A Conversation with Oleg Frish

A Conversation with Oleg Frish

From Russia with Love… for the American Songbook

April 5, 2018

By Melody Breyer-Grell for Cabaret Scenes

I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Russian-born singer-entertainer Oleg Frish who is in the middle of conducting a nationwide tour with his show, Swing Around The World, celebrating 25 years in the USA. But, before we get to our conversation, it must be noted, like many talented performers, his life includes more that of making music.

Born in the Soviet Union to musical parents, Oleg has been involved in many forms of media. When he moved to New York City in 1992, he started hosting a television series, Walking the Streets of Moscow, produced when he flew back there and filmed Soviet/Russian legends of music, film, and theater.

He also hosted The Music Hour with Oleg on the endearing radio station WPAT 930AM (1998-2003). The first music group Oleg interviewed was The Manhattan Rhythm Kings, and the legendary Connie Francis was the first singer. He also hosted The Standard Time with Oleg Frish on WNYM-970.

Oleg had traveled all over the U.S. to film bio segments with the great musicians of different genres in their studios, homes, and on tour buses for his celebrity news television program Time Out (2005-11) which ran for 121 episodes.

His most recent program (2011-2017) was another TV show, The Friday Night with Oleg Frish on RTVi. Musicians came to the studio and, very often, the format included interviews as well live performances.

Melody Breyer-Grell: How did you find jazz/American pop and standards in the USSR? What was the political climate like at that time (were we deep in the “cold war?”).

Oleg Frish: As a young man living in the former USSR, it was difficult to understand the political climate, because I wasn’t fully aware of cultures outside my country. Radio and TV did not broadcast American music, and the only way we were able to discover jazz, American pop and standards was to buy LPs. There were exceptions, and some people were able to tune into the Voice of America programs of Willis Conover. Basically, LPs were the main source of American music, and I immediately fell in love with American jazz standards after I heard “Hello, Dolly!” as Brenda Lee sang it. I was young and, instead of buying school breakfast with the money that my mom gave me, I instead invested in records of the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Yma Sumak, and Connie Francis. At the time, they were very popular in the USSR.

Melody: Was it hard to find these recordings? Since you learned a prodigious number of lyrics at a young age, I am assuming there was a steady source. Was it the library, school, or your parents?

Oleg: It was not hard to obtain this genre of music in the USSR. Yes, I had access to some of my friends’ private collections—their parents traveled in Europe and brought many records home.

I also read a lot of lyrics in print books and, when I became a university student and took English as my major, we were given many audio recordings, including the Beatles, Tony Bennett, Matt Monro, Cliff Richard, and Petula Clark tracks so we could focus on the proper American English phonetics and pronunciation.

Melody: Tell me about your parents.

Oleg: My mom Svetlana is a pianist and teacher. She took me often to live concerts. I discovered a totally new world of live music in many concert halls, and I also fell in love with the circus! My dad was a conductor of a children’s choir and neither he nor my mom wanted me to become a professional singer or entertainer. Their vision for me was to become a journalist, a TV host, or a college instructor. Fate had it that I would sing and entertain. Nowadays, my mom is very happy with the outcome.

Melody: When did you know you had a propensity for languages? 

Oleg: In the end of the 1960s in the USSR there were many popular TV language educational programs. My mom encouraged me to learn from these programs and I fell in love with English because of the lyrics in American music. I wanted to understand the meanings of the lyrics to “Fly Me to the Moon” and “The Shadow of Your Smile.

” I used to take large and heavy English dictionaries wherever we went, including on flights. These books took up all of my luggage space. After listening to the amazing Caterina Valente, one of my earliest influences, I decided that I wanted to learn other languages from other countries as well.  

Melody: Did you study voice formally?

Oleg: As a child, I took vocal classes with my dad. When I arrived in the U.S. 25 years ago, I met the Grammy-nominated singer Roseanna Vitro, who has become a very good friend.
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She was my vocal coach for years. And now, as I am singing in many languages, including former USSR languages, and in different styles, I continue to practice voice with an Armenian-American singer, an outstanding vocal instructor and good friend, Tatevik Hovanesian.

Tatevik also began her music career as a child and was called “The First Lady of Soviet Jazz.
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” Nowadays, I truly enjoy learning and working with professional coaches, directors, and arrangers.

Melody: Whose voice and style impressed you the most?

Oleg: As I delved into the classic American Songbook and listened to the greats sing it, I became aware of a large group and wide variety of talented singers, well beyond the “known” singers such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. I realized many there were styles and qualities of voices in the music business, and came to the realization that I celebrate my own style and voice. I don’t consciously imitate anyone. Over the years, I was mesmerized by the styles of Blossom Dearie, Buddy Greco, Mel Tormé, Steve Lawrence, Bobby Rydell, Brenda Lee, Helen Merrill, and Nancy Wilson. I truly appreciate the conviction and dedication of contemporary singers and what they bring to the table. I really enjoy listening to Sharón Clark and Jonathan Karrant. I think they sing as people should sing jazz—very naturally and intelligently.

Recently, I recorded a CD of Duets with my American Idols, with the iconic names of rock ‘n’ roll and pop music, including Gary U.S. Bonds, Lou Christie, and Ben E. King. They told me that they always wanted to do swinging classics and I was fortunate enough to have them duet with me.

To view Oleg’s several-city tour please check out OlegFrish.com  He probably will be in a city near you!

Oleg Frish CDs
Hello From Brighton: 1991
Strange Love: 1998
Bring Me: 2010 (First English language album)
Duets with My American Idols: 2014

Melody Breyer-Grell

A life-long New Yorker, Melody Breyer-Grell was a voracious reader as a little girl, which led towards a life filled with theater, opera and jazz. Following her penning a parody nightclub show chronicling the ups and down of a life in music, she proceeded to get published in several genres, including fiction, essay and memoir. They include The Fairhaven Literary Review, short stories featured in Counting Down the Seconds and SunKissed (both published in the UK by Freya Publications). Melody is a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, opining on a broad range of subjects—from peace in the Middle East to American Idol.