On the Master´s 100th Anniversary: Tofig Ahmadov (1924-1981)

On the Master´s 100th Anniversary: Tofig Ahmadov (1924-1981)

The famous jazz musician, saxophonist, clarinetist, conductor, composer from Azerbaijan

The history of Azerbaijani jazz dates back to the 30s of the 20th century and is inseparably linked with the activities of the outstanding Azerbaijani composers Niyazi, Tofig Guliyev.

They brought together talented musicians and promoted them. One of them was Tofig Ahmadov, a great jazz artist, gifted clarinetist and saxophonist, composer and conductor.

As soon as jazz reached its peak in Azerbaijan, jazz music fell under the spell of Soviet ideology and was hidden as an example of bourgeois culture.   

The second rise of Azerbaijani jazz in the 1960s is associated with the names of Vagif Mustafazadeh and Rafig Babayev. They experimented and created a unified music based on jazz rhythms and Azerbaijani folk music. In the background, outstanding artists such as Tofig Ahmadov made a significant contribution to the development of Azerbaijani jazz music.

Tofig Ahmadov was born on February 8, 1924 in Baku, Azerbaijan. He began his career as a jazz musician in Azerbaijan’s first jazz orchestra (1941 – 1945), which was founded in 1939 by Tofig Guliyev and Maestro Niyazi. He also worked in the Caspian Flotilla Jazz Orchestra, the Nizami Cinema Orchestra (1945) and the Azerbaijan Cinema Orchestra (1947).

After completing his training at the Azerbaijan State Conservatory (clarinet class, 1953), Tofig Ahmadov worked as a music teacher at the music school in Baku.

A highlight in his musical career was in 1952, when Tofig Ahmadov – only the second Azerbaijani musician – was invited to play in Eddie Rosner’s famous Moscow Jazz Orchestra. For three years (1952-1955) he worked with Rosner and was even concertmaster (first saxophone).

After gaining a lot of experience in Moscow, Tofig Ahmadov returned to Baku and founded his own jazz orchestra.

Founded in 1957, this ensemble “We are from Baku” successfully toured the republics of the former Soviet Union in the South Caucasus, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Georgia.

The most responsible phase of his professional career began in 1960. Tofig Ahmadov became the leader and chief conductor of the Azerbaijan Radio and Television Estrada Orchestra[1] (from 1960 to 1981), which he also played a key role in founding. He led the orchestra for 21 years! Initially it was a brass big band, later string instruments were added.

The famous singer Muslim Magomayev also began his career in this orchestra (1961). In 1962, Muslim Magomayev appeared as the orchestra’s only soloist at the VIII World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki. It was the orchestra’s first appearance on the world stage.

Muslim Magomayev later fondly recalled: “I did not separate my success from Tofig Ahmadov, a warm-hearted, good-natured, ironic and undoubtedly excellent musician!”

In the 1960s, upon the invitation of the Ambassador of the Cuban Republic to the USSR, Carlos Olivares Sanchez, the orchestra traveled to Moscow to celebrate the 11th anniversary of the founding of the Republic. Tofig Ahmadov then performed in Cuba with his jazz orchestra (1967).

The most talented musicians were invited to this orchestra, including the young pianists Vagif Mustafazadeh (later a local jazz luminary) and Faig Sujaddinov (later also a composer and leader of the very same orchestra in the 1990s), Mikhail Avadyayev and Aziz Azizov (trumpet), Tair Isayev (trombone), David Koyfman (double bass), Ramiz Shirinov (alto saxophone) and Daniil Kagner (tenor saxophone).

Tofig Ahmadov himself arranged folk melodies for his orchestra and used the Azerbaijani national keys in his own jazz pieces. It was an original synthesis of Azerbaijani national keys and different jazz rhythms.

He also wrote his own instrumental music and solo works and won hearts with the fabulous sound of the clarinet and saxophone!

Public performances of Tofig Ahmadov’s jazz orchestra both at concerts and on state radio made him a favorite of Azerbaijani audiences.

His favorite songs, hits performed by the luminaries of Azerbaijani and Soviet vocal art (such as Shovkat Alakbarova, Rauf Atakishiyev, Muslim Magomayev, Lütfiyar Imanov, Ogtay Agayev, Zeynab Khanlarova, Natavan Sheyhova, Rosa Rimbayeva and other soloists) were known to every Azerbaijani.

In addition, the first performances of the vocal quartet “Gaya” also took place accompanied by the jazz orchestra.

The famous orchestra under the leadership of Tofig Ahmadov performed in many places in numerous countries.

In 1968, the orchestra was a laureate at the International Festival for Youth and Students in Sofia, Bulgaria and was awarded the Gold Medal and the “Golden Orpheus” Prize.

Tofig Ahmadov’s activities, his deep love for music and his full commitment to the development of Azerbaijani jazz music were highly appreciated and in 1977, he received the title of “People’s Artist of Azerbaijan”.

He died on March 21, 1981. He was only 57 years old at the time.

Since 2010, the Estrada and Symphony Orchestra of Azerbaijan Radio and Television has been officially named after Tofig Ahmadov.

The master’s great interpretations as well as his unforgettable works will remain in our memories and in our hearts forever!

I would like to thank the family of Tofig Ahmadov for memories and providing archival photos

Farah Tahirova, musicologist – February 8, 2024, Vienna

[1] Since music was considered an important means of ideology in the USSR, the term “estrada” was invented for the entertainment industry. Jazz music was also referred to as “estrada” or “variety music” and jazz orchestras as “Estrade orchestras”.