Azerbaijan International

Spring 2002 (10.1)
Pages 24-27

All Eyes On Aziza
Catching up with Azerbaijan's Famous Jazz Artist

by Aziza with Betty Blair

Music samples

Related articles
1 Aziza Mustafa Zadeh - Jazz, Mugam and Other Essentials of My Life - Aziza Mustafa Zadeh with Betty Blair
2 The Emergence of Jazz in Azerbaijan - Vagif Mustafazade: Fusing Jazz with Mugham - Vagif Samadoghlu

No one is a victor in war; when nations wage war, both sides always lose. Here we are, already in the 21st century. When I see all these things happening, I say to myself, is it possible that we are human beings? We should be able to find a different way to settle our differences. We are so advanced technologically. But one simple thing eludes us: how to live in peace. - Aziza

Say the name "Aziza", and the words "Azerbaijan" and "jazz" automatically come to mind for thousands of music fans around the world. In concerts throughout Europe, Turkey and the Middle East, Aziza Mustafa Zadeh has become popular for her unique blend of jazz, classical music and traditional mugham, Azerbaijan's improvisational modal music.

Aziza just released her sixth CD, called "Shamans", on Decca Records in February 2002. On it, she continues to develop her unique style, combining her classical training from the Conservatory of Baku and her "scat singing," which sounds remarkably like quavering Eastern vocal lines.

Left: Aziza's sixth CD, called "Shamans", was launched in February 2002.

Jean-Hughes Allar, a vice president for her record company, said about Aziza, "It's very rare that the world comes across such a phenomenal talent, who combines world jazz and classical influences without belonging to any genre specifically."

Aziza's honors have included the Phono Academy Prize, Germany's most prestigious music award. At age 18, she was a winner of the Thelonious Monk Institute International Piano Competition in Washington, D.C. and performed some of Monk's compositions in her own mugham-influenced style.

Azerbaijan International Editor Betty Blair interviewed Aziza by phone at her home on February 14, 2002. Aziza lives in Germany and records in both the United States and Europe. Her mother Eliza, herself a classically trained singer from Georgia, is deeply involved in advising her musically. Aziza's father, Vagif Mustafazade, was an extraordinary pianist who helped start the jazz movement in the Republic of Azerbaijan; he died tragically at age 39 when Aziza was just a young child. Though Vagif never had the opportunity to perform in the United States, his work was known there.

Aziza is fond of quoting what "Dizzy" Gillespie, the famous African American jazz trumpeter and bandleader said about Vagif's music. Recognized as one of the greatest trumpeters in jazz history, "Dizzy" heard Vagif's works played on VOA (Voice of America) and observed: "Vagif was a genius but it seems that he was born before his time. He brought us the music of the future."

My newest CD, "Shamans", is my first album under the new contract with
Decca. It was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. In general, the CD is made up of my compositions, my piano and vocals, and sometimes a little drums, which I also perform.

The main piece, of course, is called "Shamans". It's a capella - just vocals, no instruments except a little support from percussion. "Endless Power" is about the spiritual power of my father. "Strange Mood" is also dedicated to my father. "Holiday Blessings" tries to express that life is a great gift from God.

One of the improvisations on the CD is based on one of my favorite mazurkas by Chopin. I also sing a piece by Bach in a kind of scat style, which is my way of singing. I love Bach; so did my father. He used to say that Bach was a super jazzman.

Spiritual Connection
Why did I name the CD "Shamans"? Shamans are very special human beings, but not just because they can heal you physically. There's a spiritual dimension to their work and for me, the spiritual part of life is the most important.

I am somehow related to these types of healers on both sides of my family: my great-grandmother on my mother's side, Maryam, and on my father's side, my uncle Agha Mir Movsum, was revered as a holy man [his shrine is in Shuvalan]. His great-grandfather was the legendary figure At Agha [literally translated as "Mr. Meat or Flesh" because his decalcified bones left him unable to walk]. At Agha was a legendary seer whose shrine is in Buzovna, a seacoast town on the Azerbaijan Peninsula.

Left: Aziza while recording her new CD, "Shamans", in London.

Maryam was educated as a medical doctor but she did much more for people than provide physical treatment. She knew many secrets of healing and how to fathom the nature of many illnesses.

And so on this CD entitled "Shamans" I want to remind people that they should never forget about their spiritual side. If we are aware of what we are doing, then we won't feel ashamed later on about what we have accomplished. We should never lose our sense of purpose, our dedication in life.

Memories of Father
I believe that death is only a biological phenomenon. Even though my father has been gone for more than 20 years, his spirit is with me when I perform. I feel it these days even more than I did in the past. No matter what happens to me, I feel that he is always there to help me. On the one hand, it is terribly sad to realize that physically he isn't here any more. But on the other hand, I know that he provides me with great help from heaven.

Losing my father as a child brought me so many unexplainable feelings and emotions. Even after 20 years or more, this wound has never been healed. It was a real disaster to lose such a genius, especially when you know that he really was one.

How could he have died so young? How could it have happened? It's not fair; it's not right. But the only thing I can do about it now is to try to do my best in everything I do. When my father looks down at me from heaven, I pray to God that he says that he's proud of his daughter.

Being the daughter of Vagif is a great responsibility; I feel like I have so much to do. But one thing that my father said makes me feel confident. He told my mother that he knew he was going to go [die] early. Often he said to her, "Oh Eliza, I will go very soon. I don't have much time left."

And my mom would tell him: "I won't let you. You can't do that."

And he would reply, "Well, when the time comes, Death will not ask me or my wife. But don't worry, we've got Aziza, and she will do what I would like her to do. I'm at ease because we have our daughter." I was six or seven years old at the time.

Today I feel his power, sometimes even physically. It's like a crescendo in music - an amazing feeling. I feel it at certain moments, maybe for less than a second. Suddenly it's like he's sitting there in the room with me - in my piano room at home. It's incredible. I'm thankful to God for such experiences.

And I'm such a lucky person to have my mother, Eliza. She gave up her own career as a classical singer to dedicate herself to nurturing my musical gifts. She was the only one my father ever trusted. This is extremely important - musically, as a human being and, of course, as a wife. They were such an ideal couple. They were more than a couple - they were like two flowers growing on a single stem. I feel very happy that I have such great support from my mother.

I seem to have inherited my father's sensitive nature. Sometimes I see things before they happen, for example, prior to the plane crash when saxophone player Wayne Shorter's wife died in the 1990s, I had a dream where I saw the ocean and a lot of dead people. Quite often I have such premonitions.

A few days before September 11, 2001 [when terrorist hijackers crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon], a strange thing happened to me. I had a dream that showed the heavens, but on the left side it was very dark. I took it to signify something but I didn't know what it might be at the time. I remember waking up; it was about 4 in the morning.

On September 11th, I suddenly found myself driving down the street in the wrong direction. A lot of cars were going the other way and people were shouting, "Hey, lady, what are you doing?" Well, I'll admit I'm not the best driver anyway. And I said, "I don't know how that happened. I got so confused."

This happened about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, which would have been about 9 o'clock in the morning, just about the time that the New York World Trade Center was being hit. Later my manager called and said, "Did you hear what happened?"

I told him, "No, I just got home." I was still in shock about driving down the street the wrong way. But then when I heard about the attacks, I realized that I must have unconsciously been affected by them.

It was painful to see what happened on September 11th, and it's painful to see war going on in any country. No one wins in a war; when nations wage war, both sides always lose. Here we are, already in the 21st century. We should be able to find a different way to settle our differences. When I see all these things happening on television, I say to myself, is it possible that we are human beings? We have so many privileges. We are so advanced technologically. But one simple thing eludes us: how to live in peace.

I often say in my concerts: People, please love each other. It's the most important thing in our lives - really. If we had respect for each other, all of these problems would disappear.

I've been back to Azerbaijan two or three times since I've been living in Germany. Of course, I can only stay for a short visit - three or four days-and then I have to come back. But Azerbaijan is my Motherland forever. It stays with me in my heart, and it finds expression in my music.

Mostly during this interim since I've been away, I've spent most of my time composing. I don't really labor over new compositions. It seems they have a way of coming to me in my dreams when I'm sleeping. I sleep and I have a dream. Often
I'm some place in the mountains surrounded by flowers. I'm very much a lover of nature. I often see flowers and roses in my dreams. Towering trees. Big mountains. Oh, it's my dream to live in such a fairy-tale place. The truth is I'm a dreamer. Very romantic.

My music is really based on modal music - mughams. To me mugham has its own magical power because it is really deep. It's really philosophical music. It's much more than just music. It's religious. It's poetry. It's life. And even my Western audiences who are not so familiar with my style respond to it. Whenever we present folk or classical folk music, people definitely feel it on a very deep level. It's not necessary to be super-analytical or theoretical. But emotionally and spiritually, you feel mugham in your soul. Music is something so unique and so universal. Essentially we are all the same, and emotionally, spiritually we feel music in our souls.

I wish you love and peace - to you and your family as well. May happiness and sunshine in its deepest sense fill your life.


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