A 'Cultural Revolution' has taken place in Azerbaijan: but this 'revolution' wasn't marked by blaring trumpets or wild disorder. Jazz music, which was not accepted in Soviet times, is now appreciated at the highest levels of society. The fact that three of the leading artistes of modern Azerbaijani jazz: Salman Gambarov, Rain Sultanov, Jamil Amirov, Javan Zeynalli and Rauf Babayev have been named 'Honoured Artists of Azerbaijan' is proof. It shows that this elite form of art is appreciated at government level. Given the all-pervading influence of senseless, low level pop music, this should be regarded as a 'double revolution'. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism stated that these were the 'first swallows' and there would be further appropriate support for national jazz from the government. The head of the Art Department of the Ministry, Farah khanim Aliyeva, said in an interview with this magazine, "There has always been a great interest in jazz in Azerbaijan, because there are deep roots and a rich tradition of this kind of art in Baku. These three musicians, in particular, have been recognised for their art and contribution to the preservation and development of jazz in Azerbaijan. In this way, the Ministry has given deserved recognition of their work."

Salman Gambarov

According to Farah khanim, Salman Gambarov, Rain Sultanoz and Jamil Amirov were the most deserving of all the artistes considered. The fact that prestigious jazz festivals have been held in Baku is very revealing. These musicians are well-respected by their foreign fellows have been able to express themselves to the world. They are known not only by jazz aficionados, but throughout music society in Azerbaijan. Rain Sultanov, for example, collected biographical information about musicians connected one way or another with jazz and published a book. As for Salman and Jamil, they are well known as talented pianists and composers; they both graduated from the composition faculty of the Conservatoire. Farah Aliyeva believes that jazz needs support and the organisation of major projects and concerts. The Ministry of Culture will not deny help to jazz in the future. The award of this honour provides both recognition of past service and stimulation for further work. Recognition, however, is of no great importance to musicians as they are engaged in continual creation.

The Department head of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism says: "I am sure that even if these musicians had not been honoured in this way, they would have continued their work as before. I know the work of each of these people very well and love them very much. The Ministry recently sent Salman Gambarov and Jamil Amirov to a jazz festival in Kazakhstan. They were fine ambassadors for Azerbaijan in that festival. You know how such performances help to popularise our country abroad. Well known jazz innovators and performers coming to Azerbaijan establish our country as a centre for jazz in the South Caucasus. With this in mind we are always ready to help promote Azerbaijani jazz to the world. Basically, it was the work of Vagif Mustafazade which brought Azerbaijani jazz to the attention of the world. Our jazz is now quite well known in the jazz and cultural circles of the world. These awards are a mark of the government's appreciation because the Ministry of Culture embodies the government's cultural policy. Perhaps we are a little late in awarding these honours in these cases. But the important fact is that it has been done now."

But what do the musicians say about themselves? Rain Sultanov says, "This honour was unexpected. Of course, these awards stimulate our morale, but it would have been good to have some financial stimulation, too…. I am grateful for this recognition of my musical and social work." Rain Sultanov's aim is to be more involved in creating music and, of course, helping to popularise jazz. Currently working on an album which promotes the Azerbaijani people, Rain Sultanov says, "It is very difficult to talk about people's culture and history via the language of jazz music.
Javan Zeynalli

The album, which will be called, 'The Story of my Native Land' will be accompanied by photographs of Azerbaijani children and elders who are living in hard conditions. I am grateful to the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr Abulfaz Garayev, and to all the staff of the Ministry for this award."

For Rain Sultanov, attention to the development of our national culture has increased since the arrival of Abulfaz Garayev as Minister.

Rain Sultanov says, jokingly, "I have already experienced the privileges attached to this award. When the traffic police stop me and recognise the driver as an Honoured Artist of Azerbaijan, they smile, bow and return my licence."

For Salman Gambarov, the importance of the award is that they have been given during the lifetime of the musicians. The award is a similar stimulation to that which comes from the holding of jazz festivals in Azerbaijan. All of this strengthens the musician in his belief that his work will be appreciated, but this award doesn't make me complacent. "There are still peaks to be climbed: 'Azerbaijan People's Artist', 'Nobel Prize'…..you should always aim higher" smiles Gambarov, who has already been a professional for 12 years, although a jazzman all his life. "During my time at school and the Institute, I thought I was playing jazz, but in 1996 I understood that to play real jazz you have to work hard and specialise. I worked hard before this award and continue to do so in jazz events and everyday practice. I don't get tired of this work; work is only hard if you want everything now but do nothing; this is terrible. I am lucky: all the projects I have wanted to accomplish have been realised, whether here or abroad."

Rain Sultanov

These projects have given Gambarov sometimes moral, sometimes financial, sometimes both rewards. The award has not affected his ambition. "I always felt like a general of the work I do." In saying this, Gambarov hopes to realise a major project in 2008: "As you know, 2008 has been declared the year of Gara Garayev; the composer's anniversary will be marked by great ceremony and his musical, 'The Crazy Gascon' will be staged. We are going to stage this event with the help of jazz musicians. It is true that this is all still at an early stage, but I promise that it will be an interesting concert."

One more pianist, awarded the title of 'Honoured Artist of Azerbaijan' , Jamil Amirov, thinks that the award of such a title will have a positive effect on the work of jazz musicians, he says, "I have never hankered after prizes or awards but, to know that I am wanted gives me great pleasure; I have been a jazz musician for nearly 20 years and objective appreciation of my work gives me greater energy and that's why I am grateful to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. If we note that nowhere in the world except Azerbaijan are jazz musicians honoured in this way, this is double the pleasure. I am absolutely sure that this would not have been possible during the tenure of the previous minister."

by Jeyhun Najafov