No figure in the history of Soviet jazz can claim more firsts than Tsfasman. He was the first soloist in Soviet jazz and the first Russian to make a profession in the new music. His well-known AMA Jazz band... was the first in the USSR to record, the first to perform live on radio, the first to appear in a sound film, and—significantly—the first to engage in informal jam sessions... Beyond this, he was the first... to earn sincere praise from a Western European or American jazzman... Throughout his life Tsfasman called on Soviet jazz musicians to strive to attain the level of the best foreign bands....
There was a pathos in this man's infatuation with America. He was never permitted to travel to the United States and, in fact, spoke English poorly. Yet in the depths of the Cultural Revolution in 1930 he defiantly engaged an American Negro tap dancer... and in 1936 he even found an American wife, a xylophonist named Gertrude Grandel. The marriage soon fell victim to the purges, and Gertrude was asked to leave the country. Undaunted, Tsfasman continued as before to pack his band's repertoire with American hit tunes like "Some of These Days" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."...
A saxophonist with the group judged Tsfasman "unquestionably one of the best dressed men in the Soviet Union. Short and of trim build, Tsfasman had a vast wardrobe of custom-tailored suits in bright colors, especially blues, greens, and maroons. In the summertime he favored whites and light tans, all quite extraordinary in Stalin's Russia...
Tsfasman's meticulous concern for style, musical as well as personal, also shielded him from the persistent charge that jazz was vulgar. In the very years when Soviet citizens were being told that the worst sin was to be "uncultured" (nekulturnyi) and when claims concerning the proletarian and earthy nature of jazz still lingered, Tsfasman archly turned his back on the entire debate and continued to play as he liked.
—Starr, Red & Hot, pp. 134ff.
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