The end of 2004 saw two memorable jazz occasions: the release of the albums of legendary Vagif Mustafazadeh and Rain Sultanov’s solo concert. It’s traditional at this time of year to think back over the events of the past twelve months. This time we turned to art theoretician Jahangir Seilimkhanov and asked him to share with readers his views on developing tendencies and the prospects for jazz in Azerbaijan.

It is possible to say that, as with other arts, jazz is attracting more of our youth. Without innovation art is condemned to conservatism; together with new musicians, new ideas arrive on the scene. The appearance in recent years of growing numbers of jazz musicians gives us confidence in the well-being of this art form.
Another question arises, however - do the youth come to listen to this music? It’s clear that they associate it with their parents’, even their grandparents’, generations. Some things are inevitably associated with the particular eras in which they were innovatory or revolutionary. Music also has to connect directly with its audience.

In your opinion, how can jazz relate most directly to today’s world? Some who come to jazz for the first time simply don’t know how to respond to the music they hear. They don’t know whether to treat it as entertainment or serious art.

I can’t give any advice to musicians, but everyone chooses his own stage. Perhaps a musician could ask why he needs a huge auditorium - some believe that an audience of 50 or 100 is enough for them. For this kind of musician the opinion of those who understand and appreciate is most important. In this respect we can’t say that jazz is heard less in Azerbaijan than elsewhere. Maybe the more accessible styles of jazz are not presented here enough and styles such as R&B, acid jazz, new jazz and neo soul have lost their original simplicity. A huge global industry has grown up: recording companies, radio stations and festivals present "smooth jazz". The harmonic language of this gentle, intelligent music is more complicated than pop music; spicy chords combine with gentle melodies. It is clear to me how this music will develop and it is boring for me. This music stirs neither soul nor imagination. If we had this kind of music perhaps we would have a larger audience, but if we don’t have it here it’s because our musicians are not interested in it.
We should not be afraid of experiment, we have to attract and propagate a young audience; it is absolutely possible. I’d like to give an example unconnected to jazz; the well-known theoretician and theatre manager from Tbilisi, Levan Khetagori, told me something recently. "In a seminar devoted to independent theatre performance, our new directors complained continually that they could not work within the state decreed framework, but I gave them some very simple advice. I said, go to ordinary schools, work with the students there, work on their minds and attract them to experiment in theatre. In five years you will have your own audience. If you work with students in the 8th form, after five years, when they are twenty years old, they will go to the theatres and take their friends with them. This may call to mind the methods of revolutionaries and evangelists, but if we are to attract a bigger audience to jazz it’s best to use proven methods and turn to the younger generations.

What do you think are the prospects for jazz folk in the future? Some musicians think that jazz here is marking time. Perhaps, to achieve recognition in Europe and America, our musicians have to look for a new way forward; as we saw Middle Eastern motifs find their way into Western pop and, last year, an Indian influence.
Jahangir Seilimkhanov

This is a common problem, and not only within jazz. Imagine that in a modern, cosmopolitan country like Sweden, cinema critics are concerned about external influences on their films (I heard this in discussions at the festival of Swedish films in Baku). If this is a problem for the Swedes then it’s even more of a problem for us. Seen from the outside we seem an exotic place little affected by urbanisation and globalisation. In my opinion this will soon become a problem of everyday concern. The Azeri composer who chooses not to draw on his national heritage will have to defend his right to do so; he will inevitably be drawn into this debate. It’s the same with jazz. By the way, there’s nothing wrong with this; for example Rain Sultanov’s CD �Mugham Megam’ is entirely based on ethnic compositions, while Syndicate’s album is not. Salman Gambarov devised a programme �East or West’ with a nagara player and scat vocalist, but from the stylistic point of view he has more serious �conservatoire’ programmes, too. As in these programmes the name �Bakusti’ doesn’t focus primarily on the �Baku’ content. It is a complicated process and it is difficult to say which direction will be more fruitful. The question here is actually, �What do we want to achieve?’ Jazz is not a sport with a requirement to win medals or prizes; the point of art is not to persuade someone to a belief. Those involved in art are there firstly to express themselves, then to try to provide for the interests of their cultural peers; whether others appreciate their work is another matter. We don’t know what will develop on a global scale, it all depends on the degree of mutual understanding that exists. Perhaps in this way we will become more interesting for others.

American jazz is associated with Manhattan skyscrapers and the lights of Broadway, with the taste of "Grant’s" scotch and "Hoyo de Monterrey" cigars and Latino jazz is linked to Copacabana beach and beautiful black-skinned women. With what do you associate Azeri jazz?

There are different views on this question. In my opinion Azerbaijani jazz is linked with the educated milieu in Baku; simple in outward appearance but inwardly burning with the fires of creation. Such people are always faithful to their ideas and impose no limit to their imagination.

You can always see among the audiences at concerts by Mstislav Rostropovich and Elena Obraztsova those who are there only to be seen, and jazz is seen as music of prestige throughout the world. What do you think about this?

It’s easy to imagine that listening to jazz in Azerbaijan will also take on an element of prestige. Maybe you’ve noticed that prestige can be a matter of being better informed, not just being wealthy. People should not just show off their power or wealth, they should rather demonstrate their true personality; this is very positive. It’s true that this is not the most important problem for culture, because the real meaning of art is something different. Culture also draws its strength from such people. People come to listen to music because their friends go to jazz concerts or clubs; attending these events becomes a tradition. For example, many people wanted to go to Montserrat Caballe’s concert, perhaps some are real music-lovers, but listening to jazz will bring them an inner relaxation which does not depend on government position, money or other banalities…

Jeyhun Najafov