Baku International Jazz FestivalAzerbaijan’s tremendous contributions to the jazz medium began in the first quarter of the 20th century, about the same time as jazz was born in the United States. Much of the country’s early jazz legacy has been obscured due to Soviet prohibition and censorship from the 1920s to the 1950s. Since the mid-20th-century, jazz recordings have reflected the infusion of the Azerbaijan mugham folk tradition and aspects of classical traditions into jazz, as well as the influx of musicians from other parts of the Soviet and post-Soviet world.

The annual Baku International Jazz Festival showcases extraordinary contemporary talents. Nonetheless the spirit of Azerbaijani icons such as Vagif Mustafazade, Rafiq Babayev, Niyazi, Tofiq Quliyev, and Qara Qarayev live on in the hearts and minds of Azerbaijani music lovers.

As scholars uncover the lost masterpieces of Azerbaijan’s early jazz decades, jazz historians are beginning to assign Azerbaijan its rightful place in the development of this important art form.

Vagif Mustafazade

“Vagif Mustafazade is an extraordinary pianist. . . . He is the most lyrical pianist I have ever known.”
— Willis Conover, conductor of the Jazz Time radio program, 1966

“People call me the king of the blues, but if I could play the piano like you do [Vagif], I would call myself God.”
— B.B. King, legendary blues guitarist, 1970s

20 VAGIF MUSTAFA ZADEH ft SEVIL GROUP CEYRANVagif Mustafazade (1940-79), who came of age just as Azerbaijani jazz was flourishing amid new freedoms, is beloved as the founder of Azerbaijani mugham jazz. As a musically curious teenager in Soviet-occupied Azerbaijan, Mustafazade attended movie screenings where he was able to listen to jazz and to BBC radio. He sang meykhana, a rhythmic poetic song tradition that also had been banned.

Vagif Mustafazade’s music remains a favorite for many music lovers decades after his death. His daughter Aziza Mustafazade (b. 1969) has made her own mark on the jazz world with an ever-evolving improvisational style of her own.

Zulfugar Baghirov

Zulfugar Baghirov “I grew up in my Grandpa Zakir’s home in Baku, and he and my dad were always telling me stories about Shusha, their old house there, and music sounding in this city’s every corner.”
–Zulfugar Baghirov

Zulfugar Baghirov (b. 1973) is a New York-based modern-jazz musician with a deep Azerbaijani legacy that stems from his ties to composers Qara Qarayev and Zakir Baghirov, his grandfathers. Zulfugar performs his own contemporary, innovative brand of jazz around the world.

Zulfugar Baghirov has developed his own style based on not only his Azerbaijani roots and years of living in the United States, but also on his exposure to many other musical styles.