Author: Salatyn MIRZAYEVA
Each person’s life story can be summarised as his birth, works and love. In special cases, it becomes a history of his people, a part of his culture, ethnic code and moral education. Saxophonist Rain Sultanov deserves a fundamental place among the outstanding personalities of Azerbaijani jazz. He followed in the footsteps of his two older brothers and the legendary musicians Weаther Report, Miles Davis and Michael Brecker. But he equally absorbed the classical canons of national music. This led to the fusion of two great musical traditions into a single one. His music is freedom and an outburst of emotions. Expressing them in a peculiar style, Rain Sultanov demonstrates the independence of his music and reflects on exciting topics. To feel Rain’s music and to decipher them adequately, one needs to plunge into the world of sounds.
The Honoured Artist of Azerbaijan, saxophonist, composer, founder and art director of the Baku Jazz Festival Rain Sultanov introduced to us his 2013 album Voice of Garabagh. And this is no coincidence. The album is an homage to the former occupied territories of Azerbaijan, and has become a sound fresco of Garbagh. His compositions contain all the harmony and euphony of these places, the atmosphere and the sad history of his native land. After all, the tribulations endured on these lands could not but touch the heart of any person, ;et alone a musician. Rain SULTANOV’s albums is a large galaxy of sounds full of admiration for nature, inner experiences and creative outburst.
"You have come through a long creative path. I have many questions to ask. But what would you like to tell us?"
"To be honest, I'm not a good storyteller. But I’ll be glad to tell you everything you are interested in."
"We know that the annual Baku Jazz Festival gathers jazz lovers from all over the world. Undoubtedly, you have done a great deal of job to promote the event..."
"Thank you. I’ve been actively involved in the project since 2005. Later we developed a large program for the next five years, which yielded impressive results. This included both the annual jazz festival itself, competitions for young performers, publication of a dedicated magazine and the book Anthology of Azerbaijan Jazz, as well as Azerbaijan's participation in the world jazz exhibition in Germany, recording and publishing albums of our musicians by world labels, performances abroad and much more. And you know, it worked, we accomplished our mission successfully. As a dividend, Azerbaijan was accepted to the European Jazz Association, as well as the jazz family of Herbie Hancock, who sent us letters of gratitude. There were many other positive things, which encourages us to move on. For example, in 2020 we celebrated the 15th anniversary of the festival. We received a bunch of congratulatory messages, including from such outstanding musicians as Marcus Miller, Bob James, David Sanborn, Michelle Camilo, Candy Dulfer, who said they wished to join our festival again.
“Yet we still have to deal with a lot of issues, like a shortage of musicians, mainly brass players, bass players, drummers. We are currently working on the creation of a new professional jazz club, the first one in Baku. I really want it to become a home for jazz lovers, where they will be able to enjoy high-quality music.”
"Advertising is part of the art today..."
"Yes, these are the realities of the modern world. It’s not only in music, but in any other area. Sufficient and value-added investments can create a star from a completely unknown and not always talented musician. And vice versa. But, of course, one cannot fool sophisticated audiences on a global scale. The best musicians receive invitations to concerts, festivals and recordings. Also, it’s impossible to fool the listener. No matter how well the performer is advertised, if his performance isn’t impressive, cannot touch the hearts of listeners, he’ll fail. That’s how the creativity works. As to advertising of events, it’s really necessary to attract the viewers, as it contributes to the development of creative activities. In this particular case advertising plays only a positive role."
"What did contribute to your creative work? After all, you started your career with Rashid Behbudov, Rafig Babayev..."
"Yes, there are many articles on my biography, partners, and career. I’ve come a long path to become who I am as a musician. I am infinitely grateful to my brothers and destiny. Of course, it was a great honour to work with Rashid Behbudov. I was privileged to know Rafig Babayev personally, to travel on tours throughout the USSR, to study, to admire, then to perform on world stages with my idols... This is happiness."
"One of the important components of your work is your own compositions..."
"I’m the author of all my projects. Not because I don't like other composers, rather it comes from the desire to create my own music, my own style and direction. Story About My Land, Voice of Garabagh, City of Jazz... Then I had a very important period in my career when my albums were released by the German label Ozella Music. This includes the project Seven Sounds of Azerbaijan, which was also a basis for a German documentary film demonstrated at the Berlin Film Festival, the project Cycle with an organ and installation, my last album Influence dedicated to my virtual teachers, brilliant musicians, who have greatly contributed to my professional development. I’ve tried to express my position to different topics in these projects."
"Who did you choose to perform your compositions for other vinyl records?"
"Of course, the best musicians. Only those who understand and feel me the best. After all, almost all of my projects were recorded in Norway, where we travel together. I think only the like-minded friends and performers can get involved in this process. And, of course, they should perfectly master the instrument they play on, and the skill of improvisation so as to be at the right level."
"In the Cycle, you’ve indeed created a spacious music..."
"Thank you. I love this project. Especially because of the recording. Then we had a wonderful tour and performances in absolutely stunning historical places, including the churches of Germany, Norway, France. We received sort of magical energy from the entire process. It is different from my other projects and is very appealing to my current mood."
"As we saw on social networks, your concert halls were full..."
"Absolutely all concerts! The first one was organised as part of a jazz festival. As I was later told, they put additional chairs, as there were a lot of people who wanted to get to the concert. Then, at the Silk Way Festival, we gave a free concert, where the listeners would come for a couple of hours, while most of them stood on their feet. You ought to see how crowded the hall was, waiting for the start of the concert. This is a true happiness for a musician. The third concert of the Cycle project was given at the Nasimi festival. Interestingly, there were young people in front of the stage, who were meditating right on the floor. Then we took the Cycle to Europe. In general, the project was a success, since I received an invitation to perform with Cycle in Europe again."
"You performed with Shahin Novrasli, Isfar Sarabsky… How do you musicians find a common language in music, where each of you has its own understanding, interpretation of the musical piece?"
"(Laughs) It happens so often, in fact. These are exactly the musicians with whom I can work, whom I’d be happy to take for a ‘reconnaissance flight’. We understand each other perfectly, we are friends, and we perform comfortably, although they have different characters, outlook on life, temperament. But there is something that unites them all in my projects. And the same musicians are different in other projects. I mean it largely depends on the music. Musicians perform with me a little differently. They admit it themselves. That’s why we can come to an agreement instantly. The Cycle project was recorded in a single step. Isfar thought there would be a rehearsal, he would need to get used to the instrument, since he had never played anything on the organ. When I told him that we were already recording, he did not believe me, he thought it was a joke. But I saw that he was absolutely ready. We had to record that night. And so it happened. We made a record on the first try. The recording company enjoyed our performance as well. We have already released both the album and the disc, which are currently on sale in European stores."
"Your music is very emotional, but at the same time – calm and peaceful. How do you manage to combine such incongruous pieces?"
"Most likely, this is due to my inner state. I can seem to be a calm and melancholic person, but inside, passions are raging. That is why my music combines opposite emotions. In minor compositions, expressive improvisation is possible, and vice versa."
"Music is a reflection of life. Does it mean that your understanding of life is sad?"
"Life is multifaceted, beautiful, amazing and unpredictable. Sadness, as an integral part of our life, is as beautiful as joy. After all, we live not only to have fun, but also to be able to create, reflect, listen and respect. After all, what is jazz and intellectual music in general? This is the world of sounds. And if you know how to hear and listen to them, you begin to accept each instrument separately, and then perceive them as a whole, beautiful. Each instrument gives a shade, its own vision of the composition, its own improvisation. This is what makes jazz music different – the boundless space in which the musician chooses his place. My music is truly a reflection of my life, where there is a place for all emotions – both sorrow and joy."
"You mean your music is a kind of message to the listener?"
"Absolutely! My music is a message. But it delivers not information, rather the state of mind. All my projects are based on certain themes and express my attitude to something. I often create them emotionally. For example, we all were deeply touched by the events that took place during the liberation of our lands, including in Ganja. That night, I wrote a requiem for the killed children and civilians. That’s how I could express my feelings. After all, music is capable of evoking the deepest emotions, which we need as much as fun. Not everything in life is entertaining and superficial. What I really don’t want to see is people listening only to light and entertaining music."
"Perhaps there are times when the listeners perceive your music differently. Your interpretations may vary…"
"This is absolutely normal. Everyone finds what he needs, what is closer to his soul, or what he would like to get from the composition. There are many factors involved: intellectual level of the listener, his emotional state, mood, preparedness and ability to listen. If during a concert I understand that I could touch the soul of a listener at least for a short time, this is enough for me. Even if someone does not understand my music, or if jazz seems too complicated or twisted of a music, he will still take something for himself during the concert. That’s also enough."
"You wrote the books Anthology of Jazz in Azerbaijan (2004) and The History of Azerbaijani Jazz (2015). For many, Azerbaijani jazz is associated with the name of Vagif Mustafazade. But how does your research define the origins of Azerbaijani jazz?"
"In fact, they already listened to ‘black music’ in Baku and even had tours of foreign performers at the beginning of the 20th century. But it wasn’t jazz yet. Yet the jazz music became popular in Baku surprisingly quickly. The origins of jazz in Azerbaijan are well known. Intellectual musicians Garayev, Guliyev, and Niyazi have contributed to the development of jazz in Baku. Orchestras of Tofig Guliyev, Rauf Hajiyev and Tofig Ahmedov have played an instrumental role in the development of jazz in Azerbaijan. For me, it all started with Parviz Rustambeyov, his sad fate as a reflection of his time and attitude to jazz. He was followed by other bright names, the synthesis of Vagif Mustafazade, a whole new era of Azerbaijani jazz started with Rafig Babayev, Azerbaijani films with jazz compositions, cartoons, first festivals… I hope that we know and remember about our other musicians who did a lot in this area in Azerbaijan besides the great Mustafazade. After all, the time when Baku was called the Mecca of Jazz became possible thanks to excellent performers. It was trendy to play and listen to jazz as a breath of freedom in a closed socialist country. In addition, there was a circle of intellectual listeners who would somehow get recordings from abroad, mainly from America, carefully hand them over to each other, and discuss the performers. And it turns out that prohibitions, on the contrary, contributed to development. After all, Vagif himself faced many problems, criticism from the society he lived in. I came up a lot of interesting facts during writing the books. In the last one, I tried to compare and draw a parallel between the development of jazz in the US and in Azerbaijan, the trends popular there and their relation to the prominent jazz personalities, including Coltrane and Davis, how quickly our musicians picked up these trends and used them. I’ve cleared up many things, as to go further, it is important to know the beginning."
"What would you do if you fail the performance but what you really want is to play and make others fall in love with your music? Would you change your instrument or direction?"
"You never need to change the instrument if you love it. You need to work hard to get an adequate response from your instrument. Perhaps you need to find your own unique style, manner of performance, but only after you have perfectly learned to play it. That is, it is better to first get an academic education, and then create yourself as a musician, as a person. But again, you need to work hard, then everything will definitely work out."
"The world literally stopped during the pandemic. We had a great chance to get away from the hustle and bustle to be alone with our thoughts, to hear ourselves..."
"Yes, and sometimes it's useful. During the pandemic, many people began to engage in creativity, listen to music more, paint, sing, play instruments, dance, play sports, yoga, and read. This means that this is exactly what a person really wants to do, what he lacks in everyday life, what he does not have time to do, realise. There was a time to revise our values and break into the archives, remember our parents, friends, appreciate all the beautiful things that we no longer pay attention to. It also helped clear the environment a bit, which is wonderful. The pandemic turned out to be a kind of restart for our future life, in which, I think, we will be more happy with tours, live concerts, and nature."
"Is this a familiar state for you?"
"My life has not changed much, except for the lack of concerts. In addition, for our people, for Azerbaijan, the pandemic became a year of Victory, we returned our ancestral lands. It seems to me that these events overshadowed all the difficulties associated with restrictions during the pandemic."
"What have you discovered for yourself? What message did you receive from yourself?"
"Probably, I realised that even music is not the main thing in my life."
"What is the main thing then?"
"The life itself – my family, children, dreams, the desire to make plans for the future and my attempt to materialise them."
"It’s a good sign showing that you aren’t going to stop. We should wait for your new creations."