Good teachers, it is often said, have chalked up some life experience before starting the job. When Vladimir Khusid (b. 1946) entered the College Street gates for the first time in November 1987, having been invited for an interview by Alastair Mackerras (Headmaster 1969-1989) and James Hannah (Head of Music 1978-1990), he had certainly lived a little. At that point Vlad was teaching at The King’s School and working one-day shifts at Beecroft Primary and Epping Primary. The Grammar gig was attractive because it was closer to home, but it was only a one-day-a-week position, and Vlad only applied on the insistence of his wife, Gala.
Vlad was 41 at the time. He was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, about six kilometres from the Caspian Sea, and had taught himself jazz trumpet since taking up the instrument at the rather late age of 13. As a young musician based in Pyatigorsk and Kislovodsk – two scenic cities in the Caucasus region, the latter at the foothills of Mount Elbrus – he had become wildly successful, regularly performing all over Russia with the Anatoly Kroll Big Band and other ensembles. Still, Vlad was uncomfortable with the oppressiveness of the Soviet system – the very antithesis of the jazz ethos, in his view – and fled the USSR in 1980 with Gala and his two young children, Sophia and Zev.
Mackerras, the brother of orchestral conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, was a champion of classical music, but Vlad made quite the impression on him when they first met. Vlad remembers showing up to his interview in his lucky blue suit and then chatting with others in the Music Department for hours.