Part I: Beginning
No one has yet described his inner world: his rebelliousness, irreconcilable nature and the music of his soul. I wonder if it's possible to do it as he himself does not fully understand his own nature or what challenges he will face in the future; whether they will be threatening or exciting.
His life has been one of improvisation from the beginning; he has an innate talent and this says everything about him.
I wouldn't call Rauf Sultanov a positive character; rather he is a well-rounded and fully-developed personality - it's possible to discuss with him at length, whether you agree or not, and you can be sure of coming to an answer to your questions. His creative career is measured in decades, he has worked with the best musicians and he can certainly be counted among them. His feeling for music, his capacity for hard work and application to the study of every string of his instrument is clear to his audience.
Early in his career, his work with the ensemble of the legendary Rashid Behbutov, and their close relationship, gave a positive start to his professional life. Within a short period he became a popul ar bass guitarist in concerts in Europe, Asia and Africa and this established dreams in his soul and an appetite for the future; they were happy years. It seemed that time did not obey nature's rules, it had its own scale, but eventually time passed, youth was left behind and the clock cannot be re-wound.

Part II: New Horizons
He had friends who, with great difficulty in those days, found and copied records and this affected Rauf's developing taste in music. They were listening to jazz music, even while still at school, and loved the music. Jazz is the kind of music which offers something new to every hearing, improvisation and analysis. Rauf believed Jaco Pastorius was the best bass guitarist, accepting him as the leader of a new current and can't gat enough of him even today. From his youth a jazz fan, Rauf has been true to his hero and his music, dedicating his life to jazz.

Rauf Sultanov

The years in which he worked with Rafiq Babayev were hard but productive. Generally Babayev was the architect of creativity within his ensemble and Rauf gained much from the twenty years they worked together. He gathered experience and knowledge and also learned how to rehearse for twelve, or even fifteen, hours without a break. Rafiq Babayev, of course, selected the best musicians and by joining the group Rauf changed his own fate; it was one of the most crucial moments in his musical life.

Part III: Far from Home
From the beginning of time, along with peace and love, there have been the downsides of life and Azerbaijan has had its share of misfortune. At that time those we had considered to be friends became our enemies. The crisis affected all of the arts, the tension in the country and the difficult political situation affected everyone. Naturally in conditions of war, it was impossible to continue creative activity, including music. Unable to bear this injustice, Rauf left Baku and lived and worked in Moscow for five years. Playing with other musicians in sessions and concerts was helpful, but he could not completely forget.

Rauf Sultanov

Part IV: Syndicate
From the day of its formation this was a well-loved and popular jazz group. Organised by Rauf's youngest brother, jazz saxophonist Rain Sultanov - perhaps this was why it was so interesting for Rauf to work in this group. Besides them in the group were: Eldar Rzakuli-zade, keyboards and Vagif Aliyey (later, Rauf's younger brother Ramin Sultanov) drums. Rauf by now was a mature musician and stood out for his virtuosity and precision, being one of the strongest links.
The music played by Syndicate was fully in tune with Rauf's direction and when they played their faultless jazz-rock improvisations in concerts and festivals they were received with great acclaim. On their album, 'Last Moment' Rauf included his solo composition, 'Mirage'. Syndicate was a very strong group and every member merits respect.
These are very important moments in any musician's life. He feels the onset of change and looks for a new sound, his fingers search for inspiration. For Rauf Sultanov, the double bass was always an object of worship, he knew that one day he would study and learn to control that instrument; it has always been a feature of his character to set and achieve his goals. He was soon successful, his audience recognised in him not only a good bass-player but also a lyrical player of jazz ballads and well-loved traditional music.

Part V: Wisdom
After the splitting up of Syndicate, Rauf organised his own collective; he invited experienced musicians. From then on he dedicated himself to playing the bass, and accepted that traditional music is among the best of classical jazz music, giving him the opportunity to demonstrate his abilities. Today, Rauf is in a quiet mood, and this allows him to re-visit and understand his experience and approach from a different angle. The freedom and breadth possible in improvising on double bass has greater attraction for him now than the rhythmic improvisation of the bass guitar. This improvising give wings to his imagination and allows him to lose himself in the musical ocean.

Rauf Sultanov

Part VI: Talking

Rauf, why did you leave Rashid Behbutov's ensemble?
I was introduced to Rashid Bahbutov's group by Rafiq Babayev and he also took me out of it. At that time Rafiq Babayev was choosing the best musicians for his own group and I accepted his offer.

Can we say that your jazz career began when you joined Rafiq Babayev's group?
Yes and no. Yes because while I was working with Rafiq I deeply understood jazz as a genre and an art and I can say that Rafiq Babayev was my teacher. No because the love of jazz first appeared in my soul many years before.

Rauf Sultanov

Is it true that musicians in Rafiq Babayev's group hated each other?
No, I don't agree with that. Rafiq's genius was in being able to direct and establish communication between everyone, he was a real leader. For example, like Miles Davis or Art Blakey he could direct a large ensemble of the best stars and that is not easy.

I was told that you had a memorable last discussion with Rafiq Babayev….
It's true, and it is very hard to recall that discussion. I was working in Moscow at the time. He called me there and said, "Rauf, tell me that you won't stay there forever and we will work together again, won't we?" I heard a hopelessness in his voice as he spoke. I had left Baku in a very complicated period and he told me, "You leave us in troubled times for us," but my situation was so difficult that I couldn't
Rauf Sultanov

stay here any longer. There were no conditions for making music, I remember the group could only get work and money for the synthesiser, but Rafiq shared that money between all the musicians. There were only three in the group: Rafiq Babayev, Seyavush Kerimi and me, the other musicians had gone different ways. It was a difficult period; we kept in touch by phone from time to time. Rafiq was interested in my situation, living conditions and work, but after our last conversation I didn't feel right - why that was so I can't explain.

What did you get from the Moscow years?
In Moscow I played mainly in restaurants; I had to earn money to make a living, pay the rent and keep my family which was with me. In my spare time I went to studios and took part in recordings. I was working with well-known Russian musicians like: Kozlov, Ostakhov and Baryshnikov. I don't think it was wasted time, it was useful. At that time I gathered more experience, becoming stronger and more fully formed.

You have been offered the chance to move abroad, why did you stay here?
This is one of the most difficult questions I have faced. I think every person has his own fate and whatever we do we can't escape it. Perhaps it's God's wish.

Talented people usually say that people around them can't accept them for what they are.
For me this is normal, because creative people are a little different and when you watch them they are out of the ordinary.

Has it happened very often that people take exception to your opinions?
In general do you think you attract conflict?

Generally, I don't get involved in conflict, but I can sometimes get angry in a discussion. In this kind of situation I can argue but I really try not to upset people, I generally find I can convince people of my opinion, but it doesn't always work. I don't like people who think too much of themselves but with friends and relatives I try to behave as they would wish because people are different in their natures and characters.

I heard that you agreed to the splitting up of Syndicate. Is that true?
Yes, it is true. Syndicate was a very strong and well-organised group, thanks to the work of my younger brother Rain Sultanov, leader of the group, and I played my part, too because I was responsible for the rhythm section. The quartet that has a good rhythm section is always noticed. Vagif Aliyev was a good, professional drummer and pianist Eldar Rzakuli-zade was equally good. We thought about Syndicate for a long time before it was formed; it was a dream for us. But a dream can disappear as quickly as it appeared; this was the same.

Rauf Sultanov and Rafig Babayev

In which group did you have most freedom?
None of them. For me there hasn't been this kind of group yet, but I hope it will happen one day. When working, there is always something I like and something I don't like. This is to do with not being satisfied in myself. Sometimes it seems that the piece I'm playing is the best, then later I realise that, no, I haven't played the best one yet.

The musicians in your own group - how did you choose them?
The main thing for me is the relationship between the musicians. They have to be true to each other and not to fight on the stage, or struggle for superiority. Once Vagif Sadikhov invited me to work with him, but after playing only two compositions we understood that we wouldn't be able to work together, that's why, before spoiling our relationship with each other, we separated in time. I don't have a great number of friends, but my relationships with my brothers are excellent and I'm proud of them. Although it is not easy for us to play all together, we have preserved the sincerity of our relationships. Each of us is a professional musician and naturally we have our own opinions about music. That's why sometimes it was difficult to smooth over the rough edges; we understand each other so well that we can solve any problem on the stage, we all listen carefully to the others' playing. This was a factor in Syndicate's unique nature. In today's group there is also friendship and this is important to me.

You haven't played bass guitar recently.
There are a few reasons. I can say only that in the current period I prefer to play double bass.

Rauf Sultanov

Aren't you afraid that you may forget how to play bass guitar?
No, I'm not worried about that because the double bass and bass guitar are instruments from the same family. Even though they are played in a different way they can deliver a musical phrase in the same way. I can never forget how to play the bass guitar because I dedicated nearly 15 years of my life to the instrument and first learned how to improvise on it. At the end of the sixties there were a lot of musicians in Baku, but I was the first to try to improvise. By that time the bass guitar was only regarded as an accompanying instrument. Of course the double bass and bass guitar are different instruments and the double bass, being heavy, is physically more demanding. An experienced bass guitarist, however, can master it easily.

Is there any musician very close to you?
I would like to be like the great musician, Eddie Gomez, but as a bassist I can compare myself with George Mraz. Our motivation is very similar and whenever I listen to him I feel that even our thoughts are similar.

What do you think is the future of jazz in Azerbaijan?
I think our jazz has a future. After Rafiq Babayev's tragic death, this branch of music fell into a period of inertia, most musicians lost direction without the force who had driven jazz forward so powerfully and who appreciated the importance of the music for us. But in these situations God always sends us someone who can't just stand by, but who takes responsibility for the fate of his national culture; among those distinguished by their cultural eminence is Nuri Ahmedov. For some years he has been associated with all the best developments in our jazz world. I am grateful to him for everything he has done for this unique genre in our country, also to my brother Rain Sultanov who has worked indefatigably in the same cause and to God who always sends us such people.

Do you have your own students?
Not at the moment, but there are some young musicians who stay in touch with me and I try to help to solve their problems and point them in the right direction.

Do you have any regrets?
I don't have any regrets yet because I have dedicated my life to work that I enjoy, although I graduated from the Economical University and decided to become a musician. It is true that many people have tried to take me in different directions, but I became a musician and I see that it had to be.

What is the peak of your creation?
I don't know, I simply want to live my life. I want to pass on my knowledge to others, to have my own students. The work I began they can continue. Of course, if I can achieve all of this, this could be the peak of my creation...

by Leyla Efendiyeva