Like in a classic show business movie, Nina Brodskaya was discovered at age 16 singing in a Sochi beach resort by famed jazz musician Eddie Rosner. Soon the Russian schoolgirl was performing with his big band.
Brodskaya sang the title song in a Russian film version of Pinocchio, became a favorite on radio and television, and rose to even wider fame singing the ballad “The January Blizzard” in a hit 1973 comedy about a homemade time machine that transports Ivan the Terrible to modern-day Moscow.
But her fortunes turned and she wound up leaving in the exodus of Soviet Jews in 1980 to make a new life in America.
Today she’s back in a big band with other Russian immigrant jazz musicians who play each week in an unusual venue: the basement of a dentist’s home in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach neighborhood.
It’s the latest stop in a remarkable career for the singer and songwriter, who’s composed songs in Russian and English, recorded many albums (two in Yiddish) and written books about her life in show business.
The wheel of life brought her back to Moscow in 1994, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, to visit family and friends. “Suddenly I felt like they needed me, and they began to invite me to sing on the television and radio and concert halls,” Brodskaya said. More trips followed.
Today fans can watch Brodskaya perform on YouTube and purchase more than 150 of her songs and albums on iTunes. They can also buy a copy of that 1973 time-traveling farce, Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future, about the misadventures of Ivan the Terrible and the two Muscovites sent four centuries back to the czar’s times.
And then there are those Tuesday night rehearsals with Dr. Mark Rosen’s Big Band, a 20-piece ensemble formed two decades ago by Rosen, a dentist and drummer, and Zinovy Pritsker, his musical director.
Pritsker, a piano tuner by day, first came to Rosen as a patient, but the bond that adhered was jazz. It wasn’t hard to find other talented musicians from Russia and elsewhere who shared their passion, although most were in new lines of work. “We have a policeman, a butcher, a limo driver,” Rosen said.
But not Brodskaya. “How can you get another job? Work in a factory or sell soap?” the blond soprano asked incredulously. “No, my career was as a professional singer.” Brodskaya’s husband, Vladimir, is one of the band’s trombone players. They met in Eddie Rosner’s band.
Although the band does far more rehearsing than playing in public, Pritsker is always on the lookout for gigs. No rehearsal ends without vodka flowing freely along with delicacies from the old country.
Brodskaya cut back her engagements to care for her parents — Alexander and Basya — in their last years, but accepts some invitations, especially those that come from the Russian-American community. She sang at a senior center in Brooklyn on June 22 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union.
She is contemplating doing more.
“I’m still full of energy. I still love music,” she said. “I think the next time I will sit at the piano, I will start to compose something, make songs. You can’t forget this. Music is my oxygen.”