There hardly has ever been a jazz event in Saint Petersburg (Leningrad) at which one couldn't spot the grey-haired bearded figure of photographer Aleksandr Smirnov. A whole army of musicians, journalists and managers have made use of his works, which he generously provided to anyone sharing his passion for jazz. For Smirnov, jazz is not merely a music genre, it's the world of his close friends, whom he could follow to Vitebsk or Kaliningrad, Moscow or Novosibirsk, with absolutely no interest in material rewards.

To capture musicians' expressive postures and the mysterious glimpses of inspiration on their faces is a challenging task. Compared to other music genres, jazz is highly unpredictable, and jazz performers act extremely freely and easily on stage. The most exciting things which happen at a jazz concert are the birth of improvisation, the satisfaction granted by developing a great musical phrase, and the final glory of consummating an artistic form. All this is a matter of interest for art critics and psychologists, poets and artists. Aleksandr Smirnov seems to improvise together with his favourite models; he empathizes with them, rejoices at their success and smiles ironically at the certain moments of awkwardness, so abundant in our everyday life of tours and concerts. Yes, Smirnov is partly a chronicler, a reporter, preferring documentaries to ceremonial portraits. He treats the comic as an important part of improvisational behavoiur, its absence rendering life boring, tasteless and bleak. That is, perhaps, why the photographer limits his preferences in music to the traditional jazz styles: dixieland, swing, bebop—those connected to the optimistic view of life, an outlook in major key.

Aleksandr Smirnov began to shoot jazz musicians in a time when even this music, born on stage, was to a certain extent subject to censorship. Jazz was perceived as a glimpse of freedom (as Jean d'Alembert put it, "Freedom of music presumes freedom of feeling, and the latter presumes freedom of thought and freedom of action"), and the photographer chose the most expressive moments in the musicians' life, making use of opportunities to communicate with them backstage, in long-distance trains, and at hotel parties.

Take a closer look at the familiar and strange faces of the musicians. I am convinced that in a few minutes you will hear inside your head a raspy voice singing some jazz, with a light touch of blues feeling, because the photographs by Aleksandr Smirnov are music, too, and more than that, they are a part of Saint Petersburg and the whole of Russian jazz…

Vladimir Feiertag, jazz critic