As in the rest of the world, jazz began its development in Azerbaijan with the orchestra. In 1939 Tofiq Quliyev was playing in Svasman's Orchestra in Moscow. Just after returning to Baku he joined Niyazi and formed the Pop Symphonic Orchestra; this was a watershed in the cultural life of this nation, because jazz emerged here out of that orchestra. Some years later, in 1956, Rauf Hajiyev established the State Pop Orchestra; and later still, Rashid Behbutov and the Gaya group continued the work.

In modern Azerbaijan there remain no traces of these jazz orchestras, just occasionally at midnight state television shows the orchestra which played under Rafiq Babayev. When you see the musicians in their raspberry-coloured jackets you realize that these are recordings from the early 1990s; television stations play one or perhaps two of their records per year.
While jazz trios are positively blooming it seems that jazz orchestras are going through the worst days of their lives.
In Baku the popularity of jazz orchestras was at its peak in the 1950s and 60s. At that time the Kremlin decided to open a small skylight of opportunity for musicians. After this the simple sounds of the foxtrot and the American spirit of swing music found its way from one or two restaurants into the halls, cinemas and students dances. The good years continued through the 1970s and 80s when there were nearly 20 orchestras in Baku. At the end of the 1990s, however, musicians were beset by financial problems and Big Bands found themselves in crisis. Now there are only two jazz orchestras in Baku - the Baku State Circus's 'Arena' Orchestra and the Azerbaijan State Television and Radio Pop Orchestra, and even they have a largely symbolic existence. So how are our jazz orchestras doing? The leader of 'Arena' Hasan Abbasguliyev believes that their problems are not problems of creativity but are rather social ones. He says: "The material circumstances of our orchestra are very hard. Wages are so low that it is difficult to organise the musicians, in fact the orchestra only works during school holidays when circus performances are held, at other times there is no work. Because the musicians don't have a normal wage they have to find other work, too, and this has a negative effect on their creativity."

The leader of 'Arena' continues by complaining, "The wages of our musicians are a tenth of the wages of those in the Symphonic Orchestra. In Soviet times the Baku Circus orchestra was in a very good position, because it was controlled by 'Soyuzgossirk' (The Union State Circus). All our problems began after independence."

As Hasan muellim says, not a single instrument has been bought since then and there is not enough sheet music, but the main problem is the state of the musicians' minds. After working in two or three other places they arrive at rehearsals very tired. Abbasguliyev asks, "What can I ask of them? In 'Arena' there are 19 people. The only motivation keeping them together is their love of jazz; but this love alone can only take us so far." What is the way forward? He says that has spoken to the media, government departments and foreign companies, but without result. Staff from the Ministry of Culture, including the well-known composer Khayyam Mirzazade,

Tofiq Bakikhanov, Eldar Rzaguliyev and Arif Babayev and others came to listen to the orchestra, but no help has come from the Ministry. Hasan muellim says: "It seems that the Ministry doesn't like us and doesn't listen to us." "There is a further problem; the audience for music has changed. There are not the jazz fans in Baku that there were in the 1960s and 70s. Jazz is for an elite audience and there are few left in Baku now."

He continues, "I don't know how long we'll be able to keep our orchestra. Everywhere in the world a jazz orchestra is the pride of its city. I wanted to fill the vacuum which has formed in our city, but I don't know what will happen."
The leader of the Baku State Circus's Orchestra has come to this conclusion. One possibility for reviving the 'Arena' Orchestra is to place it under the control of the mayoralty. If this were the case the orchestra could play, besides at school holidays, in the capital's parks and the Boulevard. An orchestra provides not just good music, but also an event, a performance. The metallic glitter of the wind instruments, and the synchronised movements of others, brings to mind a theatrical performance.
The other jazz orchestra, the State Television and Radio Pop Orchestra is in the same position. In the opinion of composer Faig Sujaddinov, who led the orchestra from 1988-97, it is characterised by a state of financial crisis. If it continues like this it could split up in two or three months. Talking about the history of our jazz orchestras, Sujaddinov mentioned the orchestra which used to work in the prestigious restaurant Dostlug (Druzhba); any musician could go to the restaurant and have an opportunity to play on the stage.
There were opportunities, too, for amateur musicians; one of the permanent patrons of the restaurant would sing 'Hello Dolly' in the style of Louis Armstrong. Sections of the government viewed some musical instruments negatively; for example the saxophone was regarded as an agent of imperialism, which is why saxophonists were always seated at the back of the orchestras. One of the best saxophonists of the period was Parviz Rustambeyov.
All of the capital's cinemas provided a base for a jazz orchestra and for such fine musicians as K Manafli, S Ibrahimov, R Seyidzade and pianist R Abdullayev. When Rauf Hajiyev's orchestra played in Leningrad there were 8 curtain calls; the audience simply would not let the musicians leave. Sujaddinov says that it was a great orchestra.

In the 1970s the legendary group "Gaya" as well as "Baku Lights", "We're from Baku", "Baku Smiles & Sings" and "Baku is With You" were very popular. According to Faig Sujaddinov, folk groups, symphonic orchestras and choirs, as well as jazz orchestras, should be regarded as symbols of the nation. In 1995, when Faig muellim was leader of the State Teleradio Orchestra, they gave a 90 minute jazz concert in the Philharmonia. After this Sujaddinov handed over the reins to Eldar Rzaguliyev (who now lives in Sweden).
Today a large question mark hangs over the orchestra's future. Faig muellim says: Think about it, every orchestra must have five or six musical arrangers, each with his own style. It is also good to invite musical arrangers from Moscow, Minsk or St Petersburg for specific projects, as when Kalvarsky came once to Rauf Hajiyev's orchestra. Furthermore, there should be daily rehearsals. An orchestra is like a living organism; its musicians need a decent salary; it also needs a supply of arrangements; it also needs to exchange musical ideas by participating in festivals etc. In this way our musicians could provide for themselves financially and advertise our musical culture. A state jazz orchestra is a fine means of furthering good relationships with other countries.
The musicians' mood at the moment is quite pessimistic. As A Manafli says, "As well as our low salaries, our status and leadership is in question. All the musicians have to play in restaurants and at weddings. It's ok for saxophonists, who may be invited to weddings, but what about trumpeters, trombonists and the others? The orchestra's repertoire is very limited; it all depends on money.

Payment is a very important problem and it requires state support. At the same time musicians can take on some of the management and finance raising responsibilities. For ourselves we can only hope that the history of Azerbaijan Jazz Orchestra will begin a new chapter based on the talent of our musicians and our not exactly impoverished government.

by Jeyhun Najafov