For most of the year, the typical sounds heard at the Skolkovo innovation city are those of distant hammering, as construction work on futuristic new buildings continues, or the whirring of a drone, as tech entrepreneurs experiment with their products. But for one day a year, the Skolkovo soundtrack consists of sultry saxophone melodies and smooth jazz vocals, when the annual Skolkovo Jazz Science open-air festival is held.

The U.S. pianist Christian Sands, who began learning the piano as a toddler, is among this year's performers.

Now in its second year, this year’s festival will take place on August 26 from noon until 11 p.m. Like last year’s event, which was later declared the best jazz event of the year by Radio Jazz, this year’s festival will be headlined by Igor Butman and his Moscow Jazz Orchestra, performing with the singer Yaroslava Simonova. Also performing on the Classic Stage will be the U.S. jazz pianist Christian Sands, who will perform with his trio. Sands, who began playing the piano as a toddler and released his first album at the age of 13, has been nominated for a Grammy five times, despite not having yet reached his 30th birthday.

Over on the Young Blood stage, British singer-songwriter and producer Azekel, who has worked with the bands Massive Attack and Gorillaz as well as releasing three of his own albums, will headline the playbill. 

British singer-songwriter Azekel will perform on the Young Blood stage.

“These are artists who are emerging as leaders of the global jazz scene right now,” says Elena Zelentsova, vice president of the Skolkovo Foundation.

“In Russia, there is a lamentable tradition of bringing over aging stars. We want to do the opposite, so that musicians discover Russia for themselves and start working here, so that they see this audience and grateful public right when their career is on the ascendant.”

Joining Azekel over on the Young Blood stage will be the Moscow-based singer-songwriter Jekka, performing distinctive electronic tracks from her new mini-album Yunost (Youth), as well as the Chislo Pi collective and experimental electronic musician Anton Maskeliade. The Classic Stage will see performances by the Moscow chamber orchestra Musica Viva and the Marimba Plus ensemble.

Held around the Skolkovo pond and surrounding pine groves, last year’s festival, which was attended by some 5,000 people on a scorching August day, showed that the innovation city is about creativity as much as it is about algorithms and data. And like last year, the wide-reaching programme this year includes science-themed talks and activities in tribute to the purpose and professional activities of its host city.

“Skolkovo was invented not to host jazz festivals, but for science and modern technologies to develop there. The first festival turned out so well that it was decided to link science and jazz at Skolkovo,” Butman, arguably Russia’s best known jazz musician, told the TASS news agency in an interview in June. 

The scientific part of the programme this year is devoted to the symbiosis of the science of human perception with various kinds of arts. Talks include one on the influence of jazz on the brain, and another on the phenomenon of synesthesia, which causes some people to experience overlapping senses, such as “seeing” numbers or music in particular colours.

“It [the science aspect of the programme] will be fascinating, and no less dazzling than the musical performances,” promises Zelentsova.

In addition to public talks, there will also be interactive art exhibits and installations created by the WOW!HOW? science festival. Like last year, there will be a vinyl market (not limited to jazz records) and a book fair that will include popular science titles.

“Everything will be bigger and better. There will be more people, more food stalls, more activities, more festivities and more atmosphere,” says Zelentsova.

About 5,000 people attended last year's Skolkovo Jazz festival, the event's debut. Photo:

For kids, there will be plenty of both music and science-related activities, from an interactive orchestra and musical instrument classes to a kids’ lab and master classes.

Zelentsova is confident that there will be something for everyone.

“If you don’t want to listen to the music, you can lie on the grass: there will be a lot of portable garden furniture. People can buy a book or a record, or listen to a lecture – there are endless possibilities,” she says.

“But of course, there are always people – just as there were last year – who come just for the jazz. And there will be people who come just for one specific performer. And there will be people who come purely as a way to spend time with their children. They will all find their spot and something to do at Skolkovo Jazz Science.”

Skolkovo Jazz will take place on August 26 from noon till 11 p.m. Tickets can be bought on the festival’s website priced at 1,500 rubles.