If you’ve visited my YouTube channel, you know I love preserving history, particularly when it involves Chattanooga broadcasting. It saddens me that so many classic pictures, videos and audio tapes have been thrown out by people who just “clean house” without any thought of history. That almost happened with the video you’re about to see. I spotted a videotape in a box that was dumpster-bound, and hijacked it just long enough to find a hidden treasure.
I can’t remember what it was on the label that caught my eye, but I popped it into the machine looking for one thing, and found something else. Here’s the story:
I’m sure some folks still remember Vakhtang Jordania. The charismatic conductor led the Chattanooga Symphony from 1985 until 1992. To say he led an interesting life would be an understatement. Before defecting from the Soviet Union, the classically trained pianist toured the USSR conducting more than 100 concerts a year. In 1983, at the age of 40, he made his move with the help of a Finnish journalist who drove him to Sweden, found the American embassy and boarded a plane to Washington, D.C., with a visa in his pocket. Soon, he made his American debut at Carnegie Hall in New York City. His newfound fame took him around the nation and all over the world, but after two years of travel, he was ready to settle down and Chattanooga needed a musical director. It was a good match.
With his considerable talent and charm, he eagerly promoted the Chattanooga Symphony, attracting new followers each year. Some described him as a Russian Sean Connery, high praise indeed. Eventually he left Chattanooga for a similar position in Spokane, Washington. Later in his career, he settled in Virginia and even returned for a while to post-communist Russia, where he was welcomed with open arms. Sadly, in late 2005 he died of cancer at the age of 62. He was survived by his wife, and four children.
So, getting back to that tape I salvaged from the trash. I found the raw news footage of an airport reunion, filmed in Chattanooga in March 1989. I recognized the WRCB reporter, Mary Kate Wells. The other familiar face was that of Vakhtang Jordania. He was accompanied by his father, who spoke no English. Soon after disembarking the plane with his dad, Vakhtang embraced his wife Kimberly, and their baby girl, then about a year old. His elderly father was embraced by his wife, Vakhtang’s mother, who was here in the US, for reasons then unbeknownst to me.
As you’ll see in the video, there are some hugs, lots of smiles, and a sweet interview with Vakhtang Still, I didn’t really understand what it was all about, and because I either didn’t remember, or never knew the full story. What are the odds, I thought, that I can find Vakhtang’s baby girl, 25 years later? The family had moved away from Chattanooga in 1992. Where could this twenty-something young lady be today? Anywhere in the world.
I found the answer in a surprisingly short time. Thank you, Facebook. There she was: Maria, now 27 and living in…(you’ll never believe this) Chattanooga. I sent her a message: Would she come over to the TV station and watch a video with me? Thankfully, she said yes.
She came by one Friday afternoon, dressed like a musician. Multi-colored hair, art, jewelry, hip clothes. It turns out she is a musician, and was on her way to play a concert at Chattanooga’s Nightfall later that evening. I took her into one of our video viewing rooms, and popped in the tape. This was her reaction:
She had never seen the video. Her grandparents had died long before Vakhtang. Her grandmother was named Varvara, and her grandfather was Givi Jordania. She called them “Babushka and Papiko.” Her grandmother died in 1997 at the age of 91. Her grandfather, 78 at the time of this video, died in the summer of 2001 while swimming in the Black Sea. He was 90 years old.
Her grandmother had come to the US in late 1988. Vakhtang had worked it out with the State Department. “She had cataracts so bad, she could hardly see,” Maria said. He brought her here to have surgery. As you hear in the video, Vakhtang’s parents stayed for a few months, before returning to the Soviet Union. Vakhtang’s two oldest children came to the US later that year to further their education at UTC and Baylor School.
Later, Maria and the family moved back to Russia for a few years, where she was immersed in the culture and the language, and was able to spend more time with her grandparents.
Now living and playing her music in Chattanooga, what does she remember about her dad, who died when she was a teen? “Everyone loved him,” she said. He was generous, hilarious and fun to be around. I think the most incredible thing was the way he communicated with music. It really is an international language, he lived and breathed it and gave that gift to us, his children.”
Why is she back in the city of her birth now? “We only lived here for about two years after I was born, we then moved all over the place, wherever Daddy was working,” she said. “After graduating high school in Virginia in 2006, I came to Chattanooga to work as a translator. I was only going to be attend UTC for one semester and then I had plans to study abroad in Italy. But I got married here and had a beautiful baby boy in 2008. I got divorced two years later, and I met my current husband, Josh Sable, through friends. He was a single dad with a little girl. We were both musicians, we became good friends and started playing music. We fell in love, and got married in June 2011. We now have a wonderful blended little family. Lauryn Taylor Sable is 9, and Saba Vakhtang Evans is 7.”
“My husband and I formed a band called Smooth Dialects. We’ve played in Nashville, Knoxville, Atlanta, all over the south, and everywhere in Chattanooga: Riverfront Nights, Nightfall, Riverbend, you name it. I was a classically trained pianist from age 5 but singing is my real passion. My dad was my teacher. Now I play and sing in memory of him and its beautiful, I just wish he could be here. Our kids are so into music, its definitely a family affair. Lauryn plays piano and Saba plays the violin (just like my younger brother Dimitri and I started). But he really wants to play everything, piano, drums and guitar. He’s got perfect pitch already, and never stops singing. What can I say, it’s in our blood!”
I’m glad I could rescue this special moment in time for her, thankfully captured on video, displaying her grandparents happy and healthy, and her dad in his prime. I’m glad she can hear his voice, and see his smile. Shortly after this was filmed, Vakhtang was in a serious car accident on 4th Street in downtown Chattanooga, resulting in severe injuries and a lengthy recovery.
“This is a special few minutes of memories,” she said. “I don’t have many videos of my dad. He wasn’t in many of our home movies because he was working so much. The only person still living from this family reunion is my mom. I miss my father so very much, and my grandparents too. This really means a lot.”