GAYA - HOW TO CRACK A ROCK

or The Legend is Real

Jazz has for long been a significant factor in the lives and feelings of the older, educated generations in Baku. It is no secret that after the war - from the 1950s to the 1980s - people behind the Iron Curtain believed that those living on the other side enjoyed a kind of paradise. Communist propaganda had it that the capitalist world was a terrible place and its inhabitants like wolves, but as the propaganda intensified so its credibility diminished.
Jazz helped in this process. The unique nature of the jazz world offered a taste of freedom and a release from everyday cares, those 'nice' moments endured in party meetings and other aspects of regulated life, as well as from demagoguery and lies. It seemed that some special social process was at work in the 1960s to produce such a generation of talented musicians. During the following decades those people spread the reputation of our music far beyond our own borders. People such as Vagif Mustafazadeh, Muslim Magomayev and Polad Bulbuloglu; indeed Rashid Behbutov's talent was clear from the 1950s. They were renowned throughout the socialist countries and were known and loved on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
Of course not all of them represented this underground music, but we can say this about 'Gaya', which personified a whole epoch in the development of 'Estrada Jazz' in the Soviet Union. The media now loves to shower musicians with titles - deserved or not - they believe that numbers of titles actually bestow honour. The members of 'Gaya' were widely known among ordinary people as the Soviet Beatles, although I can't accept this as a true description because even though the Liverpudlian quartet generated a revolution in rock music and became standard-bearers, they could have learned much about the nuances of jazz vocals from the Baku quartet.

Gaya

Recently I came across an old issue of the magazine, "History Karavan"; there was an interesting article about the work of the well-known musician Igor Butman. A photo with the article caught my attention: together, on stage, with Oleg Lunstrem and Igor Butman were members of 'Gaya'. I found out from Rauf Babayev, one of their soloists, that they had played many times with these and other famous jazzmen. Recalling that period, Rauf muellim particularly commented on the musical environment. Can you imagine that the whole music scene was concentrated in one building! On the first floor was the Music School, on the second floor was a secondary school, later named after Bul-Bul and on the third floor was the Conservatoire.
It was often possible to hear, "Guys, the final year students will take their exams" - everyone would prick up their ears; they say the students invariably presented pogrammes to delight their audience.

Gaya

Of course these exam concerts played to full houses and by the way, when students played at the Philharmonia or in the Green Theatre it was the same. The 'Gaya' group grew up in this environment.
The membership of 'Gaya' changed several times over the years and during the 1990s it grew bigger, but the group's success is associated with the names of Teymur Mirzayev, Arif Hajiyev, Rauf Babyev and Lev Yelisavetsky. The group's inspiration and director, Teymur Mirzayev, had an ambition from childhood to form his own jazz group. Teymur muellim studied together with Rauf Hajiyev in the choral and conducting faculty of the Conservatoire's music school. The other founder members of the group were Ilya Hachayev and Bursalinsky; these were later replaced by Adil Nazarov and Rauf Babayev. Needless to say, they were all 'crazy' about jazz:
- Do you know, yesterday "Voice of America" said there would be an Oscar Peterson concert today. Pity my radio's broken.
- Don't worry, come over to my place - there'll be a few of the guys there and we'll record it.
At first we didn't have anywhere to practice, and so they would find a secluded place on the Boulevard and learn the songs they'd heard on records or the radio.
At one of the parties they began to sing; the hostess, Svetlana Kravchun, liked it so much that she offered them use of her place while she was out at work and the 'jungle telegraph' spread the word about this group singing jazz. They were invited to join the State Teleradio's Staff Committee orchestra, but they refused the offer. They were later to accept when Rauf Hajiyev took on the leadership of the orchestra and repeated the offer. At that time Muscovite pianist and arranger Kalvarski also joined the orchestra as Musical Director and helped prepare for a tour of Leningrad. "Gaya" were invited to audition and sang from the American jazz repertoire.
Rauf Hajiyev said:
- Well done, guys, that was excellent! But we live in Soviet Azerbaijan and, as you know, pure American jazz is not enough. First, you should sing one or two national songs with elements of jazz, then you can move into pure jazz.

Gaya

Following his advice, they quickly learned Hajiyev's "Baki Haqqinda mahni" (Song of Baku) and Aziz Azizov's "Tez gel, yar" (Come Quickly, my Love). Thus, in 1961, the quartet of Bakuvians became the first vocal jazz group in the Soviet Union (their song 'Parni iz Baku' later gave its name to two famous comedy review teams). Soon they were being announced in the most prestigious concert halls, "Performers: Vocal Quartet from Baku" - the word 'jazz' wasn't used, so no one got their fingers burned.
Rauf Babayev, remembering those days, said:
- Fate took a hand in developments within the group: one of the members, Adil Nazirov, dated a Muscovite volleyball player and later surprised us, "I have to leave you guys, we have decided to live in Moscow." Then there was Lev Yelisavetski, who was playing trumpet in an orchestra, but often came to our rehearsals - we talked together and decided to invite him to sing with us. This is how the main group came together. A short time later we bade farewell to the Azerbaijan SSR State Television and Radio Programme Committee Orchestra and operated independently. Finally, a fellow Bakuvian, Murad, son of the famous doctor Kajlayev and graduate of the Azerbaijan State Conservatoire, then head of the Dagestan Composers' Union, invited us to work in Dagestan. There we organized, with our musical director, Rafiq Babayev, a quartet called 'Qunip', named after the place. For some months our programme achieved great success. Later we prepared for auditions in Moscow and an international festival in Algeria. At the same time a letter of complaint from Azerbaijan arrived on the desk of Furtsevan, the Minister of Culture of the USSR; it said that Dagestan had seduced our musicians. There was also a revolution in Algeria, so we couldn't go there. We were told in Dagestan, "It's up to you, you are welcome to stay here but you should think about your futures…."
- By then we were all married with children, so we came back.

Gaya

At first they didn't have work, but finally the Director of "Azconcert" (the Azerbaijan State Concert Union) Ildirim Qasimov invited the musicians to tour the Far East with Muslim Magomayev. They had to find a new name for the group and a number of ideas were debated; one of them was 'VOKIN' - Vocal Instrumental Quartet. The name 'Gaya' ('Rock') which was soon to become a brand, arose from the association of the wind driving the waters of the Caspian onto rocks. It has another, symbolic meaning: implying the indivisibility of a monolith.
Their tour lasted four months and played to packed auditoria.
Rauf Babayev recalls:
- You can hardly imagine how people stood outside on very cold winter evenings for the second house. Muslim Magomayev was a success throughout the Soviet Union; several times we had to be smuggled out at the end of concerts to avoid the enthusiastic fans.
In Moscow in 1966 there was an All-Union competition for the performance of Soviet songs. Orders were issued from all the Ministries, but surprisingly none came from Azerbaijan.
Gaya

Rauf Babayev remembers it this way:
- Twenty days before the competition the USSR Culture Minister called the then Azerbaijani Minister of Culture Rauf Hajiyev and asked, "Why hasn't there been an order from your republic?"
Some days later Hajiyev summoned us and said, "I know that no one can prepare a programme better than you in such a shot time; there are only two weeks left before the competition. I hope you devils will do your best and won't let us down."
A room was specially set aside for them in the Opera Theatre and they began to practise under the direction of Tofiq Quliyev. The competition was in three sections; the first section required the singing of Pre-War songs, the second covered the war period and the final section included Post-War songs like "Ex, Dorogi", "Polyushka Pole" and "Yesli Volga Razlyotsya". The best groups in the USSR took part, including Alla Pugachova, Yosif Kobzon, Vuyachich Maysuradze…
Rauf muellim continues;
- When we arrived in Moscow it was clear that the other participants had been practising for a month and had worked everything out in detail, from their repertoire to their costumes, but we were wearing different colours. Teymur and I were in dark blue suits, Arif and Lyova were wearing light grey and we were warned that we all had to wear the same colours. After some thought we called Oleg Lunstrem whose group was on holiday. He said, "No problem, come to our place and choose any costume you like." Thus we wore costumes emblazoned with the letters "O.L."
- When it came to tossing for position we said to Lyova, "We are all Azeri, only you are Jewish, you choose and maybe we'll be lucky." Imagine, we had to go first! Lyova said, "This is my Jewish luck!"
- We had to perform early in the morning - a really difficult time for vocalists. To prepare and warm up meant getting up at six o'clock. We got through the first section successfully. Walking later through the streets we came across a poster advertising a football match, Torpedo v Neftchi. I said, "Hey guys, if our footballers win the match, we'll win too!" We went to the match and our team duly won….
The jury included notable Soviet musicians: Utyosov, Logidze, our Tofiq Quliyev and others.
The Bakuvians got through all three sections successfully and after the third section the jury retired to consider their verdict. As soon as they left the hall all the musicians who knew the Bakuvians asked them to sing jazz. Later the newspaper 'Vechernyaya Moskva' said in its report on the competition, "When the jury retired the Gaya quartet from Baku gave the real concert for the other participants."
The members of the jury didn't take long; Logidze said, "There's no decision to make here, if the Estonian sextet sang like a quartet and 'Gaya' sang like a sextet, there's no problem in deciding which is better!"
It may be of interest to note that Alla Pugachova went out of the competition after the second section and Yosif Kobzon took second place….
In 1967 'Gaya', together with a representative group from Azerbaijan, including Zeynab Khanlarova, Muslim Magomayev, Shafiga Eyvazova, Chingiz Sadikhov, Qara Qarayev and Enver Rzaquliyev went on tour to Canada. Qara Abulfaz oglu saw for the first time that 'Gaya', as well as its own repertoire, could sing classic American jazz. Returning to Baku,and on the insistence of Qarayev, 'Gaya' began to work with the Azerbaijan State Radio Programmes Committee; the quartet worked there for two years. They were often invited to Moscow; no edition of the New Year programme 'Blue Light' was complete without their participation. They often played concerts at the Green Theatre with Lunstrem's famous orchestra, with Lyudvikovsky and Utyosov's pop orchestras and with the 'Melodiya' group. A year later, as part of a Soviet representation, 'Gaya' toured Bulgaria. Within the festival there were different categories of competition. The winner of the folk competition was Sofiya Rotaru, in the classic section, Tamara Sinyavskaya and in the pop section our Bakuvians.

Gaya

Rauf muellim says:
- It was just our luck that again we had to perform first and again the jury decided that we had no equal. I remember that in the vestibule of our hotel they hung a congratulatory sign for us, "We congratulate the Gaya quartet on bringing back the first gold medal to the Soviet Union." The Turkish press also wrote about our success. By the way, we were also given a prize for the high professionalism of our singing. Those days were the happiest in our careers.
In 1972, by order of the Council of Ministers, 'Gaya' was awarded the status of State Ensemble. At the suggestion of Yuli Gusman, a new show was organized. A new sextet was formed - Tamilla Agamiyeva and Qala Barinova were invited to Baku from Moscow. The focus of the show was the rock opera 'Jesus Christ Superstar'. Rauf Babayev played the part of Jesus, Judas was Lev Yelisavetsky and Magdalene was played by Qala Barinova; they also sang as a chorus. The show played to great acclaim throughout the Soviet Union, attracting such large crowds that they had to organize a special security force. In fact they caused so many problems for local administrations that they were not allowed to take the show to Odessa. 'Gaya' played concerts on seven consecutive days in one of the biggest concert halls in Moscow, 'Rossiya', and all of them sold out.
Older generations probably still recall 'Gaya's' programme, "Big City Lights" which made a huge impact in its day. I only need to list the organisers of this spectacular show. The directors were Mark Rozovski and Yuli Gusman, costume design was by Vyacheslav Zaytsev himself, posters were made by well known satirist Leon Izmaylov and avant-garde artist Shapov. The programme lasted for three hours. 'Gaya' demonstrated their versatility by singing Azerbaijani folk songs, music from other republics of the USSR and also songs by "Orero", "Samotsveti", "Pesnyari" and….. also friendly parodies of themselves. The 'Old Baku' part of the show included excerpts from the operetta "O olmasin, bu olsun" and formed the grand finale; it featured a scene in an old chaikhana (tea house) and the kidnapping of a bride.
- There was one aspect which was not clear at the time, but was fact: whatever country they were in, 'Gaya' created the finale as if it belonged to that culture. I'm sorry; I'd like to repeat what I said at the beginning of the interview: if we are to promote the music of Azerbaijan, it has to be by this sort of high level performance. The group continued to add to Azerbaijan's fame; they toured more than forty countries. The glorious past of 'Gaya' - a legend in the world of Soviet and Azerbaijani jazz - was like that, but now…..
For me forty years on stage was better than a life of 120 years without music. This great jubilee should be celebrated throughout the country, but 'Gaya' itself cannot celebrate with all its members. In 1988 Lev Yelisavetsky emigrated to Israel and from there moved to the USA, then Teymur Mirzayev moved to Israel. Only Rauf muellim remains to restore the jazz vocal tradition to Azerbaijan; he passes on his experience to the talented youth members of the group 'Beri Bakh' which he founded some years ago. These youth are already prizewinners in international competitions and it is absolutely fitting that their musical director is Rauf muellim, but the other members of 'Gaya' still in Azerbaijan, live in such bad conditions that I don't want to write about it here, true though it is. Yes, musicians who dedicated the best years of their lives to the glory of Azerbaijan now live on 15-20 shirvan each month, surviving as best they can. However strange this sounds, the neglect they suffer is rooted in the past.

Gaya

A sad fact of life for jazzmen and jazz lovers was that not all the simple Soviet people appreciated this music. The propaganda of newspapers and radio influenced them, for example, let's take a look at one of the contemporary newspapers, "If Beethoven could return to Earth and listen to a modern jazz orchestra he would thank God for being deaf." And another paper wrote, "As distinct from the people of the USA and Europe, most Soviet people would find this music strange, even if it was not banned."
For a small republic, which has produced so many traditions and talented musicians, it would be a sin not to educate our youth into this music. Finally about the members of 'Gaya'; to forget the people who made the world talk about Azerbaijan I can only describe as a CRIME.

by Seymur Zakaryayev