December 16th 2005 marks the 25th anniversary of the death of the legendary Azerbaijani jazz pianist Vagif Mustafa-zadeh. It is our duty to learn about and remember such great musicians and to hold them as an example to all of us.
Vagif Mustafa-zadeh is one of the founders of the jazz mugham style whose impact remains undiminished by the passage of time, law and borders. Both unique pianist and wonderful composer, he consistently produced jazz of the very highest order.
Vagif was born on 16th March 1940 in Baku. He was obliged to his mother for his musical education - Zivar khanum was one of the first Azerbaijani pianists, knowledgeable exponent of mugham and pupil of the famous Uzeir Hajibeyov. It was not easy for her when her 9-year old son, already comfortably performing national melodies, began to play as he wished in his own style. Long conversations and explanations could not change the opinion of little Vagif, who did not realize that he had already begun to improvise. He went to musical school where, besides mugham which he knew very well, he began to study the work of such classical composers as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin. The piano became Vagif`s life. A tape recorder and records of foreign jazz musicians appeared in the house and played vital roles in the maestro's development. He discovered music so similar to that which had been alive in him all those years and he found he could not live without it.
His first performance on the grand stage of the Baku Philharmonic society hall on 30th May 1956 was a landmark for the youthful Vagif. The 16-year old Mustafa-zadeh played the first part of a Mendelson piano concerto and impressed the outstanding conductor and composer Niyazi, who immediately recognized the young musician's potential.

Vagif Mustafa-zadeh

One year later Vagif entered the Asaf Zeynalli Musical School in Baku. He began his public career, playing solo at the Radio Committee of Azerbaijan. In 1964 Vagif went to the Hajibeyov Azerbaijan State Conservatoire and in 1965 he left for Tbilisi. The reason for his departure was an invitation to work as musical instructor of the "Orero" group. There he became friends with the talented musician and academic, Tamaz Kurashvili, and they began their cooperation: they worked on new projects and played at jazz concerts and festivals together. At the "World Festival of Jazz" in Tallin Vagif successfully played several compositions and conquered the hearts of listeners with his expansively lyrical performance. "Vagif Mustafa-zadeh is a top class pianist and it is difficult to find his equal in the world of jazz. He is the most romantic pianist I have ever heard", said American critic Wills Kanover.

Vagif Mustafa-zadeh

Azerbaijan's Minister of Culture, Rauf Hajiyev, insisted on his return and he left for Baku in 1968. The hometown and favorite streets of Icheri Sheher, where he spent his childhood and the faces of those near and dear to him, greatly encouraged Vagif and a new period of creative activity began. In 1970 he formed the vocal group "Leyli" which soon became very popular in Baku. A year later, in 1971, the personnel changed and the group was renamed "Sevil", becoming a tighter and stronger unit. Numerous video clips were filmed and many melodies and songs with jazz arrangements were recorded. Vagif Mustafa-zadeh proved to be a sensitive and knowledgeable leader of four wonderful girls, one of whom was to become his wife. In his compositions he often drew on world and national classical works. He appreciated greatly the creativity of many Azerbaijani composers. The person he admired most as a musician was Uzeir Hajibeyov; but he also
Vagif Mustafa-zadeh

respected the talents of Gara Garayev, Fikret Amirov and Niyazi. He had especially good relations with Tofig Guliyev, who helped and supported Vagif very much. He was indebted to Rauf Hajiyev and Parviz Rustambeyov for their promotion of jazz music in the republic. Rafig Babayev and he were brought to close friendship through their shared love of jazz. They often performed at concerts and in jazz festivals.
In 1977 Mustafa-zadeh formed the "Mugham" jazz group. The group's name was no coincidence: Vagif brought his audience to the two different worlds of east and west by a careful synthesis of jazz and mugham. The professional musicians whom he taught also played in the group. These were years of studying the greatest music and of endless, hard work. An extraordinary memory, a light touch in performance and his sensitive mastery marked him out from others. He devoted himself fully to work, putting all his time and energy into it.
While all this was going on, Vagif somehow found time for involvement in bringing up his two daughters. He gave them an excellent musical education, providing them with a living example of the ideal artiste. He was proud and happy when his youngest daughter Aziza played with him at the "Tbilisi 78" festival in Georgia, where he was a prizewinner and his 8-year old daughter won the special prize of the festival. He could never have imagined that the young Aziza would make his dream come true by becoming, herself, a musician of world standard.
Vagif never had the opportunity to show his mastery on the world jazz stage: the hard political climate of that time presented too many complications and obstacles. He could compete with other musicians of the world only after he had sent his "Waiting for Aziza" composition to the World Contest of Jazz Music in Monaco in 1979. He was happy and excited to learn that his composition had won first prize and he became the best of the best musicians in the world. His prize was a "White piano", a symbol of pure music, bearing peace and love for life - well-suited to the music of Vagif Mustafa-zadeh.
On 15th December 1979 Vagif was again on the tour with the "Mugham" group in Tashkent. He was breathing with difficulty and moved his fingers heavily during the first half of the concert. Doctors advised him to stop the concert, but Vagif persisted and played the second half too. It was to be the last concert of Vagif Mustafa-zadeh, a man full of life and energy and whose name became a legend in Azerbaijani jazz music. Those close to him could not have expected his death, because a whole life and many new achievements lay ahead of the very young-at-heart, thirty-nine year old musician. But they say, that "only the good die young" and nobody is able to change destiny; it is impossible to bring back even the dearest from death.

Vagif Mustafa-zadeh

Today, looking back we realize that it was not easy to live and work during those very complicated years in the era of socialism and strict rules in Azerbaijan for such an extraordinary, original pianist and composer like Vagif Mustafa-zadeh. There were many disputes and arguments around Vagif`s personality when he was alive and after his death too. He was no ordinary man and did not accept the rules created by society either in music or in life. His compositions and improvisations are carefully analyzed and discussed by professional jazz musicians and by young players who try to continue the work he started. Vagif Mustafa-zadeh was a revolutionary and an outstanding personality of his time.

by Rain Sultanov