ilona kud 2Ilona Kudiņa (born January 6, 1971) – Flutist, dual citizen of Latvia and the USA, she is a graduate of Daugavpils College of Music, Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music, and Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. In the jazz world, she has collaborated with Raimonds Raubiško, Nic Gotham, Billy Hart, Jeremy Steig, Greg Hopkins, Bill Pierce, Lynn Seaton, Joe Lovano, George Garzone, Leo Genovese, Jason Palmer, Miguel Fernández, and many more creative musicians. She has recorded and produced three CDs: “On the Bridge”, chamber music for flute by world Latvian composers; “Amber Flute Quartet”, music for four flutes by Baltic composers; and “Nothing But Illusion”, a jazz music album.

(Interview with Ģirts Pavēnis, July 9, 2015, Riga, Latvia)

Why did you choose music?
My father was a musician. Already in my childhood, he was teaching me to play piano and sing some songs. That’s how it started. Nobody forced me to do it, as everybody thought I’d be a doctor or a lawyer. At school, I was a straight-A student. My mother was a math teacher who taught in the same school for 40 years. She is the total opposite of me. I remember very well the morning when I made that choice. It was either a specialized secondary music school or a “normal” school where you study physics and math. That morning, after graduating from 8th grade, I went with my flute to the specialized music school. Before that, I had been performing with the group “Daugaviņa”, I had been busy playing, dancing. But the real choice happened that morning, when I understood that I was not going to be a doctor or a lawyer. Although I do love talking and hanging out with people from those professions! After graduating from the specialized music school, I was accepted at the Moscow Conservatory, but my mother didn’t let me go there, so I went to the Latvian Academy of Music. And after that, I got into Berklee College of Music in Boston and graduated with a Diploma. And then I stayed in Boston. The idea of studying and staying abroad – I had it a long time ago.
Do you feel a difference between jazz musicians from Holland, the USA, and Latvia?
Of course, C major is C major everywhere, but, from my current band, with which I’ll perform at the Saulkrasti Jazz Festival, Kaspars Kurdeko, Toms Rudzinskis, and Viktors Ritovs all lived and studied in Holland. Not long ago, I was in Israel and in Tel Aviv I ran into a classmate from Daugavpils who had also studied in Holland! I am fascinated by the intelligence of these thoughtful people. Apparently, the speed of your ideas and your mindset are influenced by the surroundings you live in. Everything leaves its footprint.
Are you one of those people who see notes and chords in color?
No, I probably don’t have any photographic or colorful vision of music, but I do have very strong instincts – that’s for sure. For example, when I’m traveling and in the evening I am back in my
hotel room reading about some place I visited, I realize that I had found intuitively what I was looking for. Also when I compose, I don’t think much about it, but when we later look at the composition from a theoretical point of view, it’s all logical, and I picked the right key as well – Eb minor is the darkest key, for example.
Which is the lightest minor key in your opinion?
I think, D minor. As I said, instead of colors I have instincts. In business too, it got me out of trouble many times.
You’ve played in jam sessions around the world. Which jazz standards do people play not just locally, but also everywhere?
Of course, “All The Things You Are” and “Stella By Starlights”, and, of course, also blues. Nowadays people often come with their own tunes.
I listened to your CD “Nothing But Illusion”, which is dedicated to your late father Antons Kudiņs. It’s original music, with arrangements of Latvian folk songs, and with the participation of extraordinary American musicians. Can you tell us more about it?
I was at the Saulkrasti Jazz Festival in 2008 or 2009, and at that time drummer Billy Hart was there. I didn’t really talk much with Billy in Saulkrasti, but when I later met him in Boston at the
Regattabar Jazz Club, he remembered me. And then I asked him: “Hey, maybe we could record an album together?” And he responded: “OK, let’s do that!”. So, I had a drummer, now I had to
find the rest of the band! At the beginning, I had a different pianist in mind, from Venezuela. He was great, but not exactly what I needed, and that’s why instead of him I got Vardan Ovsepian,
who also studied at Berklee College of Music. With trumpeter Greg Hopkins I had collaborated for many years – I played with him in the Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra and later in the Greg Hopkins Big Band. Greg Hopkins conducts the Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra and composes. With Akili Jamal Haynes I had also played together many times. I gave them my tunes, my colleagues gave me their tunes, we got together, we had a few rehearsals. Then we got in a studio and recorded an album in 6 hours!


So, before recording, you had rehearsals to prepare all the music material?
Billy Hart came only for the recording session. For the rehearsal, we had a different drummer.

For the drummer, it’s easier.

I wouldn’t say so, it’s what we were talking about before. I had the right instincts to find the right people, whose professionalism and vibe correctly dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s. I had an amazing sound engineer (Don Hunerberg), and when we finished mixing I gave Billy Hart our recording to listen to. And he said: “Hey, that’s great! Since we have a CD now, let’s have a release party!” I said: “Really? I guess we should!” I called up Scullers Jazz Club in Boston. Freddie Taylor runs that club. He’s the same manager who hired Miles Davis in 1981 after his five-year break from the music scene. And so that same manager was sitting at the bar at my CD release party. That show was sold out, all the musicians showed up, I had interviews before the show, but in Latvia nobody knew about it. My musicians were so well-known that in the interviews before the release party I was asked: “Are you sure the musicians will show up?”. And I said: “Of course!”, but you never know… (laughing). And so, everybody showed up. We had a great concert, like in a dream.
Tell us about your band, with which you are going to perform at the Saulkrasti Jazz Festival!
Well, I think if you dropped me off on an uninhabited island, I probably could still put together a band! I think I now have the best group in the world! Musicians are fantastic. I simply asked:
“Would you like to play?”, and they agreed! In reality, I used my instincts, and based on my intuition, I thought that, by getting these personalities together, I could create great energy. I noticed drummer Kaspars Kurdeko already at the 2009 Saulkrasti Jazz Festival – I remember that jam session, when I was sitting in a corner with my glass of wine, watching him and thinking: “Yes, I would like to play with him some day!” That “some day” finally came in December 2014, when we played together in a Christmas concert at the Latvian Academy of Music. I didn’t know Reinis Ozoliņs before, but Kaspars recommended him to me. Reinis is a wonderful, young musician, with a positive outlook on life, deep thoughts, and the right attitude. Viktors Ritovs I have known for many years. We studied in conservatory together, and we studied in Holland together. We were the first ones who went to study in Holland and we had a successful experience there. When I went to the jam sessions at the Theater Bar, I already knew about Toms Rudzinskis as I’d read about him, and when I heard him play I thought: “This saxophone-player would be great in my band!” I read his interviews, watched him as a musician – I think he’s an intelligent, sensitive, and wonderful person.
Is your repertoire the same as in your album?
Yes, as I haven’t played this repertoire in Latvia yet. By playing it with Latvian musicians, the sound is going to be different. But I also just recently, in my half-empty Solitude apartment, wrote a new tune called “Mind Projections”, where each musician is heard in each theme. So, each musician can express his own mind projections” in it!
What do you look for in music?
Music is one of the ways of expression. Why do I play? I think it’s the smartest thing I can do, really. I’ve also read a lot of books, played classical music, organized concerts, taught kids music, done flower design, sometimes I’ve done nothing at all! But, at the moment, improvisational jazz music is for me, as Miles Davis used to say, “The greatest feeling I ever had in my life – with my clothes on…” – in other words, what makes you happy, gives you purpose. It
makes me happy to play my music and see how my instincts got the right people together. It makes me happy to see happiness in the musicians’ faces, and when they walk off the stage in a sweat, and when we have this energizing uplift. Yes, when I see this 100% dedication in their playing, that’s a serious reason why I continue to play music.
What can you say about the Saulkrasti Jazz Festival?
In Latvian jazz history, this festival is one of the “kids” who grew up together with Latvian jazz musicians. It is a hugely important place for young musicians, as well as for experienced musicians. I also like that it is a meeting near nature, by the beach. I was listening to interviews with young Latvian musicians who studied in Holland, and they all pointed out that they missed Latvian nature. I think Saulkrasti Jazz Festival is that place, where there is not just music, but also a meeting with nature. My wish for the festival is that it continues to do what it does for another 300 years! And as we said before, it’s the place where I met Kaspars, and now we’ll be on stage together.
Then I wish you that on July 20th some other musician sits at a table with a glass of wine
and thinks “I’d love to play with this flute-player some day!”
Life is simple – you go, work, play, meet, enjoy nature, and believe in something that could happen to you. And if it doesn’t happen today, it will happen tomorrow, or the day after!

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