It was short-lived prosperity. Come the Cold War, jazz became again “an Americanism,” it was black listed, the saxophone was banned, and jazz musicians disappeared. Literally. Among the casualties was Parviz Rustambekov, a talented Azerbaijani saxophone player who ended up being jailed for alleged links with the United States and died in 1949, at the age of 27, in circumstances to date still unclear.
Stalin’s death in 1953 brought fresh oxygen. The “thaw,” as the decade is called, saw the economy growing, and the magic of television spreading rapidly.
“It was like a new dawn, after long years of limitations, people were hungry for jazz. Still, private organizations were not allowed to organize jazz events, it was a privilege of the Komsomols [a youth organization controlled by the Communist Party]” recalls Gambarov. Authorities would dictate how the genre should developed, yet jazz still was introduced at the Moscow State Conservatoire, and ensembles were formed, clubs mushroomed, and festivals began to be held.
In Baku, which had emerged as a safe haven for jazz players, musicians developed a unique sound blending jazz with mugham, a traditional Azeri musical form characterized by a large degree of improvisation in singing and playing. In the 60’s, the big 3-5 member ensemble gradually replaced large bands. One of them was the Qaya, a quartet set up in 1961 with Rauf Babayev, which played for about 25 years.
In this renaissance, the talent of Vagif Mustafazadeh, a virtuoso pianist, composer and connoisseur of Azeri folk music emerged. Mustafazadeh shot to fame in 1967 when he won theTallinn Jazz Festival and he went on to collecting praises from legends like B.B.King, Dizzy Gillespie. Mustafazade died of a heart attack after a concert in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 1979, right before a decade which saw jazz blossoming throughout the USSR.
Then came the 90’s and suddenly there was no more Soviet Union and hardships took over people’s lives.
“But I never stopped playing, even during the hardest times,” recollects Gambarov. “Many musicians abandoned music and switched to doing business. But I never did that, music remained my main purpose in difficult times. Music, and jazz in particular, never forgive betrayal. As if it says, “if you leave me once, don’t ever come back.” In 1994 I was close to moving to Turkey, my documents got lost on the way and I couldn’t go. I was lucky, because the next year everything changed. As soon as we signed the “contract of the century” [for oil exploration in the Caspian Sea] many foreigners started coming to Baku.”