Wednesday evening was our last night in Azerbaijan and it ended up being a real highlight of the tour for me. If you read my post on our closing night in Moldova I talked about having the kind of performance where you feel like there's electricity in the air- this was like that, times ten. We were booked for a double header at YARAT a super hip, contemporary art space on the outskirts of Baku. We were to give a lecture on the history of jazz for about 45 minutes and then follow with a concert. The house was packed- so packed that we invited people to come sit on the sides of the stage. I invited them without even thinking of it- this was going to be a long event, too long to stand up for- but I think people really appreciated the gesture. Either that or this crowd had just come to party because they were AMAZING. They were the kind of crowd that lets you know early on that they're willing to meet you more than half way. And when I feel that from an audience, it makes me give 1000% because well, that's the kind of audience we pray for as performers, right?
With only 45 minutes to work with, we knew we could only discuss the major highlights of how this form has developed and we also wanted to make it more interactive than just a straight up lecture. I prepped hard for this (I'm not a real Jazz historian!) and what we ended up doing was I discussed a particular era in jazz history and then we would perform the song 'Honeysuckle Rose' in that style- from trad to swing to cool Jazz all the way up to fusion. It was really fun and I think it worked well to illustrate the musical development of the form- for the audience to hear the same song grow and change gave them a chance to compare apples to apples, ya know? When we got to the 1940s and we discussed the big band era, I split the audience into sections to sing some background vocals (just like we did in our workshops) and the crowd was hilarious. They sang enthusiastically and I got random people from the crowd to scat vocal lines over the backgrounds. Again, this crowd was clearly there to enjoy the music and have a great time- no shrinking violets here!
The concert that followed was nuts- I honestly wanted to give them back all their beautiful energy ten fold and I think we did. The video below is another audience creation and I'm so grateful to whoever captured this. Toward the end of the concert we surprised the audience with our Azeri folk song arrangement and what you'll see is a rowdy sing along that I think again, shows the electricity and incredible spirit that we felt in the room that night. Weeks later I can still feel this experience so vividly- a night where our collective love of music transcended everything. Maybe that sounds corny and maybe there are people who would read this and think that's not possible, but after this night I know that it is.
The opinions contained in this post are the sole opinions of Gabrielle Stravelli, not the opinions of the US State Dept and/or American Music Abroad. Our ensemble is: Jim Ridl, piano, Pat O'Leary, bass and Jordan Young, drums.