Vicktor Ritov

Vicktor Ritov

A prominent representative of the "new wave" of Latvian jazz
Country: Latvia

  1. Viktor Ritov: A Bright Representative of Latvian Jazz
  2. Fate Determined by His Grandmother
  3. Entering the Jazz World
  4. A Journey in Jazz
  5. A Continuing Journey in Jazz
  6. International Projects and Teaching
  7. Viktor Ritov's journey in jazz continues...

Viktor Ritov: A Bright Representative of Latvian Jazz

The packed hall enthusiastically welcomes the young, slender musician as he walks towards the piano. "Viktor Ritov - Latvia!" The musicians brilliantly improvise, delighting the audience. This was the end of the wonderful summer festival "Riga Rhythms" a few years ago. I can confidently say that the musician I am introducing is the brightest representative of the "new wave" of Latvian jazz. When Viktor mentioned his year of birth - 1972, I froze for a moment. It turns out that the first performances of Latvian jazz musicians in the café "Allegro" in '71, which I had the honor of organizing, happened before my interviewee was even born. This fact amused me, but it also fueled my interest in a musician who was born and raised at a time when the "forbidden fruit" had already ceased to be sweet. This, of course, played its role. I heard the story of a professional who spoke about jazz very calmly, as they would speak about any other music genre.

Fate Determined by His Grandmother

Viktor's fate was determined by his grandmother. As a music teacher in a kindergarten, she sat her grandson at the piano at the age of four. And from then on, everything went as it does for hardworking, diligent, and undoubtedly talented children: a music school, a college, a conservatory. With perfect pitch, he studied very well. Competitions noted his excellent tone. However, not everything came easily. At some point in college, Viktor wanted to quit, but he felt sorry for the years he had dedicated to music. Viktor Ritov: "I liked classical music, but I couldn't single out any particular composers. Beethoven, Bach, Mozart all appealed to me in their own way. I occasionally heard jazz on the radio, but I didn't feel any excitement about it. However, many in college were interested in jazz music. It amazed the imagination, with its unconventional sound, rhythmic complexity, and most importantly - improvisation. It provided a real space for creativity. Soon, jazz started to interest me, and we started trying to play it. In college, no one prohibited us or threatened to expel us, but they said, 'Jazz playing harms your hands and mind.' Today, I understand that the teachers were protecting us, knowing the heavy workload of our studies."

Entering the Jazz World

Ritov entered the jazz world in his own way - calmly and thoughtfully. Soon, he reached an age when many things change for a young person: views, tastes, interests. Viktor Ritov: "Once, I bought Oscar Peterson's compositions at a music store. I wanted to play different music. When I was selecting the 'Hymn to Freedom,' my teacher unexpectedly spoke very highly of Peterson, saying, 'Not everyone is capable of performing jazz.' That phrase stuck with me. Am I capable of it?" Later, during his studies, Ritov and his classmates formed various jazz groups. Even before entering the Music Academy, he spent a lot of time practicing with saxophonist Raivo Stashans. They helped each other, found jazz-themed sheet music, and studied it thoroughly. Viktor constantly listened to jazz on vinyl records and cassettes. He recorded jazz stars from Ivar Mazurs' radio shows on his tape recorder. Viktor Ritov: "I remember the immense energy I received from the vinyl record 'Concert by the Sea' with the great Erroll Garner. I once attended a concert at the Riga Jazz Club, and the trio 'Discomfort' by Erik Balodis left an unforgettable impression on me. Jazz started to interest me more and more. Besides Stashans, I played a lot with saxophonist Denis Pashkevich and drummer Janis Pitans. I also played in Janis Abols' youth big band. I worked hard and seriously because I had a goal, and I wanted to achieve it. I was lucky to meet wonderful musicians on my journey. In '93, I met Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, a longtime partner of Oscar Peterson, who was performing in Riga. We played together during a jam session at the Union of Composers. But the meeting with guitarist John Scofield was particularly memorable. On the evening when the jam session began, I was the first one invited to play with the guest alongside our renowned Latvian jazzmen - bassist Ivars Galenieks and drummer Maris Briezhkalns. I was incredibly nervous, but everything went well. I could tell from Ivars' glance.

A Journey in Jazz

Soon, significant events took place in Ritov's life that ultimately determined his path in jazz. In '95, he participated in the international jazz pianists' competition in Vilnius. He performed the program successfully, and Ritov's debut was marked with the "Audience Sympathy" prize. He then went to the Netherlands for three months as part of the international student exchange program and intensively studied jazz under the guidance of experienced teachers from the Netherlands, the United States, and Germany. The classes were difficult and serious, but the atmosphere was calm and friendly. The masterclass was led by the renowned African-American jazzman Teddy Edwards. The education proved invaluable to Ritov. He truly saw jazz as an unlimited opportunity for self-expression. Viktor Ritov: "A year later, I participated in the Vilnius competition again and won first place. Everyone was amazed at how much I had grown in skill in just one year. That year, my workload was simply incredible. I was preparing for my final exams at the Music Academy. Soon, I went to the Netherlands again to solidify the knowledge I had gained there. In the final exam, playing in a quartet with Dutch musicians while Teddy Edwards played the tenor saxophone, I received high marks from teachers and specialists."

A Continuing Journey in Jazz

Upon returning home, Ritov played in Volo Uldis Sebris' big band for three years. His concerts in jazz clubs were never missed by his fans. His path also crossed with the legendary Raymond Raubitsko, who gave the young musician valuable advice. One of his idols is Keith Jarrett. Ritov tries to learn from Jarrett's phrasing and touch. He listens to a lot of Herbie Hancock and wholeheartedly agrees with his postulate: it is more important to play not strictly according to the notes but to play what is unwritten, that is, between the notes. In Ritov's playing, lyrical moods clearly prevail, and the influence of Bill Evans is felt.

International Projects and Teaching

Ritov has memorable experiences performing in the All Stars Band at the "Riga Rhythms" festival. He also plays in the International Big Band in Denmark, composed of European musicians representing 20 countries - one jazzman from each country. Last spring, he participated in the jazz pianists' festival in Prague, and for the third year in a row, he performed at the renowned Pori Jazz Festival in Finland as part of Maris Briezhkalns' quartet.

In addition to his performances in clubs, concerts, and festivals, Ritov has been teaching for nearly ten years. Today, he is an associate professor at the Higher School of Pedagogy and Education Management, where a four-year program for jazz specialists is conducted. He teaches courses on "piano," "improvisation," "ensemble," and "computer and music." In the Music Academy, Ritov leads the "jazz class." In recent years, jazz education in Latvia has significantly improved. Basic knowledge of jazz can now be obtained at the Riga Dome Choir School even after graduating from a music school. Masterclasses conducted by renowned jazzmen at the "Riga Rhythms" festival and especially at the wonderful Saulkrasti Jazz Festival have great importance for young people. The competitions for young jazz performers in the Baltic countries, the Sony Jazz Stage, have also become significant events since last year.

Viktor Ritov: "You know, the results of our education are encouraging; we have talented young people. Pianists, guitarists, drummers... After receiving a foundation in our education, the most talented ones go abroad to continue their education in America and other countries. But our educational results could be even higher. However, not all students understand how much effort, strength, and perseverance are required for this, especially in self-study. Sometimes, young people can't even answer simple questions. For example, how swing style differs from Latin. Or they can't name the main characteristics of Russian jazz, which is much deeper and more powerful in delivering musical material than, for example, French jazz. Unfortunately, they can't give any clear and specific answers. They also have technical issues in playing. So, they still have a lot to work on."

In late April, educational institutions showcased the results of jazz education in their annual concert performances. The audience, mostly young people, showed an unprecedented interest in their peers' performances. And the young musicians tried to demonstrate everything they were capable of. They played wonderfully in ensembles and improvised passionately. The performances of Gundars Lintinsh (drums), Zintis Zhvarts (saxophone), Peteris Liepins (bass guitar), Nora Bite (guitar), and Victoria Mogilevskaya (piano) were particularly memorable. As for Ritov himself, after returning from Sweden, where he conducted a masterclass at the Stockholm Music Academy, he went to Linz, Austria, in early May for a seminar on exchanging experiences in jazz education. Later in the summer, he conducted a masterclass and performed at the unique Saulkrasti festival. There, surrounded by the smell of pines and the sea, spending a week with friends from different countries, he recharged his energy for the whole year.

Viktor Ritov's journey in jazz continues...