In the last issue of the magazine, we wrote in the article, 'Requiem for the Orchestra', about the problems faced by our 'Estrada' (variety) orchestras. The article caused a bit of a stir, especially among musicians. Thus we return to the theme. The fact that somebody noticed makes us hope that perhaps fortune will smile again upon these musicians. How can we restore the popularity of our variety orchestras? We talked to Hasanaga Qurbanov, head of the Baku City Authority's Culture Department.

You are not far removed from the problems faced by our orchestras; how would you answer the standard questions: whose fault is it and what can be done?

Before talking about the future for these orchestras we first of all have to look at the path they have travelled so far. In 1975 I formed a Variety Symphony Orchestra in the State Television and Radio's Youth Editorial Office and I have to say that in those days the musicians were extremely enthusiastic. Our rehearsals were held in what is now the Adilov Palace of Culture; jazz was closely associated in those days with the wind instruments and I still believe that they are the principal elements of jazz music. Later, a string orchestra was formed under Tofiq Ahmedov and some of my musicians moved to that orchestra. I also formed a pure jazz orchestra, called 'Aygun'; this happened at the time I was leading the 'Dan Ulduzu' (Morning Star) orchestra. We played concerts mainly in the clubs of the city; there were many very talented musicians. Now our government's support for a new generation of wind instrumentalists is a praiseworthy project.
The economic crisis which followed the collapse of the USSR led to many talented musicians leaving the country. This had a negative impact on both symphonic and variety orchestras. Before forming the Azerbaijan State Television Jazz Orchestra there was an orchestra at the State Philharmonia; and after that the 'Bakinin Isiqlari' (Lights of Baku) orchestra was formed. I remember the musicians in that band very well: Zaur Nurullayev, Natavan Sheykhova were among the soloists.

Now, about the position today. Two years ago, I actually raised the problem you dealt with in the article. The main point is to form a jazz orchestra within the Baku City Authority's Culture Department, but there is one major problem: the musicians would not be happy with the salary we could offer. To repeat: they will not be happy with their pay. The problem is that in our country there are cultural bodies at State level and at city level. For example, the Opera and Ballet Theatre and the Symphony Orchestra operate at State level, but Jennet Salimova's theatre or the 'Jangi Folk Ensemble' operate at city level. In the former, workers receive a high level of salary, whereas the latter receive a lower salary. Thus it will be difficult for the mayoralty to finance this jazz orchestra. Let's be realistic, a jazz orchestra needs a good financial and technical foundation, including costumes, instruments, sheet music, arrangements and other facilities. I have an alternative suggestion: there is a Union of Baku Music Ensembles in our city, and it really works. It would be possible to transfer one of the orchestras to the Union and then to look for sponsorship - I don't think that businesses would refuse their help. This is one way of keeping these orchestras going.

On the other hand, unfortunately I have to admit that the level of today's orchestras does not permit them to represent our country; compared with before, today's orchestras are not so good.
Our government has set a good example for the bringing up of a new generation of jazz musicians and the continuation and development of our tradition of talented wind instrumentalists. Good conditions have been provided for wind and string musicians in our music schools; in the Conservatoire they are free of testing and competition. The young people entering the Conservatoire today will, in 15 year's time, be playing in appropriate orchestras.

I support the idea of a city jazz orchestra, because Baku is a jazz city; there is a good tradition here. There were Bakuvian musicians in all the jazz ensembles of the former USSR. To be honest, we did not take Tofiq Ahmedov's orchestra seriously at the time but now, looking back, we have to admit that it was real jazz. The fact that composers like Gara Garayev and Khayyam Mirzazade were composing for them says a lot. If our budget allows it, we will form a new jazz orchestra in 2006. There will be a competitive entry to this orchestra and I think this will engender a professional big band. And what about the AzTV orchestra and the 'Arena' band? - I don't think they will split up. First of all, AzTV has become a share company; this fact brings new opportunities for raising finance. Secondly, the members of both orchestras will receive an increase in wages in the New Year. Thirdly, once the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is operating, our government will have the finance to support them. But I would like to say this to young musicians. In our youth we were ready to do anything for the sake of our art, rather than for money. It's a pity that we don't come across this attitude very often today. Now when you suggest something to musicians, they simply ask how much they will be paid. Anyway, I'd like to say that the desire for money cannot supersede creativity. There were times when we used up nearly all our student grant to get music copied.

"Do you think these financial problems will force young musicians to leave our country?"

You know that we often exaggerate our musicians' abilities. Jazz is not played note by note, this music has to come from the player's soul, but not all musicians can play this way. Some musicians, after a little success, believe they are the best. We sometimes appreciate them more than they deserve. Some of them even go to foreign countries and meet with no success. I promise that I will give my concrete suggestions in the cause of the variety orchestras. The situation of the variety orchestra is different now from previous times. If before, composers and government staff thought of variety and jazz music as 'light' music, today variety music is accepted as a principal element of our national culture. It is my own opinion that it is much easier to play in a symphony orchestra than it is to play in a variety orchestra. If you give a jazz composition to a musician from a symphony orchestra and a musician from a variety orchestra, the symphony musician will play serious music but the variety musician will play according to the requirements of the piece. I have been in my office for four years now and problems which appeared insurmountable are gradually resolved. I hope that the cultural problems will be speedily resolved; especially because journalists are worried about the fate of these orchestras.

by Jeyhun Najafov