«I remember that hot summer day… I’m 5 years old. The old toys were stored in our house in Kherson in the attic. I went upstairs by wooden ladder and found Ella Fitzgerald’s vinyl at the very bottom of a huge box. I was amazed by this music. There was an endless world of sounds, feelings, emotions…»
The first meeting with jazz defined Oksana Kulakova’s destiny as a professional singer. It was only a beginning…
Music was playing at home all the time. Her mother had classical vocal and was choirmaster, her husband was saxophonist and leader of the band, where Oksana was a soloist. Their piano was never closed – traditionally they sang together the Soviet songs almost every evening. But she heard different music in her heart, which she opened up on vinyl from the attic. «I played the album very often and got into a big dark blue sparkling space while listening,» Kulakova recalls. «It had seemed if I jumped there as on a trampoline, I would fly somewhere. I thought about everything was possible.»
She sang the Soviet songs, crooned something from the Mireille Mathieu’s list… It was great music, but Oksana looked for a melody of her soul. Later she heard it at Jacques Demy’s film, Paraplus de Cherbourg, with charming pieces written by Michel Legrand. Years later Kulakova will sing his You Must Believe in Spring in transcription of Ukrainian composer Igor Stetsyuk.
It wasn’t that simple for Oksana to start piano classes at music school in Kherson in 1977… But she had strong character and did it. Kulakova has finished it with excellent marks and became obvious – she had to continue studying at music college. Gifted pianist, great singer… She chose to sing, but by silly incident didn’t enter it. It was a shock for her and her parents. «I was knocked down and wanted to hide somewhere… But only now I understand,» Kulakova says. «Back then my destiny was changed completely.» Actually this failure will have a positive effect on her career.
She was highly skilled and didn’t want to waste a year, so easily entered the choirmaster department at the Kherson College of Culture. Oksana became a favorite student for all music teachers and was the one who they trusted to conduct a choir only after 4 months of studying. Besides if anyone could sing at the concert without problems that was Kulakova as well.
So, on February 23, 1987 she sang Andrey Petrov’s piece And finally I’ll tell at the concert in the college despite she was ill. And then Oksana was unexpectedly suggested to join big band of the college in the 2nd round of Ukrainian talent-seeking competition in Odessa. She started preparing to perform two difficult jazz melodies – famous scat song, named Owl written by Anatoly Kalvarsky and Richard Rodgers’s My Funny Valentine. «We appeared on a stage on the final day and were the last ones. I remember how I came out after the band – at the age of 14 I had to sing jazz to the big public,» she recalls. Fortunately, there were people on the jury who knew this music very well. The decision they made will change Kulakova’s destiny again. But she knew nothing about it then.
Only at home Oksana got to know she won in the 2nd round! At the end of April she came to Kiev to sing the same pieces with the Kiev State Gliere College of Music orchestra in the Conservatory. Soon she was known as one of the most talented newcomers and promising jazz singers. Even more it was supposed Kulakova was the only one who should represent Ukraine at the music festivals abroad. «I didn’t quite understand that my life and destiny began a turnabout,» Oksana recalls. «I planned to perform my little concert program and that’s all.» But she got destiny’s gift: winning in the 3rd round. The prize was studying in Kiev without entrance exams. Any institute would welcome the winner of this competition. But what to choose? Conservatory? It seemed to be really fantastic… But what about jazz? On June 3 Oksana became a first student of the jazz department, which was opened specially for her at the Kiev State Gliere College of Music.
Kulakova began to visit music festivals at the age 15 and was the highlight of line-ups. Audience accorded a hearty welcome – Soviet singers were rare guests at that time. She participated in big jazz festivals in Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Croatia, performed with outstanding European musicians and orchestras. Kulakova appeared on the most prestigious stages, where Michel Legrand, Chick Corea, Chicago and The Manhattan Transfer were playing at one time. That’s how she became known not only in Ukraine. «I’m really lucky – I’ve learned jazz not in a lecture room, but on stage with talented musicians. I traveled a lot, so passed exams without attending classes. To be honest, I liked that kind of life very much,» Oksana admits.
Kulakova listened to Barbra Streisand for the first time while she have been working with American crew, named Peace Child International. That was her The Broadway Album. «I thought I knew her all my life,» says Oksana. «Her voice won my heart, her soul and feelings seemed to be familiar. Her unique timbre charmed and hypnotized me. Sometimes people compare my voice to her… Nice to hear that.» Later this stream of music she will name Fascination… But since that day her desire for singing it became stronger.
When Kulakova has moved to Kiev, her long time dream came true – she met with composer and conductor Igor Stetsyuk, with whom she’ll start working on Fascination Music album 5 years later. They invited for this brave aim Nick Brovchenko, the most talented Ukrainian lyricist. He wrote the lines for Russian version of Jimmy Davies’s Lover Man, thanks to him the piece Plus Fort Que Nous by Francis Lai from the film A Man and a Woman was transformed to The Moonlit Song, and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Luiza got the Russian title To Julia and different meaning. «We worked with Fascination Music. The most expensive popular music in the world,» Stetsyuk, who composed the original orchestral transcriptions for the album, recalls. «I said to Oksana she shouldn’t have any illusion about it – production will be long, difficult and expensive. But she ignored my scepsis completely. We did the album. Kulakova always hears only what she wants to. Useful quality.» This CD contained not only audio, but also photos and videos and was the first Ukrainian release in this format. Her single, Volare (2001) was just like previous one. Two years after that the new album, JVC Jazz Sympho, was released – that was the official promotional CD of the products of this Japanese company.
In the beginning of the 2000’s, when Kulakova has achieved many of her dreams, she suddenly left music stage… «It was absolutely conscious decision. I needed this period of silence for self-knowledge and understanding to be honest with myself and listeners.»
10 years have passed… In 2013 Kulakova is back to sing Fascination Music and follow the way of creation. She can be an ideal wife and a great mother, professional Model and shining Actress. But she can’t betray music. It’s sacred. And this is her life.