Jazz Music in Turkey

Written by TR Dergisi

Musicians such as Okay Temiz, Atilla Engin and Kudsi Erguner have made wonderful syntheses by blending Turkish music with jazz, achieving success worldwide.  

Jazz was born when slaves from Africa were brought to America. All human emotions, such as sadness, pain, longing, and freedom were shared with other people through their music, and became a part of their lives, a brand new form of their appeal. Then the music of black men reached Europe with some minor changes, and turned into a genre loved and listened all over the world until our day.

Jazz, with roots in Blues and a New Orleans style beginning, influenced the music of countries in different regions from Central Africa to South America, from Northern European countries to Azerbaijan, in some way. This music, initially performed entirely based on the American version, continued its journey as other countries made compositions in the form of jazz songs. Jazz music lived its golden age between 1950-1970 and reached audiences all over the world through records, concerts, festivals, and particularly radio and later television channels.

But what’s more important is that jazz music, like all other musical genres, aims to purify people’s souls and make the listeners happy. Improvisation is the most exciting feature in jazz music, apart from well-known compositions known as “standards” and music with notes. We can say that the journey of jazz in Turkey, inarguably one of the most popular music genres in the world, dates back to 1930s. Jazz, pioneered by dance orchestras and small music ensembles, was preferred as a venue music in the following years. When it came to the 70s, jazz in Turkey continued its circulation as one of the most popular musical genres.

The first Turkish jazz record was Jazz Semai album released in 1978, comprised entirely of Tuna Ötenel’s compositions except one. This album that featured Erol Pekcan on the drums, who made great efforts to introduce jazz and make it popular in Turkey, Kudret Öztoprak on bass, and legendary Turkish musician Tuna Ötenel on  piano and saxophone, was a great hit and became popular among collectors in years. And 38 years later, it was meticulously reprinted by “Rainbow 45 Records”, a leading Turkish music company.

Going further back, artists such as Sevinç Tevs and Ayten Alpman introduced an energy to jazz music with their voices. Many musicians, some of whom passed away, made important contributions to the development of jazz. These names are significant in the strong vocal tradition today and the emergence of young vocalists. Özdemir Erdoğan’s Original Jazz Experiments attracted considerable attention when it was first released.

In this year’s Istanbul Jazz Festival, the most important jazz event of Turkey next to Akbank Jazz Festival, two artists were presented with life-long achievement awards. One of them was Fatih Erkoç and the other was the maestro and producer of TRT Istanbul Radio Pop Music and Jazz Orchestra Kamil Özler. Süheyl Denizci was the first conductor of TRT Istanbul Radio Pop Music and Jazz Orchestra established in 1982. Then Neşet Ruacan was assigned to this task, and currently Kamil Özler conducts the orchestra.

Istanbul Jazz Festival, organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) for the 24th time, hosted not only artists and bands from various countries of the world but also the successful performances by Turkish musicians. Especially in the last 10 years, the accomplishments of Turkish musicians and their performances with musicians from abroad, have won great acclaim. This year, the orchestra made an incredible performance together with Christian McBride and Joshua Redman. Levent Yüksel, Cenk Erdoğan and Taksim Trio were guest musicians in the concert organized in memory of Paco de Lucia.

On the other hand, Turkish jazz musicians also make great performances in concerts abroad. Although there are technical difficulties in combining Turkish music with jazz harmonies due to the modal properties of Turkish music, the value of Turkish modal music is raised with striking interpretations of our master composers and musicians.

Ethnic jazz, born from the combination of jazz with ethnic music in the world, continues spreading with the shared equilibrium and values of East and West. From qanun to kemancha, from baglama to oud, many instruments are integrated into jazz music along with other instruments. Turkish musicians such as Okay Temiz, Atilla Engin and Kudsi Erguner have made wonderful syntheses by blending Turkish music with jazz, achieving success worldwide. Many projects from Bilal Karaman’s Patika to Baki Duyarlar-Derya Türkan’s Kemenjazz are followed with interest by jazz lovers.

Music companies such as A.K. Müzik, Ada Müzik, Kabak&Lin, Equinox, Baykuş Müzik, and Kalan Müzik support jazz music with the albums they release. What will be the route jazz will follow in Turkey in coming years? We await impatiently.

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TR Dergisi

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