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Jazz Remembered


Kenny Ball
Midnight In Moscow


Click here for a video of Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen playing Midnight In Moscow.

We have an interesting conundrum. Perhaps readers can help?

Ian Simms wrote to us. He recalled 'Banjo George' Baron telling him how: 'he went off to Russia "just to have a look at it" (his words) and came back with a pretty little folk tune. Kenny Ball heard it, George said he could have it if he liked, and Kenny turned it into a No. 1 hit with Midnight In Moscow!'

But Gerard Bielderman, compiler and publisher of discographies of jazz musicians and jazz bands, in the Netherlands queried this saying: 'Kenny Ball recorded the tune in September 1961 but there was already a Trad version on the market (Storyville A45042), played by the Dutch New Orleans Syncopators Midnight In MoscowNew Orleans Syncopators and recorded on January 4, 1961. I've always thought that Kenny heard it and saw the hit potential.'

As Ian Simms says: 'I had the origins of Kenny Ball's hit told to me by Banjo George himself and there is no reason to doubt him.'


The New Orleans Syncopators version seems to have been released as a single in 1961 and then as a two-sided record (backed by Shine) in 1962. Click here to hear the Jan Burgers and his New Orleans Syncopators recording of Midnight In Moscow. It is credited as 'Traditional arranged by Jan Burgers' and the arrangement is different to Kenny Ball's although it is the same tune.

On, Cenarth Fox writes 'In 1955 two experienced Russian creators, Vasily Solovyov-Sedoi Vladimir Troshin[composer] and Mikhail Matusovsky [lyrics] wrote a song called "Leningrad Nights," Leningrad being another Russian city. But a powerful force requested a change. The Soviet Ministry of Culture thought something about evenings in Moscow might be more appropriate, and so the lyrics and title were changed ... Vladimir Troshin was the singer/actor who first recorded "Moscow Nights," giving the song its initial burst of fame.'

Vladimir Troshin

'Then some bizarre things occurred. The tune won first prize in an international song competition held in Moscow in 1957. It became a hit in China. From 1964 in the old Soviet Union, the tune has been played on radio every 30 minutes as part of the time signal. It was pretty damn hard not to know this melody.'

Click here for a video of Vladimir Troshin singing Moscow Nights.

If you are interested in the lyrics (not usually heard on the Trad versions), the English version is:


Stillness in the grove Not a rustling sound
Softly shines the moon clear and bright
Dear, if you could know How I treasure so
This most beautiful Moscow Night
Lazily the brook like a silvery stream Ripples in the light of the moon
And a song afar fades as in a dream
In this night that will end too soon

Yes a song afar fades as in a dream
In this night that will end too soon Dearest, why so sad, why the downcast eyes
And your lovely head bent so low
Oh, I mustn’t speak, though I’d love to say
That you’ve stolen my heart away
Promise me my love, as the dawn appears And the darkness turns into light
That you’ll cherish dear, through the passing years
This most beautiful Moscow Night

Say you’ll cherish dear through the passing years
This most beautiful Moscow Night

'In 1961 the British jazz group, Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen, recorded an instrumental version called "Midnight in Moscow." They even played it when on tour in Moscow. It did extremely well on the charts of the Western world. As recently as 2008, the Russian singer Vitas recorded a Van Cliburnsecond version of the song. It again enjoyed great success and again in China; proof positive that songs can cross borders and cultures in both the East and the West. In the 2008 Olympics, the winning rhythmic gymnast used "Midnight in Moscow" as the music for her gold medal performance. Some songs just hang around.' (Click here for the article).

Van Cliburn


Wikipedia picks up on some of these points saying: 'The song spread around the world, achieving particular popularity in mainland China; Van Cliburn's 1958 piano performance of the tune contributed to this international spread. In the Soviet Union, the tune became the time signal sounded every 30 minutes on the Mayak music and news radio station since 1964. The shortwave radio station Radio Moscow's English-language service has played an instrumental version of "Moscow Nights", between informing listeners of frequency changes and the hourly Kenny Ball Midnight In Moscownewscast since the start of its 24-hour English Service in 1978.'

Click here to listen to Van Cliburn's piano version. It is far more sombre and the video is accompanied by some interesting pictures and information.

It is quite possible, of course, that both Jan Burgers and George Baron picked up the tune at the same time as it was becoming so popular, and that it just so happened that Kenny Ball's version received the exposure it did and went on to be the hit record. Later versions of Kenny Ball's recording attributes the song to 'Soloviev-Sedoi, Matusovosky, Ball' giving its origins in line with Cenarth Fox's account, although the original Pye single also credits it as 'Traditional' as Jan Burger's did.

Kenny Ball's version had Johnny Bennet (trombone), Dave Jones (clarinet), Ron Weatherburn (piano), Vic Pitts (bass), Ron Bowden (drums) and Paddy Lightfoot (banjo).

Perhaps someone knows something different?


After reading the article on Kenny Ball's Midnight In Moscow, Jon Critchley from the Original Panama Jazz Band wrote: 'Who did the Kenny Ball band arrangement for that and others, such as The Green Leaves of Summer, SukiYaki, etc?' A few days later, Jon tells us he heard the answer in a Claire Teal BBC jazz broadcast:  Apparently, Kenny did the arrangements, drawn on his experience with the Sid Phillips’ band.  Very clever and simple.  Jon adds: 'We (The Original Panama Jazzband) do some of his stuff, like Midnight, Green Leaves, Samantha, but it’s easy to forget, without listening again, just how good that band was, especially with Dave Jones'.


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