The Freedom and Suppression of Jazz in Russia


Is jazz a good litmus test for Russia’s leadership?




In my column from September 26th, “In Memoriam: The Healing Force of Pharoah Sanders’ Music,” I celebrated the psychological healing of his music in my eulogy of the jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. I do not know if he ever played in Russia, but the history of jazz there goes back and forth between such freedom of expression and suppression.

Tomorrow, October 1st, as written about in the September 27th issue of the Wall Street Journal article “When Russia Said ‘Da’ to Jazz,” is the 100th anniversary of the coming of jazz to Russia.1 It is being celebrated there under the auspices of Russia’s own native saxophonist, Igor Butman. They are reconstructing the original concert, which set off a period of jazz popularity in Russia. This period lasted until World War II, after which Stalin cracked down on all jazz as the Cold War with the United States heated up. Some intermittent thawing occurred, especially via the shortwave radio programs of Voice of America.

In the meanwhile, a courageous jazz underground of more avant grade music, like that of Pharoah Sangers, grew in the 1970s and 80s, culminating in open governmental acceptance after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. Now, under Putin. It will be interesting to see what happens to jazz after this anniversary. Perhaps jazz is a good measuring stick for the degree of authoritarian leadership in a country.

Why is this relevant to psychiatry? Freedom of thought and expression is certainly at risk in the ever-growing cultish groups and conspiracy theories online and offline in the United States and elsewhere. Thankfully, there are formalized methods, such as the BITE (Behavior, Information, Thought, Emotion) Model, to address this problem, as discussed in the May 22, 2022, Psychiatric Times™ interview with Steven Hassan, PhD, titled “Combating Cult Mind Control.”

As its essence, isn’t psychiatry an improvisatory quest for more freedom of mind and relationships, so ably represented in jazz music?

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.


1. Hasse JE. When Russia said ‘da’ to jazz. The Wall Street Journal. September 27, 2022. Accessed Spetember 30, 2022.

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