SHAHIN NOVRASLI: ON THE WAY TO GLOBAL FAME
- Here we are with your new album Bayati released under the Bee Jazz label. In addition, you have given concerts in Paris, Munich and London. Can you please talk about that?
- Yes, that's right. This year, my solo CD Bayati has been released. It is already available for purchase in European music stores. I am sure people are buying it, because I was signing autographs on them following the concerts. I myself have a limited number of those CDs at hand, therefore I cannot give them away, unfortunately.
- How did the concerts go?
- The concerts gathered full houses and were quite successful. There was a concert in Munich at the Unterfahrt Jazz Club, two in Paris at Duc de Lombards, and two more in London.
- Where were your London concerts held?
- One at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, and the other one at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
- Which of your concerts do you consider to be the most successful?
- All of them were a success, in fact. I don't mean to boast, but this is really how it was. But I'd say, Paris. Those concerts were the most crucial and memorable for me.
- Were you comfortable there?
- For sure. The musicians on stage were great support. The audiences received me differently in each country, but equally well. For example, in Munich the concert was held at their famous jazz club. The people arrived early, had something to eat, and by the beginning of the concert, they had already turned their chairs around ready to listen. After the concert, they continued with their dinner. We were doing encores until the sound director ordered the stage lights off. I was also interviewed on a jazz radio.
- What kind of questions were you asked?
- They were asking about Azerbaijani music, about jazz and how I had met the musicians. It was an ordinary interview. There were also articles about the concerts and reviews of my album published by famous media outlets, such as The Guardian, Financial Times and Jazzwise.
- Tell us, do you consider an ascent the fact that a French label released your solo album, as well as its promotion, your interviews, your concerts, etc.?
- This is just the initial stage, the beginning. We have done a lot of work. These are just the first steps.
- But you have given concerts in France and in Moscow.
- Of course. But I still think that on the international stage, this was my debut. I am taking off there, just like I took off in Azerbaijan 20 years go. After all, everything needs to be approached professionally. I am talking specifically about management and the label. A road to the jazz industry passes through promotion that makes people recognise a musician, introduces him or her to jazz lovers abroad and opens doors to international concert halls. But in order for a big-time label to notice you and to want to work with you, there is a lot to do. It's just that some manage to achieve that at the age of 15, some at 35.
- At 15, is that even realistic? Let's say, if a very young musician receives an offer from a label, can he or she become a good and celebrated musician in the future?
- Before this never used to be difficult. Jazz music was 'younger', and there weren't many musicians. Nowadays it's tougher. Everything develops fast, and one can perish just as fast. Those that still persist are those that are truly strong, talented, psychologically stable and can really count on some assistance and support. All the others can disappear soon after appearing.
In general, there is a lot I'd like to say. I am happy to have been supported by someone like Rauf Aliyev. He sincerely believed in me and grew fond of me, and wanted to do what he has done ‒ some great contributions to Azerbaijani jazz. He is a strong-willed, ambitious and exacting person who knows what he is doing. I was astonished by his foresight. Our joint work with Rauf Aliyev lasted for a year. It was thanks to his support that I made it onto the international level, recorded music at a European studio and had it released under a world-famous label. There were moments when I would call Rauf muallim in hope for some news, and he would always say: "Just wait, Shahin!" So he taught me patience, as well. A musician may choose the wrong producers or managers, but Rauf muallim filtered out all the wrong people and put everything on its place. I am lucky I met him. He has become a friend, and he is also a great fan of music. I am forever thankful to him. I am also quite ambitious, and I hope I have a lot to look forward to.
- It's interesting that many musicians don't know what style they are playing. Can you explain the style of your music?
- It's simply the style of music.
- I always said and I'm saying this again: I don't divide music into genres. I just play music. The most important this is that I never deceive music, because music is to be played for the sake of music only. There must be no other reason.
Once, following a concert, a group of people approached me. They were all charmed by the composition which was based on segah. So one of them said to me: "Thanks to you, I have fallen in love with jazz." Though what I was playing there had nothing to do with jazz. That was not jazz at all. That was simply music. Yes, jazz presupposes improvisation, it's a life on its own. I always try to demonstrate music. And the fact that we are having this conversation right now is also improvisation. The fact that we live ‒ this is jazz, too. My music is thus free.
- Yes, I understand. I'd like to say that jazz gradually flows into world music.
- That is probably true for modern jazz only. The jazz of today is based on the symbiosis of everything that a musician can contribute to jazz on their own part. Whereas original 'clean' jazz that we are talking about remained in the 30s and 40s. If one were to regard my music as jazz, then it would mean I am playing modern jazz. If jazz fuses with some other genre of music, it is no longer traditional jazz, but modern. I believe that classical music is the foundation of jazz. Let's take an example: Mozart's music is improvisation, so it is jazz. It would be unnecessarily excessive to add anything to it. Chopin's music is beautiful. Once I was asked in Paris: "Why did you choose Chopin and not some other composer?" I answered that I could not, or rather had no right to modify or improvise on the classical music by Mozart or Bach, for example, because Mozart's music is already a modern-style improvisation, and I could not possibly add anything new to it. And even if I did, that would be unnecessary. I always believed that even if I played jazz, I would need classical music as the basis. I would practice 14 hours a day. I remember getting up at nine in the morning, skipping breakfast so as not to lose time and sitting down at the piano.
- Did you have a specific goal or you just like playing?
- Everyone always has a goal.
- And yours was to become a good musician?
- Every musician has that goal. When I was five, I dreamt of being among the world's best pianists. At 14, I heard Vagif's music for the first time. It shocked me, it was superb; I simply cannot describe the state I was in. Then I asked my father to get me that recording from the radio station. I even broke a tape recorder because I kept rewinding the tape over and over. I knew all of his works and songs by heart. And it was then that I developed love for jazz. But I continued with classical music, nevertheless.
- What exactly did you like in Vagif?
- Love, beauty, mugham and fusion. I was quite sceptical about a classical pianist playing mugham. I did not understand how that was possible. But after him, I discovered that a musician can play anything he or she wants. This is where my love for fusion comes from.
- So it was Mustafazadeh's music through which you got to know jazz for the first time?
- I will always love his music and will always go back to it. When I listened to it 15 years ago, I was studying his music in order to play it. And now, when I listen, I don't think how he played and what he played, I just listen to him and I admire that in the Soviet era, under the Soviet mindset, he was able to create such a new wave. It was very hard. And one tries to understand, to comprehend how he was able to do it. And this awareness gives us power and energy, meaning that it is really possible to do something, to create something yourself. Vagif Mustafazadeh had a very good musical thinking. The people of Azerbaijan should be happy and be proud that they once had such a musician, a pianist and composer, who opened the way to jazz music.
Of course, the love of music always came from our family traditions. I am happy that my parents liked our national music. Dad has played the tar from his childhood, Mum knows music as well and used to sing often. But I always wanted to do everything by myself. I never got where I wanted smoothly. It would take me some time, with difficulties, after multiple attempts.
This is the kind of person I am. I cannot do things without obstacles, I need them. I have always said that a human brain is like a reservoir. If it isn't filled with the right information, it will end up getting polluted. It cannot remain empty. So I found the answer. If I had no obstacles, I would probably not play any music. I would look for difficulties, dive into them and search for solutions.
- This might be a cliché question, but still I would like to know: do you yourself listen to any music?
- I listen to any music, provided that it is well performed. I listen to myself. Definitely. I must love my own music. I must love it, because otherwise I wouldn't be able to play it.
- Suppose you went on a jazz festival, played your part and have a lot of free time now. Aren't you going to attend performances by the other participants of the festival?
- I love jazz festivals, they are true celebrations and opportunities for musicians to meet up and organize jam sessions. Of course, I would listen to the one that interested me, and the rest of the time, I would be taking walks.
- Great. Let's talk about a more everyday subject. Can you cook? And do you like cooking?
- My wife Nata always says: "You can do anything, but always do nothing." I can cook. Or perhaps I can't, but as a jazz improviser, I will be able to make something, that's for sure. But I don't do that at all. I wake up and sit down at the table and eat everything my wife makes, for which I love her very much.
- Tell us about your other half.
- If it weren't for her, I wouldn't be where I am right now. I am very lucky to have met her. She have everything in common. We are indivisible and one.
When we used to date, she said once that she did not understand and did not like jazz. Now she is tied to jazz; she understands and appreciates this music. She makes sense of jazz almost better than me. First of all, she is my friend. Secondly, she is an intellectual. And thirdly, she is a professional musician.
- Did the birth of your child impede your career? Some musicians believe that a family or a child have a negative impact on their creative activity.
- I have always said that family and music do not exist one without the other. This notions complement each other. Becoming a father was the happiest moment of my life. Even if I have 30 concerts a month, I will do my best to take my family along. I have always said and am saying this now: my family is the most important thing for me.
- What about the notion of friendship?
- Every person must be their own friend. This is why I say that I am, first of all, my own friend. Then my friends are my close relatives: my wife and son, my brothers and my parents. There are acquaintances, colleagues... As philosophers say, it is important to be able to stay alone. I have a great time in a company, but sometimes I need to be alone. One must be able to be themselves, and then they'll understand who they really are. What does this mean? Well, this means that one should be their own friend.
- I know that everyone in your family is a musician. But why is it only you who plays jazz and not your brothers?
- Gulya Namazova helped me a lot. For the few years that I was her student, she introduced me to the entire music culture. Since then, I have been in love with music. And only thanks to her I began practicing music 14 hours a day.
- Do you ever have music-related discussions with your brothers?
- They are all professional musicians. But I am always glad to help them with any issues. In general, it's tough to be the eldest, and I am exactly the eldest. Involuntarily, you end up thinking of each and every one.
- Perhaps it runs in the family? I think you guys are very close, as a family. Are there any family traditions that your parents passed onto you?
- Yes, traditions in our family are cherished. Everyone knows their own role and respects their elders.
- Let's go back to music. What do you think of music competitions? You have participated at a talent show in Montreux...
- Contests are not a good idea; it is not the right approach. I think all contests should be abolished, classical and jazz ones alike. There should be only festivals, and no contests. They can ruin the life of a very talented musicians, only because he or she did not pass a stage, or, vice versa, put on airs and ended up losing everything...
- Shahin, when you are on stage, do you ever think about business?
- When I'm playing, I generally don't think of that. But this is rooted in the mind of every human. There's nothing wrong with a normal business person thinking. If a man plays badly, he or she knows that there will be no more invitations. The entire world is built on commerce, after all. Whatever happens in the world has a financial component to itself. If I invented a glass, I would have to sell it. Of course, it has to be beautiful, but it has to be sold one way or another.
- When you're playing, do you sense what the audience likes the most?
- When on stage, I only think about playing beautiful music.
- I mean the reaction of the audience. Sometimes they begin to clap or to express discontent. Do you ever react?
- What has an effect on me is that I feel different rooms and halls, I distinguish between them, I really know them. I get a kick out of where I am. I was once told: "When you go on stage, the hall is already yours." I was told this many times. I may not have thought about it, but the musician must be able to mesmerize the room, and the audience should belong to him or her. Only after that, what you do, what you create or have created will be accepted. And you must be able to show your love on stage. Your listeners, everyone in the room, will see and feel it. Otherwise you would not be able to create beauty.
- Suppose you're going on a foreign tour. And you know what kind of audience you're up against. Are you going to prepare a special program and adapt yourself, taking into consideration the tastes and preferences of the given audience?
- No, no, no. Regardless of whether there are three or five of us on stage, we must create beauty. One note is enough for people to enjoy. I can play a note and not do anything for the next 10 minutes. Why? Because I would listen to and enjoy what I did. The most important thing is do it beautifully and lovingly. The audience sees and feels this. Normally I don't perform many new compositions during my concert. That is a no-no, a catastrophe. People attend concerts to listen to the things they already know. It is all right to present only one new thing per concert, so that next time you can play it even better. This is exactly what I do.
LEYLA EFENDIYEVA. Jazz Dunyasi