Wailing and gnashing of teeth is a mite strong, but hearts certainly sank when news got out that Baku’s Jazz Centre had closed for good in the summer. Where was one to get the required dose of improvised notes? Would note dispensers on piano, sax, bass and drum have to get ‘proper’ jobs now? Blues brows furrowed, jazz ears curled and closed; Autumn Leaves began to fall.

Then a Facebook whisper pledged hope - a Jazz Club, it alleged, was on the way. As ever, information oozed out slowly... 23 Samad Vurghun St…? Google placed the Sapphire Hotel there. 15th November…. Anar.... At last a human contact and so we found ourselves on the 2nd floor of the Sapphire…. on 14th November. So what if an early start broke with longstanding Azerbaijani tradition? Jazz was back, that was the main thing.

Baku has a long-standing REPUTATION as a JAZZ CITY

Smaller and cosier than the Centre, albeit a little glitzier and sometimes imperfect in sightline, the space seemed a much better fit for this more intimate music.

Rufat Aleskerov, Anar Baghirov and Kamilla Akhmedova welcomed and shepherded, beaming slightly nervously, as guests arrived to put the new venture to the test.

The opening acts saw youth and experience exemplifying the range of talent, age and genre to be found here. At the keyboard for Orient Xpress’s Bob Marley-influenced set was 28-year-old Anar Yusifov (Visions Jul-Aug 2015), while Rauf Sultanov’s band played to engagingly traditional jazz improvisations from fingers vintage 1941; they belonged to Rovshan Rzayev (see p.62).

Emil Afrasiyab followed. Back from studies in the US and very well-received summer concerts in France, Emil played his thoughtful Letter to My Father, in tribute, he said, to all fathers, especially to Isafar Sarabski’s father, who had recently passed away. Isfar himself came to the keyboard in equally contemplative mood. The two of them drew the audience ineluctably into both respect for Aydin muellim’s contribution to Isfar’s advance, and into admiration of these representatives of a hugely impressive generation of Azerbaijani pianists. A guest slot by Ulviyya Rahimova, visiting from Russia, referred us back in time to Beri Bakh (Visions Jul-Aug 2015).

the space seemed a much better fit for this more intimate music

Despite the eminence of the performers, the seal of approval was perhaps finally applied by favourite host Rahib Azeri and the appearance in the audience of Nuri Akhmedov, stalwart sponsor and promoter of all things jazz. As Rufat Aleskerov, the moving force behind this reincarnation, told us,

I wanted to open it with Nuri muellim as a partnership. He has made such a contribution to jazz here – and, of course, tradition demanded that I ask him out of respect for an elder. He explained that he wished to retire, but gave his blessing to our venture. And we still have his niece Kamilla working with us.

Jazz was back, that was the main thing

Manager Rufat, with Kamilla Akhmedova and administrator Anar Baghirov, had all worked at the Jazz Centre, Rufat going back to the days when it was run by pianist Emil Ibrahim. So, we killed three birds the following Friday; before delivering the last Visions article to Orient Xpress and listening to their now regular slot, we met Rufat to ask how he had resurrected a venue for jazz in Baku.

At first he had expected ‘bigger people’ to take on the mantle; after all Baku has a long-standing reputation as a jazz city. But there were no noises on the grapevine and musicians were coming to him during the Jazz Festival seeking space for jam sessions. Frenzied activity followed as he toured the city looking for likely places, until he came to the Sapphire, which had space in what had been a breakfast bar area and recognised the opportunities provided by hosting what could be the city’s premier jazz spot.

Organising the space and sound system, building a stage, sorting out the kitchen and dishes (bringing in the Jazz Centre’s former cook), and not forgetting a piano….

Rufat is what you might call a jazz semi-professional. He had known Emil Ibrahim since their schooldays; both played piano and Emil had introduced him to jazz, enticing him into sessions of 4-hand boogie-woogie. He had studied law and was busy in transport when he added work with Emil at the Jazz Centre. The latter’s sad early death led to his definitive career change.

So was he pleased with the Jazz Club?

Yes, it’s a smaller place, but I want to have a club atmosphere here… For me the Jazz Centre was good, but it was a bit like a concert hall, it wasn’t the same as the club at Zevin [a fondly-remembered, smoky basement Jazz Club of yesteryear – ed.] We can’t repeat that, but I hope we can have the feeling of a club.

it’s a smaller place, but I want to have a club atmosphere here

It’s early days yet and, like the music, schedules can be improvised. But there will be live music at least six days a week (jam sessions offered on Mondays). Regulars include veterans - keyboardsman Jamil Amirov and bassman Rauf Sultanov - and younger attractions like Orient Xpress and singer Farid Askerov. Updated details at http://is.gd/Y7cHbg - Well worth a visit!

For a brief overview of jazz in Azerbaijan, watch this video…