Exciting, creative, challenging, noise, nonsense, geniusall of these words and more have been used for decades by critics and listeners alike to describe the avant-garde movement in jazz. While there seems to be no consensus on the genres appeal, some love it and others detest it, the avant-garde has always had a unique ability to draw out emotions in people, regardless of their listening preferences. The music is technically and musically challenging to the performers and to the listeners as well, who are often not accustomed to the abstract nature of the art. Like any art form that begs the audience to change the way they think about a particular genre, in this case music, experimental jazz is often trend setting and divisive at the same time.
Turkish-born/New York-based guitarist Timuçin Şahin is one of those artists who defines the avant-garde genre. He'll admit that his music is not for everyone, it is not for the casual listener, but it's the music that he hears and the music that he loves. At first one might shy away from the often abrasive and harmonically abstract nature of Şahin's music, but that would only be a disservice to the listener as well as to the artist. Once the initial jolt has subsided, and the dissonant melodies have settled in one's ears, the music takes on a rhythmic quality that acts as the glue holding everything together. This is not dance music per se, but there is a pulse that underlines Şahin's work, that binds the freely improvised and the structured, producing layers of interest in his pieces that go beyond simply being abstract for the sake of shock value.
As Şahin says, making a living on the New York avant-garde scene is tough on a good day, but here's an artist who is looking beyond the financial aspect of the music. This is art for the sake of art, music that is written from the heart, and that connects the artist and the audience through a web of emotion, rhythm and self- expression.
All About Jazz: You were born and raised in Turkey, which has a strong folk-music tradition as well as a very distinct musical heritage. I was wondering if you could comment on the influence that Turkish music has or hasn't had on your playing, what are your thoughts on that music?
Timuçin Şahin: Turkish music didn't have an influence on my playing when I was living there, oddly enough. I lived there until '92 when I moved to the Netherlands and I had started playing rock guitar about three or four years before I emigrated. At the time I wasn't aware of Turkish music, but I was introduced to it after I left the country. I spent some time in the late '90s reconnecting with that music, so its influence on me dates to that period of my life, and funnily enough, not to when I was actually living in Turkey.
AAJ: Even though you play jazz, which is an innovative and original style of music on its own, you're still able to stand out among the crowd with your unique and individual approach to the genre. How important is it to you that you find your own voice and distinct approach to jazz and to jazz guitar?
TS: Honestly I don't really have a choice. This is how I play, this is what I play, and I don't really have a choice. I love playing standards, they're a big part of what makes jazz a great music, but in my case I prefer to explore new sounds and to write new music. We're a product of what we like, who we are and what we study. Especially with my instrument choice and the music that I like and that I compose, my music is not for everybody. But, for me it's very important to have my own voice. In any style of music, jazz, rock, classical or whatever, it's the uniqueness that describes one's identity, so I'm happy to have that distinct character in my playing.
AAJ: New York, where you live, always seems to be on the cutting edge as far as new sounds in jazz are concerned. As a guitarist who's on the avant-garde scene in New York, can you comment on the health of the scene right now?
TS: It's very difficult right now. You should really think twice about moving to New York these days. When I used to visit New York, before I moved here, I loved it. It was like heaven to me. But, after moving here four years ago I realized how difficult it is to make a living here. If I wasn't getting out on the road I'd have to have a day job to make ends meet.
The level of the musicians in New York is amazing, it's at a real high point in history, but the amount of work to go around is minimal right now, at least compared to other years. I hope that difficult periods like this, where things are a bit slow compared to previous years, won't affect the overall health of the scene. It's a great place to live, great musicians, but it's very tough to make a living only playing avant-garde jazz here, or anywhere for that matter.