I first became acquainted with his family in 1941. At that time I was studying at the music school attached to the Conservatoire; the building was in Azizbeyov Street opposite the house where Rafiq Babayev was born. His mother, Shura Babayeva, was Director of Building Equipment of the school; we all loved 'Aunt Shura' very much. This was during the war, a time of food shortages and Aunt Shura had sole responsibility for the care and upbringing of her six children (I learned this later). I was a small boy then and didn't know any of the children: not Rafiq, not Vasila nor Ogtay, but I saluted this brave woman.
In the war years, staff and students were given "payok" - light breakfast rations, made of a kind of vermicelli called 'babka'; Aunt Shura wouldn't eat hers, but would pack it and take it home to her children.

In 1945 our school moved to the premises currently occupied by the Conservatoire and that was when I met and befriended Rafiq's elder brother Ogtay Babayev. Ogtay, Goga Kotsitadze, Oyrat Rustamzade, John Kashepava and Danechka Gaziyan were all friends together and Rafiq was for us just another boy. I remember as if it were yesterday the day I first noticed the boy whose head seemed too large for his shoulders. He coolly walked over to us with a sly smile and he reminded me of my younger brother Vagif who was nicknamed 'Bighead', so I thought of Rafiq as 'Bighead 2'. I didn't know then who he was or what kind of music he played; Ogtay played the saxophone but Rafiq was still studying at the music school.
Once there was a concert at the school and I wandered along. I was struck by the music I heard from one of the classrooms before the concert. Even now I'm bewitched by the memory of my favourite classical American jazz. I thought, "Oh my God, who's playing this music?" By the way, I should mention that I could play some jazz myself at that time. When I opened the classroom door I saw that it was Rafiq Babayev playing; I sat close to him and many others were there, too. He continued playing, sometimes looking my way - this was in 1950 or '51 - his playing was amazing. Rafiq already had his own audience and fans and I was proud to become one of them. As friends, I called the brothers 'Rafka' and 'Ogtaychik'…
Later we began our 'Conservatoire Period'; Rafiq studied in Rauf Atakishiyev's class and the two musicians got on very well. It wouldn't be true to say that Rafiq was a very good classical pianist. He often played serious music, such as Liszt's, but he had a serious flaw in his technical skills. As I was a classical musician, I can say that when Rafiq played certain classical passages he had some problems, but he played a cantilena very well and produced a fine sound.
There was a tradition then in the Conservatoire of parties at the New Year called kapustnik; at one of them Rafiq said, "Rafulya, let's play a piano duet". I wanted to refuse, thinking, "There you are, a jazz master and who am I?" "Oh, don't be so pathetic." Thus I had to agree. If you remember there was a children's song then: 'Malenkoy yolochke kholodno zimoy' (The small fir tree is cold in winter). We improvised on this theme: first we played it in the style of Bach, then Haydn, after that Mozart, Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Gershwin… and finally we played it as a very nice jazz piece. Also participating in the Conservatoire concert were well-known masters like Daniel Christoforovich Danilov, Georgy Zacharovich Burstein, Nikolai Semyonovich Chumakov, Jovdet Ismail oglu Hajiyev and others. You should have seen it! They were all swept away by our playing. Just imagine, this happened in

the school year of 1955-56, when the word 'jazz' was a red rag to a bull as far as our leaders were concerned.
I really regret that we didn't think of recording that concert; later Rafiq wanted to play a similar kind of concert with Vagif Mustafa-zadeh but circumstances didn't allow it and was another cause of regret for him.
That was our public debut. Although it was 50 years ago, when I meet old friends they don't ask me how I am or how my family is, they ask me, - Do you remember that kapustnik?
This was a long time ago, but to the end of my life I'll be grateful to Rafiq Babayev for the chance to play with him in that concert. I have played in many concerts since then but I have never played jazz. I am naturally a classical musician but I really love jazz; for me it is a spiritual thing.
I will never forget the tape recorder, 'Dnepr 3', it had huge spools and looked like something out of the Ark. Rafiq was one of the first to buy this machine in Baku. He called me and said, "Rafka, please come round, I have some great new records to play." We sat and listened in rapture.

Rafig Babayev

Once I recorded one of Willis Conover's broadcasts and ran with the spools across to Rafiq's, only to find that he had recorded it, too. If I remember rightly it featured big bands and he liked it very much; by then he was a well-known jazzman, but for me he was also the leading expert on jazz in Baku and Azerbaijan.
In talking about Rafiq it's not enough to say that he was a gifted jazz musician. He worked so hard and was always studying something; he would select one of the thousands of themes and work endlessly to develop it. I always remember his words: "Do you know boring it is and how sweet it is?" He also passed on what he knew to others, even, and sometimes almost sadistically, without even being asked; he was so professional that he knew how far he could go and how to develop someone's awareness. You could not fault his refined taste but he was not a showy person.
His death was something of a mystery… I can't forget wailing with Rafiq in a corner of a room in the Actors' Society building at Vagif Mustafa-zadeh's funeral. How could I have known that he would follow?!
When I look back over the years I understand the great role that Rafiq played in my life. I always bowed before this great jazzman, and still do; I have been told that he was very hard and demanding with his ensembles, but I think that leaders, especially among musicians, cannot be soft. Musicians can be undisciplined, but while I knew Rafiq he was almost pedantic in attention to detail.

It's difficult for me to talk about Rafiq; after all these years this is the first time I have talked at any length about him. There are some stories and memories which should remain in the soul. I don't want to reveal all my memories and feelings about him.
During his life he was a very dear person to me and his memory is as precious; so it will remain until the end of my life. I am endlessly grateful to this man. He brought joy to many people. I loved him and there are not many people I say that about…