Leyzer Vaysbeyn AKA Leonid Utyosov (1895 - 1982)
Leonid Osipovich Utyosov was and is the legend and pride of the Russian culture. Regardless of his lack in musical background, he became the most popular singer of his time. In a country where jazz was declared foreign, western influence, he managed to not only establish, but to also preserve for many years to come, the first of the Soviet jazz. Similarly, although not a literary figure, he managed to write amazing poetry and published three books in prose. People who knew Utyosov closely, always remarked on his bright charismatic personality, as they raised him to the title one of the wittiest people of his epoch.
Leonid Utyosov was born in 1895, in Odessa, to a middle-class Jewish family. In 1911, he became an actor in a provincial theater. His real last name was originally Vaisbein (Weissbein). When he was selecting his penname, he wanted it to sound novel, beautiful, and high. He liked the last name "Skalov," literally, "[big] rock’s," but in Odessa, an actor by such name already existed. Sorting through many words, which in their meaning embodied great heights, the young actor finally decided on a name, which now is known by millions: Utyosov – "cliffs." Traveling with his troop from town to town, and actively participating in various theatrical productions, with the help of his natural talent, Utyosov quickly became a real professional; in the beginning of the 1920's he already performed in various venues in Moscow, and then in Leningrad.
In April of 1989, a new ship “Leonid Utyosov” was constructed and entered service. In this reincarnation the great Russian singer can visit his home town - Black Sea port Odessa, and sail around the world visiting Europe and USA -- what Leonid Utysov never could do during his life as a human.
But, during all of those years he dreamt about forming his own jazz band. At the end of 1928 he started making his dream come true. In a few months, Utyosov gathered motivated musicians with whom he put on his first program. And, on March 8, 1929, the stage of the Leningrad Small Opera Theater became home to the first debut of the new jazz band. The success of this performance was more than what many hoped for. This is how Leonid Utyosov himself attempted to explain it: "It is easiest to say, that our success was in the novelty - such numbers like our "thea-jazz" had not yet been performed. There was of course jazz created by a blueprint, a foreign blueprint... We, however, suggested a completely new, genre, untried, theatric style jazz... Our whole program was sprinkled with jokes, sarcasm, humor. In front of the audience not only a band was born, but also a company, a gathering of the happy, not dampened by sadness, people, with whom one could find joy and with whom one was certain to have a good time... I think that the success of our first program was grounded particularly in our optimism, and humor."
In September 2000 on the historical Deribassovskaya Str. in the center of Odessa was opened a monument to Leonid Utyosov - one of the most celebrated sons of the city.
From that point to the end of his life, Utyosov became an irreplaceable leader and a soloist of the self-created band. Although many cursed and criticized Utyosov's jazz, the public fell in love with the jazz immediately. He was the first performer of such a wide array of songs, which left the whole country singing. Likewise, the movie "Jolly Fellows" (1934) in which Utyosov starred in the main role, with his band, was a great success. The music for the movie was written by great Jewish composer and songwriter Isaak Dunaevsky. Possibly it was the most close to Hollywood-style movies of the time and certainly far above Soviet standards.
In 1999, the Russian Postal Administration issued a set of 8 stamps represented beloved Russian singers of the 20th century. Nobody was surprised to see Leonid in this selection!
In the years of the WWII, Utyosov, with his jazz band, performed at the front lines, and their performances brought liveliness back to the thankful listeners. On May 9, 1945, the band participated in the celebration of the victory in the Moscow's downtown.
In 1965, Utyosov received the highest title of the People's Artist of USSR. Leonid Osipovich Utyosov died on March 9, 1982. Luckily, his voice remains on tapes and records, as well as in his books and poems. And of course, the wonderful, remarkable artist will remain forever in thankful memory of the people.