In common jazz parlance, one word describes Amina Figarova’s music… it swings… and sometimes it swings hard.
You might mistake Amina Figarova’s European sextet for a group of top flight New Yorkers. But Baku, Azerbaijan is a long way from the Big Apple… still, as a young girl growing up in this former Soviet-controlled country, Amina Figarova heard lots of American jazz.
“Azerbaijan was pretty loose, not as tight as the rest of Russia. And more things were let’s say allowed and my mother would listen all the time to Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong."
Figarova was playing piano by age two and in her late teens, she was a polished classical concert pianist. By then she was also listening to jazz artists like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea… but she wasn’t playing jazz.
“Well I just did not think that I can play jazz, you know, don’t go there (laughs). I don’t know, besides I was too busy playing concerts and competitions.
And studying. But it was while studying at a Dutch Conservatory that Figarova decided to “cross the border” into jazz, a decision that changed her life. Six months later she was attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. Less than a year after that she had her first CD. It all happened fast, but Figarova says coming to this country to study was the right move.
"Well I felt I was home, I was really home because the whole atmosphere, it was very familiar all the musicians around. Their working mentality, studying mentality, you know, just go for it and work hard and it made me feel just really home."
Now there a dozen titles in Figarova’s discography. Nearly all contain original compositions almost exclusively.
"I was writing music all my life. When I was little I was writing classical music when I was a teenager I started to write popular music."
Those styles play a role in her jazz compositions… and so does music native to Azerbaijan… at least rhythmically.
"I don’t use so much our scales or folkloristic colors, anything like that. But the grooves and rhythms, yes that comes often into my music so that’s bridge between my heritage and what I do."
As a composer, Amina Figarova strives to translate experience into music. She composed a suite about her time in New York during 9-11. She has captured in song the personalities of her bandmates. And her latest CD was born from the pain of losing both parents, recently, and the desire to honor them.
Pianist and composer Amina Figarova’s new CD is called “Above the Clouds."
The Amina Figarova Sextet will give several area performances
Friday, February 27th at the Brewery Arts Center in Carson Cit
Saturday, February 28th at JazzFresno
Sunday, March 1st at the San Jose Jazz Festival
Monday, March 2nd at Yoshi’s in Oakland