IKSV, which played one of the biggest roles in the development of music culture and the change in the perspective on jazz music in Turkey, celebrates the 25th anniversary of its Istanbul Jazz Festival this year. It all started on one hot July evening 25 years ago under the theme of Vocal Night with “Sampling Cuba Vocal Band – Bobby Mc Ferrin / Bang Zoom Trio” and went on for 3 evenings at Ortaköy Esma Sultan Palace with Larry Coryell concerts (what an unfortunate coincidence to have lost him 25 years later this February). IKSV showed Turkish music lovers that there is a phenomenon called jazz, and now every year we wait for July with anticipation.
For those who ask “How would you summarize these 25 years?” I can reply with one word, which is “excitement”, because we excitedly wait for July every year. Questions like “Which bands will we see?” “Which guitarist, which pianists will bring which project of theirs and who will accompany them?” occupy our minds from the ending day of the festival until the day the next festival’s program is announced.
Zorlu Performance Arts Center houses Istanbul Jazz Festival on its Main Stage, Drama Stage and Amphitheater, along with its own jazz festival which took place for the first time this year, and it hosted Marcus Miller, who has visited our country countless times during IKSV Jazz Festivals (SMV, Tribute to Miles, İstanbul Project, maybe he participated in the older festivals as well!) on the 21st of October, Saturday evening.
I listened to Marcus Miller’s 2015 Blue Note album “Afrodeezia” last and really liked it.
Miller successfully worked together with Miles Davis since his album “The Man With The Horn” which seemed to make up for the 6 years break he took at the end of the 1970s until the 1989 album “Amandla” and improved his technique in the meanwhile, developing a style that was admired by many bass guitarists. I was incredibly excited to listen to this legendary musician for the first time.
The collage of previous festivals’ posters in the foyer was a great detail to notice before the concert for those who wished to immortalize that moment through their photographs. I conversed shortly with our musician friends and music lover friends about the concert and then proceeded to the sold-out concert hall with my Jazz Dergisi colleague Serdar Karabatı and took our seats.
I thought the audience would be mostly young people, since “Afrodeezia” was a dynamic album and so were Miller’s performances that are readily available on the internet, but I was surprised to see that the members of the audience were mostly 35 years old and older.
The concert started right on time and I believe the first piece was an oldie called “Panther”. The members of the band: Alex Bailey on the drums, Bailey’s schoolmate from Berklee Alex Han on the alto saxophone, Brett Willams on the keyboard and Russell Gunn (attentive music lovers will remember him from Kerem Görsev’s “Meeting Point “ and “Warm Autumn” albums) on the trumpet. The evening, filled with slaps, was already climaxing with Russell’s solo during the second part of the piece. Zorlu PSM’s atmosphere was fully taken over by Afrodeezia when the second piece started and one of my favorite songs from the album, “Hylife”, started to echo through the hall. One could feel what a great companion Russell is for Marcus while listening to this piece, and the harmony between the drums and the keyboard was noticeable. Alex Han performed a solo that was even better than the one he played in the album.
There is a photograph that went viral, maybe you will remember: There is a crowd lined up to listen to the concert of a famous musician or a band, and everybody in the crowd has a phone, camera or a tablet in their hands except for an old lady. The sweet lady is seizing the moment and she is luckier than the young people surrounding her, because she is enjoying the whole experience while the other only get a glimpse of it though a small frame.
Even though the fact that some members of the audience in the back, front and in some other seats in the hall wanted to immortalize the moment by taking photos with flashes during “B’s River” irritated most of the other members, I think Alex Han restore the balance of the piece through his solo which received standing ovation. Of course, it isn’t practical to prohibit taking photographs during the concert, but I think Zorlu could follow a different strategy when it comes to this, especially after the light system which was programmed specifically for each piece was underwhelmed by these artificial flash lights. Backtracking to the piece itself; it was dominated by syncopated rhythms and reminiscent of the 1990s. After listening to Brett Williams’s piano solo during B’s River, I understood that most jazz pieces should be listened to live as well.
After B’s River, they played a piece that I was wondering if they would perform during this concert: “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”. The original version of this piece is from The Temptations’s unforgettable 1972 album “All Directions”, and remember how many awards it has received (Best R&B Piece, Best Instrumental R&B Performance. Best Duo/Group Vocal R&B Performance). I should mention that this piece was the best performed one in this concert. Especially Russell’s memorable passages and Alex Bailey’s playing reminiscent of Art Blakey, and how the stage went dark right afterwards, leaving us with a feeling of walking through the smokey and rainy streets of New York with the red lights hitting the stage. I think this piece was the climax of the concert, and could also be played as an encore.
Marcus Miller dedicated the titular piece from “Amandla” (for some reason I couldn’t warm up to this piece despite listening to it many times) to Miles; he was worked with Miles Davis and played the percussions on this third album after ‘Tutu’ and ‘Music for Siesta’. He stepped back and proudly watched Alex and Russell’s saxophone and trumpet trade, which was almost like a cockfight, like a war hero.
Marcus, known as a bass guitarist, showed his skill for the clarinet while playing the gentlest and sweetest piece of Afrodeezia, Preacher’s Kid (Song For William H) that he wrote for his 92 years old father.
Remembering how Marcus Miller’s previous concerts were planned out, we felt that the end of the concert was drawing near, and Marcus introduced his bandmates once more and made sure they all received their rightful applause from the full house in Zorlu PSM’s Main Stage. He said they will play an oldie as the last piece and received another wave of enthusiastic applause as they started to play “Tutu”.
Marcus focused on the movement in the backstage in the middle of the piece, and signalled that the excitement was just about to hit the roof when a platform was brought onto the stage along with some instruments placed on top of it.
“Wow” I thought “Now we are in for a marvellous surprise!”
“Eh, we are listening to Marcus Miller, who has worked with immortal legends such as Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, George Benson and of course Miles Davis!”
And I went over the possible musicians who could be coming to the stage: “İzzet Kızıl, Okay Temiz”. After all, these master percussionists were the founding fathers of jazz music in Turkey, who has dedicated their whole lives to jazz…
However, despite all these names I had hope to see, I was instead facing Burhan Öçal, just like Taksim Trio (I was trying to bring down the wall of prejudice I had built), during Istanbul “Jazz” Festival, even though I think he has nothing to do with jazz.
I had listened to Miles Davis’s famous piece “Tutu”. Many many times. But this is the truth: I did not enjoy and was not attracted to this version of Tutu with Burhan Öçal on the darbuka. Even though the audience gave this performance a standing ovation…
I think the concert would have been more diverse if there was İzzet Kızıl on the percussion or if Okay Temiz was playing his big drum kit, it could have become more memorable and we could have experienced a successful example of fusion through their collaboration with Alex Bailey.
I wish to send my greetings (!) to the sound engineers from here as well, because they arranged the sound system accordingly (!) so that Burhan Öçal couldn’t be heard despite his efforts due to the high volume of Marcus and Alex Bailey’s instruments during “Blast” after the encore. I don’t think many members of the audience, including me and Serdar, was able to hear Öçal’s playing.
I am not sure how many times Marcus Miller has played in Turkey, as I also mentioned in the beginning of the article, counting this performance on the 21st of October at Zorlu PSM, but one thing is for sure: he has a special place in the hearts of us jazz lovers with his visits and sound!