19 August 2022

Friday, 02:40


Azerbaijan possesses a rich musical heritage bequeathed by the distinguished jazz pianist Vaqif Mustafazada



In Azerbaijan jazz means style, love, history and a way of life. Both the old and the young love jazz. And this is no exaggeration. It emerged in Azerbaijan at the start of the 20th century during Soviet times and Baku became one of the leading "jazz cities". Today Azerbaijani jazz is not a new phenomenon - it is a tradition, the foundations of which were laid in our country by the distinguished jazz pianist Vaqif Mustafazada, who combined the traditional music of the mugam with classical jazz. He was a great improviser and a great man.

So what did Vaqif Mustafazada accomplish? Apart from his musical achievements, which we shall come back to later, it is thanks to him that many of us began to appreciate this unusual musical genre which truly embodies in people a sense of what is beautiful and the ability to appreciate it. In Azerbaijan today there is a FM-radio station which plays jazz music all day long; we have "Jazz Hour" on television, and also a Jazz Centre in the heart of Baku. Every year the Baku International Jazz Festival is held in Azerbaijan when Baku is turned into a world jazz centre. Great names - legends of the jazz world - come to Baku.

Today Azerbaijani jazz musicians regularly perform abroad and many are well-known all over the world. They also take part in many international jazz festivals and have won international music competitions. The list of the country's well-known jazz musicians is quite a long one.  Here are just some of them: Salman Qambarov, Rain Sultanov, Amina Figarova, Aziza Mustafazada and Isfar Sarabski. And in many ways our country has achieved all of this in the jazz genre thanks to the creative ability and traditions set down by the acclaimed musician Vaqif Mustafazada.


He is no more, only his jazz remains

On that day - 16 December 1979 - a concert was due to take place in Tashkent. Listening to the seductive music, Vaqif Mustafazada's fans could not have imagined that his fingers would be running over the keys for the last time, and for the last time the heart of a great musician and composer would be beating on stage…On that day a great exponent of jazz music, the founder of mugam-jazz, a new trend in music,  composer, pianist, Azerbaijani Merited Master of the Arts Vaqif Mustafazada                  was no more. He had passed away when he was only 39 years of age.

…He was born on 16 March 1940 at Icheri Sheher [Icari Sahar]. It was the poet Samad Vurgun who advised his parents to name him Vaqif. His parents had become proud of his unusual capabilities since he was a child - at the age of three he could straightaway repeat poems he heard from his father.

Even before Vaqif was born the family were crazy about music. His father Aziz Mustafazada was an army doctor who used to play mughams on the tar in the bosom of his family. His mother Zivar Aliyeva was a pupil of the great Uzeyir bay. She was one of the first female pianists in Azerbaijan, a skilful performer of mugams on the piano. That was how Vaqif grew up - to the accompaniment of mughams, folk songs and the works of the classics, played by his mother.

When his father died he was educated by his mother, who taught music at school. It was from her that he received his first music lessons. Then he studied at a secondary specialized music school. But the performed the works of the classics - Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Mozart - not as he was taught, but in his own style, adding passages of his own. Zivar, who dreamed of seeing her son a classical pianist, suffered because of this. But as the years passed Vaqif's brilliant talent shone even more brightly, conquering everyone.

He was only 9 years of age when he played George Gershwin's jazz blues "The Man I Love". This may have been the time when he first encountered injustice: those who could not understand his love of jazz drew a caricature of him and hung it up. In his schooldays he was often unfairly rebuked. But he retained a belief in himself and stuck to his chosen path, unaware that the hard times were still to come…

Jazz accompanied Vaqif throughout his life. In 1963 he graduated from the Asaf Zeynalli Music College. But neither in this school, nor at the Azerbaijani State Conservatory, where he later studied, did he receive jazz lessons. He learnt traditional jazz from the works of Bill Evans, Charlie Parker, Cecil Taylor, Michael Tyner, Ahmed Jamal, and others. He distinguished himself during his years of study at the conservatory. He gave short concerts and played in clubs. In the main he played classical jazz, the blues and rhythmic compositions.

At the beginning of the 1960s he began to make a name for himself as a jazz musician outside Azerbaijan. From 1964 he started working with the Georgian ensemble "Orero", and from 1965 he extended his repertoire with the "Qavqaz" jazz trio as part of the Georgian State Philharmonic. Jazz festivals and concerts brought him fame not only in Georgia, but all over the world. A successful performance at the "Tallinn-66" world jazz festival was an important achievement for Vaqif. After this festival he returned to his native Baku. He came together with Elza Bandzeladze, whom he loved and with whom he worked in the "Orero" ensemble.


Carry on regardless

Vaqif was drawn to the mugam with his whole being and at the same time had fallen in love with jazz. So he decided to bring to jazz the charm of the mugam and the tesnifs. This was a difficult path. He created a synthesis of Azerbaijani music and classical American jazz. Vaqif Mustafazada is considered to be the architect of the Azerbaijani mugham-jazz movement. He combined the mugaam and jazz which are so different in terms of their time and origin. Before then there had emerged the first opera in the Middle East, the first opera singer, the first ballet and the first symphony orchestra in Azerbaijan. Vaqif Mustafazada became another pioneer from Azerbaijan, adding new zest not only to Azerbaijani but also world music.

Along with fame came a prejudicial attitude towards him. Most musicians, who were first pleased with his success, later began to show indifference and even ill-will towards him. But all this harassment and mental pressure could not make him abandon his art. Vaqif devoted all his immense talent to music. He threw himself into his work and ignored the enviers. He stuck to a rigid schedule. Sometimes even his fingers ceased to obey him and he took whole days off music. But even during those days music continued to fill his heart…

No flaws could be found in his works and in his playing. So they started to look for them in his appearance - his clothes, his hair and even his moustache. They tried to prevent him from broadcasting and his fame spreading to a wider audience. Although none of this could prevent Vagif from continuing with his work it began to affect his health. Unable to withstand the huge burden, on 18 June 1969 his heart gave up and he had his first heart attack. But the efforts of the doctors and the patient's zest for life bore fruit and death was kept at bay…This difficult year in his life was brightened up by the birth of his daughter Aziza - a life which Vaqif Mustafazada continued to live and which embodied his father's dreams. Vaqif, cool, calm and collected, found it hard to endure this forced idleness and the lack of opportunity to perform. Meanwhile, his wife had begun to notice qualities that had not existed with Vaqif before - surrendering himself either to despair or intolerance, he was bursting to get down to work and do as much as possible.

He obeyed the voice of his heart, preferring to devote valuable time to his beloved art. Passions were seething all around him. He was again reproached for the simplest things, all was deliberately being exaggerated and rumours about him started spreading.

After his first heart attack he was forced to regularly take medication and have injections. And rumours began to circulate around the city that he was taking drugs. But all these attempts at ill-will were in vain. Neither his illness, nor the unjust attitude towards him could obscure the fame of Vaqif Mustafazada or cool his creative ardour. Even his work schedule remained just as intensive as before.


The last jazz

In 1970 he set up the vocal quarter "Leyli" and from 1971 to 1977 he assembled the vocal-instrumental quartet "Sevil". He won fame as the author of concerts for the piano, "Mugam" symphonies and many other inimitable works.

He demonstrated his skill not only at concerts, but also competitions. After his success at "Tallinn-66" he won a prize at the "Tbilisi-78" jazz festival. At the eighth International Jazz Festival in Monaco in 1978 he received first prize for his composition "Waiting for Aziza". In 1979 he was awarded the honorary title "Merited Master of Arts of Azerbaijan". In 1982 he was posthumously awarded the Azerbaijani State Prize. Up to 1979 the acclaimed jazz master worked with members of his "Mugam" jazz trio, which was set up in 1977. They rehearsed together and prepared for concerts.

On 16 December they were in the concert hall in Tashkent. Vaqif Mustafazadeh began to feel worse even before the concert started. He complained to his wife about earache, but they were unaware that this was a sign of a second heart attack. The local doctor saw nothing untoward, either. "Perhaps we'll give you a shot of camphor?" the doctor suggested. But finally tormented by years of illness and tired of countless examinations and medication, Vaqif declined. And he went on stage in the evening as if he no longer cared about pain and death…

At his request his wife always appeared opposite the piano so that Vaqif could see her. Elza could see that her husband was washed out. But Vaqif Mustafazada got through. He went on stage, sat at the piano and the sounds of the captivating music filled the hall: he played one of his favourite compositions: "The Man I Love" by Gershwin.

When he had finished the great maestro left the stage with a heavy tread. Running after him, Elza said in alarm: "Bring the curtain down." Vaqif could hardly stand. His condition was getting worse all the time. He was taken to hospital without even waiting for an ambulance. The doctors tried to calm his loved ones: "It doesn't seem to be a heart attack." Vaqif was admitted to the hospital where he again kept a stiff upper lip and refused to take any medication.

It is said that death appears in many different guises. Surely, in Vaqif Mustafazada's case, it appeared in the form of an angel. Before he died his face seemed to light up, making him more attractive. And at 7am the world lost a great musician - Vaqif Mustafazada was no more. At Elza's request, his body was taken to Baku the same day. Just three days before his beloved daughter Aziza celebrated her 10th birthday…

Vaqif Mustafazada remains in the history of Azerbaijani music as the author of a concert for piano and orchestra, an unfinished "Mugam" symphony, a number of jazz composition and pieces, and also as the father of the world celebrated jazz performer Aziza Mustafazada. But of his compositions "I see dreams", "Is there life without her?" and "Well, there are no bridges between us" only the titles remain - Vaqif Mustafazada was unable to extract them from the depths of his soul and conscience and turn them into music…