The truth is that no one can exactly tell latent greatness when they see one, and it was the case with jazz musician Max Polyakov too. People will always exhibit some form of promise before others can give them the benefit of the doubt or any chance of reaching the top. If after the birth of Max Polyakov in a family of five, his parents were told that this was the child that would take their name to the whole world, they wouldn’t have believed it. Andre and Marie Polyakov fell in love in a high school band around the 1950s, and the love grew into something worth settling down for. 20 years after they met as children, they tied the knot in a small church in Bucharest and started building a home. Fast forward 8 years later and they now have 3 beautiful children, 1 girl and two boys, among which Max Polyakov was the youngest. Andre used to be a taxi driver in the neighbourhood before he opened a driving school very close to the famous Romanian Athenaeum. He also lived very close to the square. There in his little 2-bed apartment, he raised a very closely knit family where everyone loved each other.
Of course, Bucharest is the capital city of Romania. But apart from being the administrative, financial, and industrial centre, it also stands as the centre of culture and music. That is why the majority of the music schools, performing art centres, opera centres, and orchestras are located here. In fact, many people say that one of the strongest cultural elements in the city is performing art. The National Radio Orchestra of Romania stands as the most famous symphony. The neoclassical Romanian Athenaeum that was established in 1852 is one of the most famous buildings here, and it hosts a lot of classical music shows. The I.L. Caragiale National Theatre, the State Jewish Theatre, and the Romanian National Opera are also located here. But amidst all these, a small EOS bar and music school affiliated to the George Enescu National University of Arts were to groom an icon. He would stand tall in the jazz life of the country, and he was the little Max Polyakov.
Bucharest is a jazz and blues-rich city. However, there are influences from house music and punk scenes. The jazz history of the city started around the 1960s but reached its crescendo around 2002. This is owing to the exploits of Max Polyakov in Green Hours and Art Jazz, as influenced by American jazz.
The Polyakov family could be termed an ideal one when you talk about love and togetherness. It was populated by a set of people that did everything together. The parents and their 3 children actually believed that there was no better world than the one they’ve built for and around themselves. So, they were always eager to cherish, maintain and sustain it. You would always see them eating together, playing together, walking to events together and fighting to protect each other. They did this especially for the youngest child Max, who was always getting into fights with fellow kids. However, one more significant thing that the Max Polyakov’s family did together was listening to good music in the evenings after a meal. It was through this tradition that Andre discovered that his last child was a music enthusiast. Max Polyakov was always asking questions about different music types during this period. It is he who would always demand maximum silence at this time so that he could hear every aspect of the sound of the instruments used by the players.
Max Polyakov’s brother was more interested in sports and would always pick his football to run out of the house and play whenever it was time for this ritual. The sister, who was in love with buildings and structures, would be at the dining table with the mother drawing every house she saw on her way back from school. That was how the family got a glimpse of where everyone was tilted towards.
However, on that fateful evening, while Max Polyakov was walking back from school, he heard jazz music playing in the house of one of their neighbours. The sound impressed him so much that he ran to the house, fetched his father and got him to listen to it. When the music stopped playing, his father informed him that it was one of the classical jazz tracks of Louis Armstrong. Max Polyakov was fascinated by the sound. But what got him in the music was the crisp clear nature of the sound of trumpet and saxophone, and how they combined effectively. It was there and then that he decided to learn how to play the trumpet and saxophone.
Louis Armstrong, it should be noted, is one of the people that popularized the jazz music. Born and bred in New Orleans in the United States in 1922, the African American musician was one of the best inventive cornet and trumpet players of all time. His influence on jazz is fundamental. It was he who triggered and headed the shifting of the jazz music focus from a collective make up to a completely solo affair. He played the trumpet and trombone well and infused an extremely emotional style into his music. In the jazz music of Louis Armstrong which influenced Max Polyakov so much, he told tales, mostly of preachers and other characters from New Orleans.
Max Polyakov discovered that the core of jazz music lied in the trumpet and saxophone. So learning saxophone and trumpet was the only way to become happy and to fulfill his desire of playing at the EOS bar. He had previously gone on a music excursion to the local EOS bar with his classmates and fell in love with the jazz live performance by teenage singers. So, he vowed to become perfect at playing instruments soon.
A trumpet is a brass instrument which gives out sound when people vibrate their lips on it. The sound comes out when people blow into the embouchure (mouthpiece). This gives a buzzing sound that causes a vibration in the trumpet’s air column. It comes with 3 valves with which the pitches can be changed. The saxophone, on the other hand, is a woodwind with a reed that produces sound when vibrated. It comes with a conical tube that forms a bell through the tip that is flared. It comes with 20 tone holes along the tube, and they are all of different sizes. Both of these instruments are mostly used in classical music, military and marching bands, and jazz music.
Having made the decision to learn these instruments, Max Polyakov, who was now 12 years old, persuaded his father to buy into his ambition. Owing to the fact that Andre was a music enthusiast and because he knew Max would never give up until he agreed, he decided to enroll him into a small music school in Bucharest. So, he made inquiries and later registered Max Polyakov at the Jansen Music School, which was affiliated to the famous George Enescu National University of Arts. The University is a public institution founded in 1860 and named in honour of the famous Romanian composer George Enescu.
Immediately after Max Polyakov enrolled in the Jansen Music School, he started attending weekend jazz performances at the EOS bar, with a very strong desire to climb that stage one day and give the crowd something magical. However, his reception at the music school was not completely pleasant. On his first day, he encountered a bully that sent waves across his spine. While walking to his chair to sit down, he accidentally dropped Jack’s music books. Jack was one of the students in the class. He was a very huge and fierce-looking 20-year-old, who enjoyed bullying newcomers as much as he could. He gave Max the look of his life and pointed to the book on the floor without uttering any sound. Max Polyakov came back and picked the books, cleaned them and handed them to him. But he kept giving him the look of “I will deal with you for dropping my books” till the end of lectures. This frightened Max to the bone marrow and made him uncomfortable all through lectures.
However, a young girl sitting between Jack and Max noticed the events, and because she was already tired of Jack’s bullying attitudes, she went straight to the coordinator of the classes and reported the event to him. But the fact that the coordinator had to come in front of the whole class and warn Jack about Max aggravated the feeling of fear in Max. He felt he would get even more punishment from the beastly looking Jack since it would now seem as if he reported him to the teacher. However, none of that happened, and he started enjoying the class after that experience.
At the end of the session, the results of the students’ work at the music school started trickling in, and that was when Max Polyakov came alive. Of all 15 male students in the class, he had the best results. He was only bested by Jane, the girl that saved him from Jack, and who he was already friendly with. Jane was a scion from a musical stock. Her mother was a teacher in one of the orchestras in town and Jane was learning to become a music teacher too. She was only comfortable with having a small choir of angelic singers in her local church and teaching and grooming others in music. Because of the results, the respect that Max commanded in the class doubled. Also, the fact that he had Jane by his side made things easier for him.
There was a tradition in the music school to send two of the best students for internship programs in any nearby music arena to learn live performances. The now 14-year-old Max Polyakov chose to learn from the live jazz performers at the EOS bar while Jane chose the state choral group. While Max was attending the weekend performances at the EOS bar as an intern, he was honing the skills to wow the crowd whenever it would be his turn to climb that podium
When the internship came to an end and he was certified, it was time for him to give his first live jazz performance. On that fateful day, the stage was set in a special way. It was a Friday evening and his classmates, family members, and girlfriend Jane were all in high spirits as their star-boy was about to show his colours. Of course, nobody expected to get anything less than a scintillating performance from the star-boy at the EOS bar, and he never disappointed. The show started at 7 pm that Friday evening and ran till 11 pm and little Max Polyakov entertained the crowd with jazz music all through. His music had huge inspiration from Louis Armstrong, with some local flavour to drive it home. Before it was 9 pm, the show had gotten to its crescendo. At this time, it was ripe for Max Polyakov to make his tributes. He started by performing a song for his family where all of them came to the podium and danced with him. After this, he did one with his schoolmates. But the surprising one was the song dedicated to Jane. It was an amazing form of jazz blues that melted her heart, and this cemented their love for each other even at 15.
After this amazing introductory performance at the EOS bar, Max Polyakov got a contract to perform at the bar every Friday evening. It involved a huge amount of money that lifted his family from an average home to a wealthy one. He obeyed the terms of the contract for 3 years. When he was 18, he formed his own band and built his own jazz performance arena in his neighbourhood. It was a very imposing edifice where people came to ease off and enjoy their weekends. The performances now happen on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and when Max Polyakov is not around, other members of his band will stand for him.
His exploits in jazz music in Bucharest got to their height when he was invited to perform at the George Enescu Festival. This is the biggest classical music festival and classical international competition in the country, and he was only 19 then. After the breathtaking live jazz performance there, he told himself that he was now fulfilled. That little boy from the EOS bar is now taking on the world at the biggest stage.
Two years after he broke away from EOS bar, and having turned 20, he proposed to Jane, who is now lecturing in the music department of a nearby polytechnic. They got married in the local church and started building an amazing family. Whenever interviewers cared to ask jazz musician Max Polyakov about his biggest accomplishment in life, they always expected him to tell them something that had to do with music and his career. But he never fails to tell them that meeting and marrying Jane is the answer.