian jazz trombonist/singer/dancer. Sure, there are plenty of those, but Anastasia is especially deserving to be our focus here — for her extraordinary musical talents, her joie de vivre, and her undeniable charm. Her energy, playful sense of humor, and genuine happiness make her someone well worth getting to know.
She’s no wallflower, to be sure, but rather a natural entertainer, as demonstrated in this video clip she recently recorded herself.
Anastasia hails from the town of Snezhinsk, located nearly a thousand miles east of Moscow. “Music has always been an important part of my life,” she says. Her mother, Natalia Ivanova-Kaluzhnaya, is a classical pianist, so music has long been in the family. “She was my first musical teacher. I came to the music school when I was 4, and little by little started to learn piano.” But then she discovered the joys of singing, and, not long after, the world of jazz. She credits that discovery to her friends, pianists Gennady Pystin and Dmitry Karpov. “That’s when I really got a ‘jazz vaccine‘ and fell in love with improvisation!” emulating the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and contemporary Canadian singer Nikki Yanofsky.
“I loved singing more than playing piano because it was way easier to me, and I didn’t have to think much. So, I participated in different vocal competitions, jam-sessions, and gave solo gigs as a singer, and got high awards. Me and my mom went almost all around Russia. In one of the competitions Igor Butman was a judge. So was Anatoly Kroll. That’s how they’ve noticed me. But the years flew, and I felt I needed to find something more difficult.”
In 2014 or thereabouts, Anastasia discovered the Sant Andreu Jazz Band (SAJB) of Barcelona, via their hundreds of YouTube videos that have been posted in the past decade. For those unfamiliar with the SAJB, it has been an ongoing, non-profit project created and led by Barcelona musician/teacher Joan Chamorro, in which the most promising young musicians in the city (ranging in age roughly from 8 to 21) learn and play a sprawling catalog of American jazz and big band standards, with a healthy dose of Brazilian bossa nova thrown in. The band’s reputation for producing remarkably skilled and entertaining young musicians and singers has been growing worldwide. Once Anastasia found the videos of the band’s performances, “I fell in love with their music! I saw little children playing in a band, but when I closed my eyes I heard professional musicians.”
She and Joan Chamorro began to communicate online. “At that time, me and Joan were Facebook friends, and I saw a video of Camille Bertault that he posted. She sang a 5 minute transcribed solo of John Coltrane on a tune “Mr. P.C.”. “Hmmm… this smells like a challenge,” I thought.
“And I recorded the same video and tagged Chamorro. I was so shocked to see such amazing feedback from many people in comments under my video. Joan told me I did very well and asked if I can play any instrument. I had nothing to say as I was familiar only with piano, but at the same time I couldn’t say strongly ‘I’m a pianist’! But anyway, I said that, and he gave me the homework to transcribe another solo on piano. I felt it was impossible, and started to think I needed to find a wind instrument, because it’s only one melody, when, on piano, there are block chords, extreme passages and in general it’s a harmonical instrument — and secondly, to be like one of the girls from his big band.”
At the time, there was only a trombone teacher in the music school, “but a really good one, Sergei Smirnov.” With the trombone being her only real choice as a newly-aspiring jazz musician, she began taking lessons as a classical trombonist when she was 15, while covertly learning jazz on her own. “It continues even now, because I study 4th (and final) grade of classical trombone in Gnesin’s college in Moscow.”
She has much to say about Moscow’s jazz scene. “Moscow is a great big city with lots of opportunities! Musicians around, new friends, endless jam sessions, workshops, gigs, — all of this creates a special environment to grow professionally...I enjoy listening to Moscow Ragtime Dixieland Band of Konstantin Gevondyan. I’m so happy they allow me to join to their music and play together on stage. What a great motivation to learn new standards every week! Also, there’s a Gnesin’s academy (higher education) nearby, right next to the college building where I study, and there is jazz! There are talented students, jazz professors and most importantly, the orchestra! Once, I came to the rehearsal, and said I’m interested to listen to it. Now, I’m getting offers to perform with them as a soloist on big stages of Moscow. When I came there for the first time, the director of the band, Anatoly Kroll, heard me singing before, but never tromboning. Anyway, he’s allowed me to join in to the band and play parts during the rehearsals. It’s a great experience that I have once a week! So this 2000 km moving from Snezhinsk to Moscow is definitely worth it!”
One of Anastasia’s earliest and most enthusiastic advocates has been Bob Kemper, a musician in Oklahoma City. “We met on Facebook,” she says, “and he was one from many people that said nice words about my scatting under that video that I sent to Joan. I liked his comment and texted back. Then we started communicating more and more, I know it might sound strange, a 13- year-old-girl and a man in his 70s…We have so much in common and I had never talked to a foreigner before, so it was so very interesting, I improved my English a lot…Then one day he said that he has a brand new trombone mouthpiece that was sent to him by mistake (he ordered a trumpet one) and asked me if he can send it to me by mail. Of course I said yes, at that time I played something very old and uncomfortable. So we started to exchange packages, I also sent him presents on his birthday and Christmas.”
Kemper has since become a combination publicist, patron, and honorary grandfather to Anastasia, paying expenses for her musical education in Moscow, her trip to Barelona, and another excursion to London. “Bob did so many amazing things for me and still keeps doing, for what I’m grateful to the moon and back. If not for him, I wasn’t able to go to the college in Moscow, I wasn’t able to play trombone as I do now, I wasn’t able to go to Barcelona and meet Joan and his students, to go to London and record my first single, ‘In the winelight’ (which is available now on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon) with one of my favorite musicians of all time, Anthony Strong. Bob gave me a wonderful instrument, it’s such a delight to play a professional trombone, the slide is so smooth, the response is so quick, I’m getting so much joy from playing, and every day I’m praying for his health while practicing. I planned to go to Oklahoma City this summer and meet him and his wife Sarah in person for the first time, but sadly this virus thing didn’t allow me to do so.”
As for jazz trombonists, Anastasia’s love of the SAJB naturally drew her attention to Rita Payes, the trombone prodigy and band member between 2014–2018. “To be honest, I was very much inspired by Rita. I think she’s one of the greatest trombonists in the world. I really like her tone and ideas, the way of thinking while soloing. She makes playing trombone to look so easy that I believed! Then I realized it’s hard, but it was too late, I already fell in love with trombone!”
Upon hearing Anastasia’s praises for Joan Chamorro and the SAJB musicians she had been admiring, Bob Kemper decided to contact Chamorro, to make the case for Anastasia to join the band.
“I remember when Bob Kemper sent me a message in 2016,” Chamorro says, “talking about Anastasia Ivanova, a young trombonist and singer who lived in Russia, and was 15 years old at the time. He proposed to me that she be part of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band. The answer was that it would be wonderful, because what I could hear from her I love and, above all, I liked the passion and love she felt for music, and the interest she showed in coming to play with us and be part of our project. The problem was age, and that no one could take care of her here in Barcelona so that Anastasia could study in my project.”
But Chamorro kept track of Anastasia’s progress as a jazz musician who, like his own students, seemed to live and breathe jazz, absorbing it into her very psyche. Likewise, she continued to view and study the videos of the band’s performances, learning many solos by heart, such as this version of “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” sung by Andrea Motis, with a sax solo by the great Scott Hamilton, which Anastasia recently demonstrated her note-for-note accompaniment on trombone.
Chamorro recalls, “The years passed and I continued to see how Anastasia evolved, and how her passion for jazz continued to grow and grow, and with wonderful results. I would have liked to have her for the Sant Andreu Jazz Band. And finally, 18-year-old Anastasia was able to travel alone and without the need for anyone to take responsibility for her. She came to Barcelona for a few days, coinciding with the Jazzing Festival, which I organize.”
She recorded on video and narrated her long-anticipated visit to Barcelona, demonstrating her palpable excitement for sitting in with the band she had so greatly admired. You’ll notice in this and other videos that Anastasia speaks perfect English, something of which she is justifiably proud. “I had great teachers here in Snezhinsk, and the opportunity to attend special courses, plus I worked very hard. As far as I remember, I’ve always wanted to be able to speak English. It’s a beautiful language, moreover that’s a serious part of my career as a jazz singer. As for me, singing jazz songs is a storytelling process. And how can I tell a story to people if I don’t understand of what am I singing about? I love languages! I took a little online course of Spanish, and it helped me a lot during my stay in Barcelona.”
Upon meeting Chamorro, she couldn’t help but burst into tears, having finally fulfilled the dream of meeting one of her musical heroes. But there was much to do in the short time she had to observe and play with the band.
Chamorro recalls, “I really enjoyed it, and we were lucky enough to have her for some songs. She was very active during the 4 days of the festival. She came to rehearsals, played in jam sessions, and finally was also able to record some songs with us. The experience was very, very beautiful. We would have liked to have her more days with us and be able to play in more concerts. I would love for her to come and be a part of our story, not just for a few days, but for a year or two. But the distance is very big, and she also has her school and her friends in her city. I wish her, with all my heart, to continue with that joy that characterizes her, progressing daily and sharing her music with everyone. Much success for Anastasia !!!”
“For now,” she says, “I’m studying the 4th grade of classical music at the Gnesin’s college in Moscow. It’s like the “high school” for those who are fed up with learning chemistry and physics and want to study a musical instrument professionally — so I’ve finished only 9 grades of normal school. This option suites me perfectly. Also it’s the only place with the dormitory for students and a good trombone teacher.”
While former SAJB violinist Elia Bastida (who now plays with fellow SAJB alumni Alba Armengou and Carla Motis with Chamorro as The New Quartet) switched from classical music to jazz upon joining the band, Anastasia continues her own classical training, which helps improve her jazz work. “I really enjoy playing both genres. I’m happy with this college choice because I continue working on my trombone techniques and the quality of sounding every day, do breathing exercises, buzzing and play long tones patiently (I think it’s very important!) as I’ve noticed, not all jazz students I know do this stuff — as a result, their sound is not as good as it could be.”
Even without meeting Anastasia in person, it’s obvious that her own love of life and music can’t help but to make others smile, and maybe even sing and dance along with her. What accounts for her perpetual optimism? “Many people keep asking me, ‘Anastasia, why are you always so happy?’. First off, every day I’m creating the mood that I want to be in, and as a result I’m exactly as happy as I decide to be! And secondly, I love this music with all my heart and soul, so I can’t wait to wake up every morning to go to the music school, and practice!”
Like her counterparts in the SAJB, Anastasia has already crammed a great deal of experience, musical knowledge, and the joys of learning jazz into her life while still a teen. Along with trombone, she plays trumpet, saxophone, keyboards, and more. “So you see,” she says, “I was a jazzy person from a pretty young age. If I grew up in Barcelona with Chamorro’s big band, I could be a jazz star already!”
In that sense, it might be tempting to think of her as having been born in the “wrong” country, but exceptional talent like hers is destined to receive both notice and praise — via the Internet and by other means — that will undoubtedly continue to come her way, as it has for the past several years. A full-time membership in the SAJB may not be in the cards, but the hope is that Anastasia will be able to visit again, and play with them before long. She’s looking at it philosophically. “Well,” she says, “maybe it’s good, as I’m discovering my own journey.”
And the rest of us would do well to follow along.