Eternal Master is the role played by Rafiq Babayev in the life of the leader of the "Savab" group

Leader of the 'Savab' jazz group, Jamil Amirov, is preparing an album to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of the outstanding Azerbaijani composer and musician Rafiq Babayev. Today's conversation with Jamil Amirov will be about the album and contemporary Azerbaijani jazz:

Rafiq Babayev's work covered an entire period of Azerbaijani jazz. Of course one album cannot cover all his work…

The project will cover just one aspect of his music; his film music. A lot of work has gone into the album, which will consist of seven discs; it will be ready by spring. I listen to the music and select in consultation with the Babayev family. This project will be wide-ranging and influential, as was Babayev's career. The selection process is a very difficult one. The music is variously influenced by folk (songs and instrumental) as well as by variety and symphonic forms. Jazz lovers are in for a few surprises; many are unaware that the familiar music from their favourite films was composed by Rafiq Babayev. There was great variety in his work. We were given material by 'Azerbaijanfilm' studio for this project. As hard as the work is, the quality of Babayev's music makes it is so rewarding.
Alongside this project I am writing music for the 10th Anniversary show of new designs by Leila Ahmedova's Inter Turan Fashion House. This is also very interesting work. There are other projects, too.

How are things with 'Savab'?

Jazz music always demands concentration and development from its musicians. You can't mark time; you have to move forward. We are currently devising a new programme. We are also, of course, getting ready for the Jazz festival, Baku 2006. As before, our new programme will contain ethnic jazz. For my character, this music is my spiritual home.

Why do you favour ethnic jazz? It's said that folk jazz has a limited range and appeal, 'we stay in our own backyard'. Do you agree with this?

No, I don't think so. I believe that ethnic jazz, especially my favourite jazz-mugham, and music based on national traditions has great scope and potential. By the way, this is a world-wide phenomenon: in some countries stronger than in others. Ethnic jazz could become the visiting card of our culture if it had sufficient funds and resources, with significant support for musicians. To become successful, investment needs to be allied to skill and creativity.

Are you saying that everything comes down to money?

No, of course money is not the only answer, but it is certainly necessary for future development. For example, it needs effective promotion. I'm not just talking about support from government; sponsors and benefactors are also needed. It is difficult for us to understand when only one person in the business world supports us. In principle, there are different ways forward here. In Moscow, for example, Gnesin's Institute did it. Being objective, however, I have to say that the conditions for jazz here are much better than those in our neighbouring countries. What concerns me is that our potential should be fulfilled. This potential could be realised given the right conditions. I believe that it is high time the public became involved in the development of our national jazz.

Jamil Amirov

But Vagif Mustafa-zadeh, for example, joined the elite of world jazz from very unpromising beginnings. We were full of pride when Willis Conover and Maria Siliberti introduced 'our Vagif's music' on Voice of America. Without money or support, with no image, he flew to the heavens….

Let me answer with the same metaphor: Vagif enjoyed the heavens for a short time, but he finally melted his wings: he didn't reach forty. Everything he did for his art came from totally unselfish devotion. Such people are not confined to jazz; they are to be found in the other branches of culture, too. Vagif Mustafa-zadeh's work was an example of patriotism and self-sacrifice, in his time he was a sensation. Like him, Rafiq Babayev also integrated folk music into jazz, but in a different way. The labours of these outstandingly creative men produced ever more fruitful harvests. Those closest to Vagif deliberately provoked him, as a result, like Prometheus, he was burned up. His heart simply could not stand it. To avoid a repeat of this kind of sad fate, jazz musicians should be given some support. You know, musicians cannot earn enough to live just by playing jazz. They have to take on extra work, but this takes up the time and energy that they should be using on jazz. This is why musicians have to spread their energies around. It is only possible to maintain one discipline at a professional level, but jazz is an art which demands total dedication and selflessness from a musician. Where there is no market for jazz, this is impossible. In reality, jazz musicians are forced to work in restaurants and other places. Do you know how many talented musicians have been lost for this very reason? My heart aches to see so many talented young musicians melting away.

As for 'staying in our own back yard', this depends on communication between our musicians and those of other countries and, for young musicians to realise their own potential, this depends on the establishment of a real jazz school. Jam sessions, for example, are good catalysts for the development of jazz, but they happen here so rarely.

You knew Rafiq Babayev very well. What, for you, was the most important moment in his career? And what was his dream?

I look upon Rafiq Babayev as a spiritual father, teacher and friend. He contributed so much to my development as a jazz musician. He had one dream: to be able to concentrate on his own work and to have creative independence. Rafiq worked in Rashid Behbutov's theatre for a long time. But there were different rules there. This is why, when he left the theatre, he achieved more independence and became more relaxed. When he was appointed leader of the Variety Symphony Orchestra, he only needed wings to fly. He was so happy. Again, however, he wasn't given the space necessary to work on music which was outside the mainstream. But freedom is most important for jazz musicians. I learned a lot from Rafiq Babayev, but when I remember him I understand that there is more to learn from him. The main feature I recall was his tremendously liberal nature; he was a really true person. He will always remain in my memory as the embodiment of enlightenment.

Jamil Amirov

In Rafiq Babayev's time, there was more interest in jazz than now. All the restaurants in Baku played jazz music then….

It seems that the belief that the 'forbidden' always arouses interest was particularly applicable at that time. This automatically made jazz popular. You can't compare those conditions with these times. Now jazz festivals are held, there is a jazz centre and jazz clubs. I think the jazz festivals give great impetus to the development of jazz, both to musicians and audiences, whether real jazz aficionados or those who come to it by chance. Of course we would like a lower proportion of casual listeners. Jazz is not the kind of music to fill the halls - a half full auditorium is good. How to put it? - Quality not quantity. But the problem of promoting jazz remains. It is a shame that we promote jazz only once a year. Then everything dies down and remains that way until the next festival. That's why we need other events to maintain the interest in jazz. What about jazz in restaurants? It's now been forced out by a different kind of music. I have a problem giving a name to the kind of music played in restaurants today. It wouldn't be right to call it 'pop'; it is something different. It seems there is an audience which wants to listen to this music.

Do they want it or is it imposed on them?

That's a difficult question. One version is that someone else decides what people should listen to.

What do you think? Do you think jazz is part of show business today?

Of course not, otherwise we would never be off the television screen; although they show us at four in the morning, and we should be grateful for that, too. It is a shame that some in the mass media who are remote from jazz, nevertheless talk about it. On those channels we hear 99% pop music and 1% jazz music. We need real promotion of jazz. People should be able to rely on one channel playing jazz. And there should be distinction between the audiences for different kinds of jazz. Apart from avant-garde jazz there is also popular jazz, which can draw in new audiences. If ten people listen to this music, perhaps one will like it; this is real promotion. It is a shame that there is nothing like this on existing channels, and I don't know the reason for this. In other countries there are dozens of radio channels. Nowadays mugham is promoted in a quite professional way, and I applaud this wholeheartedly. Most people have begun to listen to mugham - do you know why? Because it is possible to hear it quite often on radio and television. Other genres: classical and jazz, should be promoted in the same way.

I apologise for this slightly shallow question: which is your favourite of your own works?

Do you know, I don't listen to my own music. During the process of writing music, a composer hears it so much that later he doesn't want to listen to it. As for jazz classics, my favourite is Miles Davis, among other musicians.

Jeyhun Najafov