"NEW ORLEANS" ON THE SHORES OF THE CASPIAN

On a warm June evening in 1967 the first Baku jazz festival was held in the Green Theatre - a place much-loved by the populace. By that time jazz in Azerbaijan, from dissident beginnings, had progressed to become a mass folk art. From the early 50s to the end of the 60s (of the 20th century, that is) the 'focal points' of jazz life in Baku were the students' evenings held in the Oil & Chemicals Institute; the cream of Azerbaijani jazz was to be heard there. Every year, on a spring evening, our capital's jazz bands would play in the hall of the Institute. Those evenings were the forerunners of the All-Union Jazz Festivals of the USSR. Oyret Rustamov remembers those days well: "It was very difficult to get into those evenings - the atmosphere was one of mental and spiritual independence. These concerts featured mainly swing, dixieland and the music heard on the 'Voice of America' radio station.



Young musicians played according to their own understanding of the world and their level of music culture. The music from the US film 'Sun Valley Serenade' became their anthem. Glenn Miller's music was played at the beginning and the end of each concert. For local amateur jazz musicians, the only access to information was via short wave radio or primitive, pirate, vinyl records.

The appearance of the first jazz festival in 1967 was no accident. With the onset of Khruschev's 'cooling off' period, musicians were free to play music which had previously been regarded as alien. There was no longer the fear of being pursued by the party 'inquisition'.

At that time Baku enjoyed a booming infrastructure and a blossoming culture. The republic's capital opened its first metro line; cinemas, theatres, circuses, concert halls and stadiums all had packed houses. In Baku, an international, multi-cultural city, jazz benefited from conditions well-suited to its development. The main stages for jazz were the Nizami, Araz and Azerbaijan cinema foyers. Let me remind you, by the way, that our compatriot Shainsky, now well-known in Russia, was working then with an orchestra which played in the foyer of the Nizami cinema. Before the evening's film show, orchestras would play jazz to an audience which would dance or simply listen. The swing music of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane and others was played at these events. People who revel in nostalgia may still remember the performances of Devis in the Nizami Cinema, Rauf Hajiyev's orchestra in the Azerbaijan cinema, talented trumpeter I. Kalantarly, also L. Lubensky, V. Rubashevsky, Tartakovsky, Hajibagirov and others.



In the festival held in the Green Theatre, Baku was represented by three bands: Rafiq Babayev's quartet, an all-cinemas select orchestra and Arzu Huseynov's group (now living and working in Moscow).

As a member of the audience at that festival, musician David Koyfman remembers that it did not have a special name. Many, many music aficionados gathered before the Green Theatre. The music played was mainly popular tunes from America. In Koyfman's words, however, even then Rafiq Babayev's quartet included a Bayati Shiraz jazz arrangement. Vagif Mustafa-zadeh, who was living in Georgia at that time, did not participate in the festival.

The following year's festival was held in the indoor Hand-games hall. In addition to those who had been involved in the previous event, there was the excellent jazz singer, Mansur Gasimov - now living in Saratov - and also Vagif Mustafa-zadeh's trio (himself, T. Jafarov and N. Adilyarov). Musicians also came from Moscow and Kuibishev.

The next festival in Baku, in 1969, was a larger event. The first day was devoted to song, the second to jazz music. Performers arrived from Georgia, Estonia, Russia and, of course, Azerbaijan. In this concert, David Koyfman played with Vagif Mustafa-zadeh's group. Oyret Rustamov remembers, "Our musicians, especially Rafiq Babayev, prepared for this concert very seriously.

One of the bonuses of this festival was that our musicians, like Rafiq Babayev and the Qaya quartet, had an opportunity to show what they could do. Particularly after 1969, Azerbaijani musicians received frequent invitations to play in other festivals.


Many jazz groups came to Baku from the various regions of Russia. Examples were: one of Russia's most popular jazz orchestras, led by A. Koslov and T.Kurashvili's group. It was said that Oleg Lundstrem also wanted to bring his orchestra, but was finally unable to do so. Anyway, later on Oleg Leonidovich and his orchestra did perform in Baku.

In the 1960s, there weren't any CDs, private recording studios or FM radio stations. But Azerbaijani musicians had the chance to perform in festivals and our audiences could hear live performances by the Union's finest musicians. It is interesting that after the Baku-69 festival, it became fashionable to organise festivals in the various cities of the USSR. In Azerbaijan's capital, itself, however, many years passed before it held its next festival.



Jazz in Baku did continue to develop rapidly; the cinema foyer bands began moving into restaurants. The most prestigious restaurant in Baku at the time, the Dostluq (Druzhba) in Kirov Park, hosted The Cotton Club. V. Vladimirov's jazz orchestra played there every evening. Visiting musicians became very familiar with the restaurant; they would head for Druzhba after concerts and hold spontaneous jam sessions.

In the 1970s some Bakuvian musicians emigrated to foreign countries, but new jazzmen were appearing on the scene, full of fresh ideas. Relations between the USA and the USSR were improving, and a dramatic film about the life of American blues singer Billie Holliday was screened in the USSR. Soviet government agencies stopped jamming western radio stations and our jazz fans were allowed to hear Willis Conover's programmes, '45 minutes' and 'Jazz World' in peace.

Azerbaijani jazz was enjoying a real boom and its appeal was expanding. The phenomenon that was Vagif Mustafa-zadeh established himself in this period. In the 1970s and early 80s, festivals like 'Golden Autumn' and 'Baku-83' (in memory of Vagif Mustafa-zadeh) were held. The 'Baku-1987' All-Union jazz festival was also a success. For this festival all of the USSR's most popular jazz groups came to Baku. Hosting the festival was the soloist ensemble of the State Television & Radio Programmes Committee led by Rafiq Babayev, together with the Qaya quartet, Rovshan Rzayev's group, the Qazarov-Ptashko duo and other local musicians. The guest musicians included O. Plotnikov's 'Ural Dixieland'; G. Lukyanov's 'Kadans' jazz ensemble; N. Levinsky's 'Allegro'; Y. Vorontsov's 'Riff' group; Helmut Anikon's group, representing Estonian jazz; from Leningrad, T. Goloshekin's group; the Muscovite soloist trio (M. Okun, T. Kurashvili, V. Yepaneshnikov); A. Kuznetsov's instrumental trio; from Moscow, the Saarsalu-Vintskevich instrumental duo; the Jekalayev-Ivanov and Kramer-Fisher duos and others all performed successfully.



The youngest performer in the 'Baku-87' festival, already known as a talented singer and composer, was 17 year-old Aziza Mustafa-zadeh. Among those whose performances stood out were, from Moscow, I. Nararuk and I. Brill, singer Larisa Dolina from Ulyanovsk, and S. Terentyev from Odessa.

The 'Caspian Jazz & Blues' festivals in the years 2002-2004 were not universally acclaimed by either jazz fans or music lovers in general. The first in this series, the festival in 2002, had the better line-up, but the next was weaker and the third was clearly unsuccessful. Together with their commercial, entertainment and intellectual functions, festivals are expected to have an educational role, too. It is a shame that the 'Caspian Jazz & Blues' festivals failed to promulgate this art among young musicians and Azerbaijani society in general. The festival held last year, 'Baku Jazz 2005', was, both in form and content, very successful and engendered hope for the restoration of Baku's reputation as the 'New Orleans' on the Shores of the Caspian.

Jeyhun Najafov