Oct 10, 2013
Jazz has increasingly shown itself to be a universal musical art form. Events like International Jazz Day showcase artists from around the globe, with the music as the glue the holds together their combos and presentations. One cannot help but be optimistic about the global future, when the bandstand can accommodate performers from more than three dozen countries from Africa the Middle East to Asia and beyond to literally make beautiful music together.
This credo seems to be following through in Southern California, with a band called Sasha’s Bloc. Formed in 2012 by bassist Alexander Gershman who hails from Moscow, Sasha’s Bloc is an eclectic mix of musicians focused on the revival of the jazz culture of the 1920’s and 30’s, combined with the adaptation of modern jazz original compositions. Melancholy, Sasha’s Bloc’s second CD release, features nine original songs written by Gershman and talented vocalist Carina Cooper, recorded in collaboration with renowned jazz musicians Brandon Fields on saxophone (Earth, Wind & Fire, Quincy Jones), Lenni Castro on percussion (Eric Clapton, Boz Scaggs), Sergey Chipenko on piano (David Sanborn, Mindi Abair), Herman Jackson on piano (Stevie Wonder, George Benson), Mark Cargill on violin, Nahum Zdybel on guitar (Bruce Forman, Larry Koonse), Bob McChesney on trombone, Will Wheaton on vocals (Celine Dion, Michael Jackson), Kevin Winard on drums (Debbie Gibson, Paul Anka), Peggi Blu on vocals (Luther Vandross, Bob Dylan) and Adam “Aejaye” Jackson on vocals (Toni Braxton, David Foster). Many of these musicians accompany Sasha’s Bloc for the live shows, resulting in an ever-changing but always delightful big-band sound that mixes gypsy soul with American swing and R&B.
Aside from Sasha’s Bloc, Alex Gershman is a world-renowned Urologic Surgeon who grew up in Moscow as a passionate lover of jazz. Singing before he could speak, Alex cultivated his love of music throughout his school years, playing in a variety of jazz bands well into his medical school career. Despite his intense work schedule, Alex kept playing music, absorbing different sounds and genres, and in 2012 he formed Sasha’s Bloc. Initially, seven of the musicians in the band hailed from Russia, and they jokingly referred to themselves as a “Soviet Bloc” – a name which quickly changed to Sasha’s Bloc with “Sasha” being Alex’s middle name. Their first CD featured a collection of jazz standards influenced by Gypsy Jazz and Flamenco, and a succession of 50 shows followed the release of the CD. The era of Jazz portrayed in the 1920’s and 30’s is of keen interest to Dr. Gershman and a major influence in the Sasha’s Bloc sound, and Dr. Gershman is also in the beginning stages of creating a stage musical based on the music and lifestyle of this time period.
I spoke with Dr. Gershman about the trials of juggling medicine and jazz, and his great good fortune in attracting so many working musicians to join him in his passion project. Podcast 384 is our conversation, featuring musical selections from the CD including:
Sasha’s Bloc – Title Track, “Universal Swing” and "Playful Blues" from Melancholy. Whether featuring vocalists like Carina Cooper or just bringing the swing, the band has produced a solid CD, which should be of real interest to those who love this kind of “throw back” sound, even as the band tries to push the boundaries of the sound to accommodate 21st century sensibilities.