As this year’s Baku International Jazz Festival prepares to open, Baku magazine explores the history of the festival and what to look forward to at this year’s spectacle
One of the world’s biggest jazz festivals from its inception in 2006, the Baku International Jazz Festival is a unique event bringing together local and international performers, different cultural heritages and interpretations of jazz, and to gather young listeners and performers to invent and inspire. Attended by over 20,000 spectators each year, the festival is informed by a deep local association with jazz, which started during the original jazz era, and the message of the festival is that jazz is for everyone, everywhere.
This year’s line-up is diverse in interests, instruments, and origin. From Germany, Turkey, Japan to Austria, Israel, Switzerland and France, each performer represents a different character and a different interpretation of jazz. Duo Gregoire Maret and Edmar Castaneda play on harmonica and harp, two instruments unusual to jazz. Both are individual, both are creative, and the styles of each artist subscribe to the festival’s belief that jazz requires innovation and invention. Maret is a Grammy winner and Castaneda was nominated for a Latin Grammy in the category Best Latin Jazz Album. As a pair they bring a new concept of Jazz which does not strictly adhere to a classical understanding; it is different, and it is animated.
Singer, Mina Agossi, who will perform on Saturday 14th October, represents a large world of jazz, and jazz itself as a travelling instrument and the idea of many different places. Agossi has lived and performed across the earth – in France, Ireland, the United States, Canada and Spain, having grown up in Niger, Morocco and the Ivory Coast. Her music has evolved and altered, and carries the influences of different places.
Other acts include Theo Croker, solo trumpeter from the United States (also a Grammy Award nominee), the Sketch Book Quartet from Austria, and Jazzanova & DJ Amir from Germany. The Jazz festival encapsulates a mixture of different methods of making music and sound, in groups and as solo performers.
Azerbaijan is also the place of Mugham, a traditional musical style which intertwines with jazz in Baku and has created styles of improvisation influenced by both classical jazz and cultural traditions. The music in Baku is a mixture of elements and modes which represent the changes which history and tradition have exerted on music. Founder Rain Sultanov said last year, Azerbaijani jazz is ‘a little hotter and brighter than others’. The festival provides an opportunity for Azerbaijani musicians to become a part of global music industry as well as inspire performers from other countries to bring their music to Azerbaijan.
What the festival shows is a frenetic energy for jazz – for different kinds of jazz and for different inventions. The Baku International Jazz Festival aims to draw in a growing crowd and to induct a new generation into jazz, both as musicians and as listeners. The energy which the festival produces is how it attracts more – more creation, more listening, more ideas.
The festival runs the annual competition ‘I am Jazzman’, which is exclusively for entry by musicians under 30. Appealing to the next generation to become musicians and to make jazz – in whatever form that may be – is an effort to preserve and continue the history of Azeri jazz which began in the 20th century. As director, Leyla Efendiyeva said, what occurs is a ‘vast and versatile cultural event’.