Passion. Persistence. Perfection.
By Scott Schwebke
With multiple sold-out U.S. tours under its belt and hundreds of thousands of fans around the world, Leonid & Friends continues to astound its global audience with its unique ability in capturing the spirit, musicality, and fire of American supergroup Chicago.
And what is even more stunning is that Leonid & Friends, comprised of 11 of the finest musicians in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus, haven't seen Chicago perform live, yet replicates the band’s complex arrangements amazingly note for note.
Chicago has never been in Russia, and none of us have attended their concerts," said Leonid Vorobyev, a multi-instrumentalist who is the band’s leader. "We have only recordings and videos (to help us learn Chicago songs)."
Ironically, Vorobyev wasn’t always a fan of horn bands, and as a teenager gravitated to the hard-driving guitar-based sounds of the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Deep Purple, and Grand Funk Railroad.
"In the early 1970s in the USSR, electric guitars, amplifiers, and drums were rare to find so at school we were playing self-made instruments," Vorobyev explained. "We were allowed to rehearse in the same room with a horns band. Those musicians almost always were drunk and quite often tried to play with us our rock songs. It was a nightmare, and I hated them all!"
But that all changed when Vorobyev heard Chicago. He became an instant fan. "I loved so much the brilliant mixture of rock guitars, drums, and jazz horns with bright vocal harmonies," he said.
In 2014, Vorobyev decided to indulge his love for the band by gathering a few fellow musicians in a studio to record a video of them playing his favorite Chicago tune, Brand New Love Affair.
No charts or scores of the song existed so Vorobyev transcribed the tune by ear. The result was a YouTube video that quickly went viral. Since then Leonid & Friends has recorded videos of other Chicago hits including Make Me Smile, 25 or 6 to 4, and Saturday In The Park.
All total the videos have received more than 50 million views. Also, Leonid & Friends has recorded two albums showcasing its tribute to Chicago.
The process of getting each tune just right is a painstaking labor of love. In addition to scoring and arranging, Vorobyev oversees mixing and mastering of each song. However, he credits his highly skilled bandmates for making each tune sing. "All of my musician friends are highly professional," he said.
However, Leonid & Friends hasn’t been satisfied with merely connecting with fans through videos and recordings. In early 2019, the band embarked on its first tour outside of Russia that had fans dancing in the aisles at sold-out shows in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Florida. Two other scorching coast-to-coast U.S. tours followed that same year.
“The fans were so eager to see us that some traveled from as far as Hawaii and the Philippines not mentioning flying across the U.S .and driving for hours to attend our shows,” Vorobyev said. “I was expecting a warm greeting but I didn't expect such a warm reception and with so much love and gratitude for us.”
In Los Angeles, the band met its musical heroes, founding members of Chicago, keyboardist Robert Lamm, and drummer Danny Seraphine as well as Michelle Kath Sinclair, daughter of late, great Chicago guitarist Terry Kath.
“We were so thrilled that Robert, Danny, and Michelle took the time to visit with us,” Vorobyev said. “It was an experience that we will cherish and remember forever.”
When Leonid & Friends isn’t touring, band members are in the studio in Moscow immersing themselves in Chicago’s storied catalog of hits and deep tracks while preparing for the next tour.
In September of 2018, the band recorded its first song from legendary supergroup Earth, Wind, & Fire and also paid tribute to the band Blood, Sweat & Tears as well.
Borrowing a line from one of Chicago's biggest hits, "it's only the beginning" of great things from Leonid & Friends.
Scott Schwebke has been a journalist for more than 30 years and a longtime fan of Chicago dating back to its incarnation as CTA. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Denver Post, Orange County Register and various publications across the U.S.
Learn more about Leonid and his Friends.
Musical director and founder of Leonid & Friends.
Leonid Vorobyev is the leader and founder of the band Leonid & Friends. He is the band’s producer, plays bass and piano, sings lead and backing vocals, transcribes all the musical sources, and he produces, mixes, and masters all audio and video productions.
Leonid graduated from East Siberian Institute of Culture as a Choir Conductor. He had been working in various bands as a bass player and a singer when in 1989 he chose studio operations as his main interest and began a career as a record-mix engineer and sound producer. He has been working as a music producer, sound engineer, composer, and musician for about 30 years. Many Russian bands and singers have passed through his hands and ears.
At the end of 2014, Leonid decided to give himself a gift to celebrate his retirement by recording a cover version of Chicago’s song Brand New Love Affair. No charts or scores of the song existed so he transcribed the musical source by ear, called upon his friends and recorded the song. What happened when the song was released surprised everyone and was the start of the new project ‘Leonid & Friends’.
A graduate of the Irkutsk College of the Arts and Institute of Contemporary Art. Vasily has won several international music competitions. He has been a member of the Russian hard rock band Monomakh, where he won praise from former Black Sabbath frontman Ronnie James Dio.
Sergey Kashirin was born in 1982 in Tiraspol, Transnistria, in Eastern Europe. A music enthusiast at an early age, Sergey began singing and playing guitar when he was only 8 years old. Following his musical dreams throughout his school years, he was accepted into the Tiraspol Rubinstein Musical College from which he graduated. After graduation, Sergey moved to Moscow where he quickly found work as a studio session musician playing for many Russian pop and rock stars. This led to live performance requests as well.
Sergey is a founder of several musical projects, three of which are Real Bodrit, Rock Band, and Smilin’man, a multi-genre project of depth which allows him to stretch his musical and vocal talents. Many people took notice of his talents and in 2012, he began composing music for the film and television industries. Along the way, Sergey made many friends in the music industry and considered a number of them very close. In 2014, he was approached by one of those friends and asked to participate in recording a cover of a song from the American band Chicago for Leonid Vorobyev.
The audio recording and subsequent video of the song Brand New Love Affair were not supposed to be anything more than a birthday gift to his friend but the rest of the world didn’t see it that way. After posting it on YouTube for their friends to view the word began to spread, and what was supposed to be a simple act of kindness for his friend, turned into the band Leonid & Friends recording many more songs which have been viewed in over 150 countries at last count. Sergey, being a founding member, performs regularly in both studio and live performances.
Serge Tiagniryadno was born and lives in Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine where he runs the popular recording studio Crystal Sound of which he founded. Serge is a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, bass guitar, clarinet, saxophone, percussion, drums, and keyboards. He’s combined those talents with his smooth vocals as a member of numerous bands throughout the area such as Seven Seas, and Ocheretyaniy Kit.
Serge’s love for music started at the age of three with the guitar, and at four years old he began formal lessons on the piano. When he turned nine he added clarinet to the mix. He later went on to study as a television and film director at the Karpenko-Kariy Kiev National University of Theatre, Cinema and Television and he also attended the Kiev Institute of Theatrical Arts.
Serge’s introduction to Leonid & Friends came by way of Trent Gardner, the web manager of the band Chicago. He conducted an online contest for Leonid to find a vocal talent comparable to that of Chicago’s Peter Cetera. Serge recorded his first song with Leonid & Friends in the summer of 2015 from his own studio in Kiev but didn’t personally meet the band members until the spring of 2016. Since then he’s been featured in numerous tracks by the band and performs regularly with them on the road.
Recognized as one of the best drummers in Russia, Igor has vast experience in live performances and session work. He has collaborated with musicians in Russia and from various foreign countries.
Sergey Kurmaev was born in the city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan, in 1980, about 2000 miles southeast of Moscow. His musical journey began at the age of 5 when his parents gave him a small accordion. He started by learning well-known melodies and played them for friends and family long before learning to read music.
When he was eight years old, he enrolled in the local School of Music to study the accordion. At the young age of fourteen, he earned admission to the College of Music, where he began seriously studying the accordion and piano.
Sergey did so well that at 18, he was awarded admission to the Kyrgyzstan National Conservatory of Music in Bishkek to continue studying the piano, his long time dream. After graduating in 2004, he moved to Moscow, where celebrity singers began requesting his talents. Since then, Sergey has worked and performed with many top musical acts and together with his wife, an excellent singer in her own right, have organized concerts.
In 2020, Sergey, his wife, their three sons, and Lucky, their dog, received an early Christmas present. They learned that Sergey was selected to play keyboards for Leonid & Friends, replacing their long time player Vlad Senchillo who left earlier in the year.
During his first live streaming concert with the band, Roman Vorobyev introduced him to the fans. Sergey said, “When I saw Leonid & Friends on YouTube, I thought myself maybe one day I would play in a band like this. But now I’m here, it’s a magic, thank you my God, and I very glad to be part of Leonid & Friends. Thank you very much, thank you for trust and I want to see our friends in the future.”
Keyboards/Backing Vocals (Former Member)
Vlad is a graduate of the Ufa Institute of Arts as a choir conductor. He has also served as laureate of international jazz festivals in Russia. Vlad has worked with Russian and foreign performers, including jazz musicians from the USA who performed in Russia such as Chuck Loeb, Phil Perry, Dave Koz, Eric Marienthal, and Brian Simpson.
Flute/Sax/Vocals (Former Member)
Vladimir is a graduate from the Ulan-Ude Musical College of Tchaikovsky and Novosibirsk State Conservatory of Glinka. He has performed with various bands throughout Russia.
Trombone (Former Member)
Alexander is a graduate of Moscow Music Institute of Gnesin, and Moscow State University of Culture and Arts. He has worked with numerous Russian performers both in the studio and on stage.
Trumpet (Former Member)
Alexey is a graduate of the Moscow Music Institute of Gnesin and Moscow Institute of Culture. He has worked with many of Russia’s top bands.
Saxophone (Former Member)
Konstantin graduated from the Moscow Music Institute of Gnesin. He has won the Brussels Jazz Contest and has toured in Russia and abroad.
Born in the Transbaikal region of Siberia, in the city of Chita, Ksenia Buzina is credited as being the first Russian singer understood by over a billion people on earth. That’s because Ksenia sings and speaks Chinese fluently and has her own Chinese album and music videos. She was featured in the Russian TV version of The Voice and has participated in numerous television and festival appearances.
Now a resident of Moscow, Ksenia began singing as a child in various school events and competitions. She earned her first paycheck singing at the age of 16 accompanied by her musician Father, performing in local restaurants on the weekends. She graduated with her economics degree from the Baikal State University of Economics and Law where she specialized in “World Economy.” She said, ”I do not see myself as an economist, but I was glad to study at the institute because there I learned Chinese.”
Ksenia didn’t stop there. Besides Russian and Chinese she can also speak English and can sing in English, Chinese, Italian, Armenian, Kazakh, Bulgarian and French. She joined Leonid & Friends in September 2016 with the debut of the song Wishing You Were Here and has become an integral part of the band’s vocal landscape both in the studio and live performances.
Andrey Zyl was born in the city of Minsk, Belarus in 1993 and now lives in Moscow. His love for music was evident early in life and he began his formal studies at the age of 11. Right from the beginning, the trumpet grabbed Andrey’s attention and he’s never looked back. He also developed an appreciation for the rhythms of music which led him to play percussion instruments but in his words “Trumpet is more fun!” He is a graduate of the Gnesins Russian Academy of Music.
Andrey’s musical talents have led him to work with notables such as international jazz vocalist Kevin Mahogany from Kansas City, the big bands of Igor Butman, Anatoly Kroll, and George Garanian, and numerous Russian pop stars. He’s been called upon to perform in many individual projects as well. A multi-winner of international jazz competitions, Andrey began playing with Leonid & Friends in April of 2017 in both studio and live performances.
Oleg Kudryavtcev was born in Severodvinsk, located on the White Sea coast of the Arkhangelsk region,
Russia, in 1984. His parents, a musician and kindergarten teacher, realized his affection for music early and at 9 years old his father enrolled him in a school of music and proposed that he should consider the saxophone. Although Oleg was interested in every instrument he saw, he agreed with his father and began formal studies. Everyone quickly realized how well Oleg was progressing and the decision was made to further his studies.
Oleg transferred to the college of music in Arkhangelsk and then on to the Academy of music in Moscow. He remained in Moscow and began playing in various groups performing in a variety of musical styles. He never gravitated toward a single genre saying, “I have no preference in music styles. I love Pop, Funk, Soul, Jazz, Indie, electronic, anything is fine with me.”
Oleg went on to work with many artists and played for years with the popular group Bravo which was established in 1983, a year before he was born. In 2017 he was excited to audition for Leonid & Friends because he’s loved the music of Chicago since childhood. He said, “My father introduced me to their creativity.” Looking back on his first USA tour with Leonid & Friends, Oleg said, “I am very grateful to my parents and teachers for helping me to become a professional musician. I love my profession and the smiles of the audiences at the concerts. It is very important for me in life.”
Maxim Likhachev was born and raised in Moscow where he continues to live today. His love for music began early as a student where he focused on wind instruments. He learned to play the euphonium and its variants as well as various percussion instruments, but his heart centered on the trombone of which he is known for. His talent led him to play in a children's brass band and ensemble with a choir and choreography.
He entered the musical institute majoring in trombone and focusing on classical music in preparation for a spot in a symphony orchestra. While studying his musical plans abruptly changed the day he was invited to play in a rock band. He was hooked and he never looked back. Along the way Maxim was introduced to the sounds of the American band Chicago from the early albums and he developed a love for the band and their style that is with him to this day.
After graduating from the Moscow Music Institute of Gnesin, he played with many of Russia’s top bands and felt right at home performing studio session work as well. Since his graduation he has remained in rock music and travelled extensively performing in numerous festivals within Russia as well as many places in Europe. Maxim explains that when he got the call to join Leonid & Friends, he felt his dreams of many years had come true. “To play the music I have loved since my youth with an amazing cast of fellow musicians whom I love, and being led by an incomparable director, Leonid Vorobyev, I don’t know how things can get any better musically for me.“
His personal life is singing from the same song book as well. With his loving wife and 3 children by his side, Maxim is proof of what hard work will do for you. He began playing with Leonid & Friends nearly 3 years ago and has become a gem of the bands brass section. Many friends of the band favor Maxim and his “Magic Trombone”, and they’re sure there is plenty of magic left in his playing.
Bass (Former Member)
Dimitry is a graduate of the Moscow Music Institute of Gnesin and has worked with many of Russia’s top bands.
Special Guest Trumpet
Arturo Sandoval was born in Artemisa, a small town in the outskirts of Havana, Cuba, on November 6, 1949, just two years after Dizzy Gillespie became the first musician to bring Latin influences into American Jazz. Sandoval began studying classical trumpet at the age of twelve, but it didn’t take him long to catch the excitement of the jazz world.
He has since evolved into one of the world’s most acknowledged guardians of jazz trumpet and flugelhorn, as well as a renowned classical artist, pianist and composer. He is a 10 time Grammy Award Winner, Emmy Award Recipient, 6 Time Billboard Award Winner, the 2015 Hispanic Heritage Award Recipient, the 2016 Honorary Doctorate recipient in Fine Arts from The University of Notre Dame, and the recipient of the United States of America, Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"Born into poverty in Cuba and held back by his government, he risked everything to share his gifts with the world. In the decades since, this astonishing trumpeter, pianist and composer has inspired audiences in every corner of the world and awakened a new generation of great performers. He remains one of the best ever to play." –Barack Obama (presenting Arturo Sandoval The Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Special Guest French Horn
Arkady Shilkloper is a multi-instrumentalist and composer. He enjoyed a career in the orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre from 1978 to 1985 and was also a member of the Moscow State Philharmonic Symphony. Shilkloper spent four years with the Vienna Art Orchestra and has over 80 album and film credits to his name. He is considered one of the best jazz performers on French Horn and Alphorn in the world.
Special Guest Saxophone
Igor Butman, saxophone virtuoso, bandleader, club owner and television host is Russia's number one jazz personality. With a major in Performance and Composition from the Berklee College of Music in Massachusetts, Butman performed with noteables including Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, The Lionel Hampton Orchestra, The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis, Natalie Cole, Billy Cobham and Grover Washington Jr., who took Igor "under his wing." In 2009 Igor launched his own label called Butman Music and he has performed at every Olympic Games starting with Athens in 2004.
Special Guest Piano
Vladimir Osinsky is a composer, arranger, sound engineer, and keyboardist who has worked with many of Russia's top bands.
Special Guest Flugelhorn
Ilya Prokudin is a graduate of the Moscow Music Institute of Gnesin. He has worked with many of Russia’s top bands.
Special Guest Percussion
Ilya Vymenits is a drummer/percussionist who has worked with many of Russia’s top bands.
Special Guest Saxaphone
Daniil is a graduate of the Kurgan Musical College. He has worked with many of Russia’s top bands.
Special Guest Vocals/Live
Irina Kozlova is a graduate of the Maimonid State Classical Academy. She has worked with “Radio and TV Orchestra” and with many Russian pop-stars. Irina is a singer-songwriter in the project with Igor Javad-Zade "Smotri I."