By Barbare Sturua

As I walked towards the Birdland on May 9, 2024, in the streets of bustling Manhattan, I was warming up for a jazz night by listening to Bye Bye Blackbird by Keith Jarett dedicated to Miles Davis. Anticipation swelled within me, remembering how many legendary moments of Jazz were born at this place, along with the endless energy that it has accumulated until today. And above all, was the fact that I was going to listen to a Georgian musician, Bacha Mdzinarashvili, taking over the piano along with Yasushi Nakamura on bass, Mayron Walden on saxophone, and Julian Miltenberger on drums. 

My heightened excitement stemmed from my own roots in Georgia, where jazz is felt in every aspect of life. In my homeland, family gatherings, celebrations, and holidays don’t go by without the strains of piano and soulful singing filling the air. Georgian music culture is a fusion of jazz, gospel, and blues, with a special spice that defies description but must be experienced. As Bacha Mdzinarashvili took the stage at Birdland, I was surrounded by the rhythms of the city and the timeless allure of jazz, while also feeling a profound sense of belonging and gratitude for the music that had shaped my identity.

I’ve heard endless stories from my parent’s generation about how they listened to the forbidden jazz musicians in the Soviet Union such as Keith Jarett, Charlie Parker, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, and Clifford Brown. Here I was, at this very place where all this came together. The tunes that shook the world served as a primary inspiration for the Georgian artist, Mdzinarashvili. The first tune played that evening was “The Morning Sun” composed by Bacha, that was featured in his debut, solo album “The Smile”. The second set consisted of “Word! Dr. Byrd” written by Darren Barett, whom Bacha met at Berklee College of Music, and ever since then Mr. Barett has carried the role of a mentor for the musician.  

Before entering the legendary venue, I ran into two highly praised Georgian Musicians who have played a significant role in shaping the modern Georgian jazz scene, saxophonist Khondzi and pianist Papuna Sharikadze, and now bringing their unique talent to New York holding performances throughout the city. The sense of a strong jazz community was felt throughout the evening. 

This was the second time Bacha Mdzinarashvili Played at Birdland. The harmony between the quartet was created through the details such as a soft piano riff followed by a gentle brush of the drums. A particularly notable synergy was evident between Bacha and bassist Yasushi Nakamira, their collaboration spanning a decade evident in the fluidity of their musical dialogue. Yasushi Nakamira’s solo in the first set was one of the highlights of the evening. Even though it lasted for a short time, it was enough to captivate the audience with the deep, cinematic tempo rhythm. To sum it up it was a performance born with the love of free jazz, breaking down the regular tempos and adding a slight modern twist. 

As the evening unfolded I couldn’t help but catch snippets of conversations in my native tongue, echoing the recent political unrest gripping Georgia. Just weeks prior, on April 15, the Georgian government had tabled a draft concerning potential censorship measures, particularly affecting artists whose freedom of expression hangs in the balance. Yet, as our gazes turned towards the stage, witnessing a Georgian pianist flourish at Birdland, a wave of optimism swept through the room. In this shared moment, the Georgian community found solidarity and hope. It was a poignant reminder that, in times of turmoil, music has the remarkable ability to heal and unify.