Jazz in Iran? Yes, and no! Once upon a time, before the 1979 revolution, when oil's money was overflowing, a Queen and some of her advisers had the idea of making the country more sophisticated, more prestigious. Thus, among so many decisions they made, one was inviting the jazz acts to the country. Of course, long before this plan that long before Harry 'Sweets' Edison, Pearl Bailey and Louie Bellson appear in Tehran's biggest amphitheater by that invitation, Duke Ellington and his Orchestra showed up in Isfahan, a place so amazingly beautiful that inspired Duke and Billy Strayhorn to embed all that beauty in one of the most majestic alto solos in history of jazz, Isfahan, as played later by Johnny Hodges.
Everybody was coming to Iran, from Frank Sinatra to Karlheinz Stockhausen! Money was flowing and even if Frank Sinatra's concert in Jamshidieh Stadium in Tehran was a flop, it didn't stop musicians from visiting lavish, old, and rich Persia. Falling in love with the country was so easy, as William Wyler's host in Iran told me, "he came for a week long festival, and ended up staying for a month on the shores of Caspian sea and eating best Caviar in the world." Magic carpet was ready to give a free ride to everyone whose name was big enough to give credit to the country that was longing for that.
So Dizzy Gillespie and his big band was visiting oil cities, like a treasury minister, and Willis Conover's voice was in the air, as Hollywood films had their premiere in Tehran cinemas. Sundays, Jack Teagarden in a striped suite played good old jazz in national TV. The country was like a story from 1001 nights, a modern fairy land, where at days you had Peter Brook to perform in Shiraz, enjoying the best grapes in the world, and at nights John Cage was on stage, an artist whose musical ideas was even too much for the Western ears.
|Karlheinz Stockhausen (front right) at the Shiraz Arts Festival, Iran, 2 September 1972. How many of these people understand what's happening, musically?|
|Aloys and Alfons Kontrarsky, 2.9.1972, Shiraz.|
Among those who landed in Iran, there was a young American jazzman who had something else in mind.
...to be continued.
Part 2 here.