May 18, 2024

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Interview with Engin Ozsahin: All these small venues are life-blood to the jazz scene: Video

Jazz Interview with jazz pianist and composer Engin Ozsahin. An interview by email in writing. – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Engin Ozsahin: – I was born and raised in Istanbul and lived there until age 28. The earliest musical influences I have are of my grandmother playing the piano. She loved the music of Chopin and Schumann. The melodies and harmonies present in the pieces of these composers were very interesting to me, so as a kid I would sit on the piano and try to play those melodies I heard as long as I can.

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

EO: – Around age 20, listening to Brad Mehldau give a solo piano concert in Istanbul was really inspiring and that more than anything got me started on studying jazz. Today, I can’t say that I have found my ‘sound’ yet, but I can definitely say that I have found my tribe of people that are helping me in that direction. I like creating music in great quantities and gradually weeding out parts that are not my work, or the parts that need more work.

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

EO: – I have monthly and yearly goals, and I listen to myself during daily practice routine. I really believe that the lessons that I’m meant to learn are in my work, so I look back and try to learn from my ‘mistakes’.

Thanks to working with Vanessa Mulvey, I recently discovered that the fundamental rhythmic challenges I face could be eliminated with a better posture and subsequently more relaxed muscles, which are helping me attain better micro-rhythmic accuracy.

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

EO: – I really try to learn the music inside out, know every nook and cranny, really own it! With that comes relaxation, and that’s the main thing that allows me to reach my full creative potential.

JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on your albums?

EO: – I like playing with musicians who don’t hesitate to share their own ideas to experiment and make improvements in the music. I’m also drawn to improvisers that have a strong sense of melody and phrasing.

The musicians in the album not only have all these qualities, but they are also good friends and very inspiring improvisers from whom I learn so much each time we play!

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

EO: – A good relationship begins with the two sides having a balance between their individuality and togetherness. If you sacrifice individuality, then you stop being the person you are, and if you sacrifice togetherness then there is no relationship.

I see the relationship between the artist and the audience as a game of balance. The artist should definitely be aware of what the audience wants, but should not sacrifice his/her individuality to move away from the art they feel in their hearts.

JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

EO: – I can never forget the time I played at a 600-year-old Greek Church in Cappadoccia, Turkey during a weeklong jazz workshop program in 2015. My trio was the house band in this jam session that took place at this church and the whole session ended being a euphoric experience!

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

EO: – I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend time in both Istanbul and Boston since my enrollment in jazz composition studies in New England Conservatory of Music in 2016. Since that time, I witnessed Ryles Jazz Club closing down and now; The Middle Eastern Club is for sale. In Istanbul however, the exact opposite is taking place.

All these small venues are life-blood to the jazz scene, which allows young people to get influenced by jazz musicians sharing their music. In Boston, the number of venues where this is happening is going down, and I believe that it has a big impact on the community. To me, the availability of space and exposure is more important than the up-to-dateness of the repertoire being played. That is an easier fix compared to the availability of venues.

When I look at the scene in Istanbul, I see a growing number of jazz clubs and cafes that let young people be more exposed to jazz, which increases the chances that one day they might be interested in it. Most of my peers in Istanbul will agree that the number of musicians playing jazz and the number of jazz venues in the city has never been as high as it is today.

JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

EO: – I’ve been listening to a mix of stuff: Oliver Nelson – The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Brad Mehldau – After Bach, Mac Miller, and Ligeti’s Etudes.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

EO: – The message was to question the psycho-cultural barriers that exist in our minds. In another album, the message might be different. In essence, the core value with which I make my music is presence in the moment. I ask the audience and the performers to bring their full attention and presence into music with the hopes that they can carry that focus into other parts of their lives as well.

JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

EO: – I ask myself ‘What are the causes I care about?’. The answer to that is climate change and circular economy. Then I ask, ‘How can I express the urgency of these topics through my music?’, ‘Should I bring concepts of circular economy and merge them with the language of jazz?’… This is my thought process and what lingers on in my mind over and over again these days…

JBN: – You should have asked your question to me and not to yourself 🙂

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Cut The Ties - Deniz Ozcelik & Engin Ozsahin - YouTube

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