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Ace of the Bass jazzes F-M

As a child, Alexander Pershounin had music-inspired dreams. And quite literally so. His father, himself a musical prodigy, used to play recordings of the great masters such as Mozart, Hayden and Beethoven on a turntable "right before I went to sl...


As a child, Alexander Pershounin had music-inspired dreams.

And quite literally so.

His father, himself a musical prodigy, used to play recordings of the great masters such as Mozart, Hayden and Beethoven on a turntable "right before I went to sleep," Pershounin recalls.

"I didn't know at the time that that was heavy music," Pershounin says.

It's a long way from those early days in his homeland of Russia to Fargo-Moorhead, where the bass guitarist and double bassist just finished his first year teaching in the Minnesota State University Moorhead music department.


Pershounin's already made a mark on MSUM. He established a bass ensemble, featuring four student bassists. And MSUM's 18-person jazz big band, which he heads, took second place in the jazz band category at the Eau Claire Jazz Festival - its best showing ever.

Further, at the beginning of the school year, eight students were signed up to study with him. He finished with 22 students.

In fact, Kirk Moss, MSUM director of orchestral activities and string education, says they're already discussing bringing in an adjunct bass instructor because Pershounin has so many students.

And he's also dug pretty deeply into the area's music scene. Pershounin quickly began playing with the Simon Rowe Trio, a local jazz group, and took his place in the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra. He's been commissioned to write a piece for solo bass and chamber group by the FMSO.There's been much more, but suffice to say he's been busy. Yet, he's always been surrounded by music. Pershounin's parents have been music educators for decades. In his words, music "was always around." And he was a sponge.

Pershounin began playing piano at age 3 and by around age 10, he was playing adult-level works. By age 12 or 13, he was proficient on the guitar. At age 15, he would begin attending "basically the music school" in his country, Gnessins' State Music College, then Gnessins' Russian Academy of Music.

Until the age of about 12, he was focused on classical music. But over the next few years he explored other styles such as funk and jazz without distancing himself from his classical roots.He had already started playing the bass guitar and double bass before entering Gnessins. But it was during his time there that he came into his own on both.

To some it might seem strange that a musician who is proficient on the piano, with its capacity for complex harmonies, would choose to focus on the bass. But, for Pershounin, harmony and chords are an important part of bass playing, as well.

And, with a string instrument one has the "ability to feel, touch, influence the very sound source of the instrument," Pershounin says. That allows for a great deal of control over pitch and tone and allows for certain techniques one can't do on a piano.


Plus, the bass guitar was still relatively new when he picked it up so there were many unexplored possibilities for it.

After Gnessins', he toured some of the top European venues with the MKC Big Band. But in 1998, he decided to come to the U.S. He was drawn, in part, by the fact that the U.S. is the "birthplace of jazz" and by its vibrant jazz scene. He'd already toured Europe, home of much of the great classical music he loved.

Pershounin landed a type of visa reserved for individuals with exceptional abilities. He went on to earn his master's and doctoral degrees while teaching as a graduate assistant at the University of Southern Mississippi.

In August, after a stint in Massachusetts, he came to teach at MSUM. MSUM afforded him the opportunity to teach both jazz and classical "without any compromise" so that both were an integral part of the instruction.

"What I expected from the job really came true," he says.

Pershounin has performed with A-list musicians such as Ray Charles, Bob Berg, Yo Yo Ma and Doc Severinsen, and in numerous orchestras. He's played on motion picture scores and worked as a studio musician.

"He's very, very good," says Larry Panella, director of Jazz Studies at USM, particularly because he plays both jazz and classical music well.

Pershounin's musical prowess may, to some degree, be an outgrowth of his personality. His wife, Natalia, says that if he is going to do something, he will do it well.


"If he starts doing something, he will put ... everything into it," she says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734

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