It isn’t all that surprising to observe “changes” to some extent (especially when the use of language is concerned; and when it comes to clothing and attitude in some more serious cases) in people I meet abroad whose roots lie in Turkey, but have stayed abroad for long periods of time. However, when I meet people who belong to a specific sociological group, I always experience a different kind of surprise and get the feeling that these people were in their home country just a week ago, and that they have just traveled abroad. I know, “proper” isn’t a politically correct term, I am talking about the “old” Istanbul dwellers (those who are called “Istanbul gentlewomen/gentlemen to the bone”). I am talking about people who lived in a certain period (let’s say their were in their youth between 1950s and 1970s), raised in middle or upper-middle class families of Istanbul, have an established sense of language, people who can express themselves well; those who belong to an extinct sociologic group.
The reason I am taking such an initiative as this is the bizarre feeling I got when I realised I met someone from the sociologic group I mentioned earlier, and I noticed this as soon as we started our online face-to-face meeting with Hayati Kafe, whom I have never met in person before aside from a very short phone call. Ultimately, he left Turkey in 1962 when he was only 21 years old, and except for a short visit in 1968 (I will mention the reasons for this visit later) and has been a part of this world, this language until 2013. I was surprised and in awe to hear him speak fluent an flawless Istanbul Turkish.
It is Hayati Kafe’s 60th year of being involved with arts, or as I like to put it, “in the profession”. He released a jubilee album that highlights various periods of his life in 2016 for this very reason. Sixty years sound easy only in speech; Kafe was born in 1941 and takes 1956 as his starting point in music, meaning his adventure started when he was a 15 years old high school student. It is an ever developing, bright career despite some sharp twists on the road. One of these twists on Kafe’s career path that started at such an early age must happened when he started to perform as a vocalist at Istanbul Hilton Hotel (at Hilton Roof) with the first Turkish Orchestra ever to work there in 1961 when he was 21 years old. The above-average members of this orchestra were: İsmet Sıral (saxophone), Ayhan Yünkuş (piano), Günnur Perin (double bass), Turan Eteke (drums). Kafe emphasized during our interview that the other members of the orchestra were his “older brothers”, however; his first LP was included in the “Segretamente” lists and he was mentioned as one of the three shining names of the period along with Metin Ersoy and Erol Büyükburç. It might be beneficial to look at his previous accomplishments to understand he wasn’t a member of this orchestra by coincidence. Before Hilton Kafe used to sing at Mini Kulüp in Yeşilyurt with Zekai Apaydın Orchestra (the other musicians in the orchestra: Nejat Cendeli (piano), Targan Unutmaz (double bass), Turhan Eteke (drums) and , Cendeli’s father-in-law Guy de Rassenfosse (violin) in addition—Guy was a member of Orhan Avşar Tango Orchestra at the same time). The next summer, this same orchestra starts to perform dance music on the terrace (since it was summer) of the famous Taksim Belediye Gazinosu and their vocalist was Hayati Kafe. Let us not forget to mention that during the last few years of high school (Robert College) Kafe has also sang at both of the officers’ clubs that serviced American soldiers in Istanbul (known as the NCO Club, one of them is in Emirgan, and the other is on the top floors of a building right next to the Divan Hotel in Elmadağ) with the orchestra he founded with his friends. In brief, the period between when he was 15 and 21 years old was filled with musical performances.
How about even earlier, his childhood, and his introduction to music? Kafe was the son of a family with a passion for music, even though they weren’t musicians. There would always be the sounds of radio and music in this household. The first instrument bought for him when he started elementary school was the mandolin, followed by an accordion that was bought when he was 12-13 years old. Since the whole family listened to Western music programs on the radio, little Hayati didn’t only accompany these songs by playing, but also by singing. An important detail is that this Jewish family spoke Ladino, a language that takes an archaic form of Spanish as its foundation, and Kafe went to a French middle school (followed by a high school that gave education in English). It is a well known fact that Spanish and Italian (since most of the popular foreign songs in Turkey were examples of Italian pop) are somewhat similar languages. As soon as learning French is followed by an education in English, nothing stood in the way of Hayati Kafe, whose musical talents were obvious.
His first interaction with jazz? Kafe starts singing professionally at the Tennis Club and in the chic cafe/patisserie store Çayhane in Taşlık in the afternoon with a band he founded with his friends. The group mainly makes Latin music and their guitarist Cem Bumin (who lives in Kuşadası right now) is very interested in jazz and he not only introduces this genre to Kafe (he specifically mentioned that Bumin had planted the first seeds during our interview) but also is instrumental in Kafe coming to admire it. During Kafe’s senior year, İlham Gencer comes to the high school for a concert and the students who invited him introduce Kafe to him saying the school has a “star” singer. Gencer invites Hayati to the stage and they sing a couple of songs together. Gencer congratulates Hayati when the concert ends and tells him to give him a call as soon as he graduates and offers him a singing position at his new venue (Çatı). He would end up accepting this offer later.
Kafe becomes friends with Turan Eteke while performing at Çatı, and Eteke introduces Kafe to Süheyl Denizci, who is a jazz lover, and ends up meeting Hasan Kocamaz through Denizci. The reason why I listed so many names together is this: Kafe says that he went to a house in Maçka with this jazz lover friends, and saw a rich collection of jazz LPs there, and that this was the first time he encountered “real” jazz. However, he does not remember the host’s name. I called Kafe’s friend from St. Michel (the school he went to before Robert College) Emin Fındıkoğlu after this interview and asked him about who this house might belong to, and he replied it must be Cüneyt Sermet’s! I don’t think Fındıkoğlu is mistaken. The same group of friends would go to this house many times. The music they listen to there would be one of the most important twists in Kafe’s life.
I will let Kafe speak for himself: “My genuine interest in jazz started with those LPs I listened to at that house.” I believe he must be around 18-19 years of age. Going back to those days; Kafe tells what he remembers by giving examples, “I listened to The Four Freshmen and Sarah Vaughan properly for the first time in that house.” He cannot help but add that the first real jazz concert he went to was the famous one Dizzy Gillespie gave in Istanbul. Since he performed two concerts at the Saray Sinema (on 27 April and 5 May 1956 and a note for those who are curious: He gave two concerts at Büyük Sinema in Ankara on 23 and 25 April), Kafe is only 15 years old and he as far as he remembers, it is very likely that he went to this concert with his close friend Emin Fındıkoğlu.
We can come to the Hilton pages of the story. Roughly after a year since he started working at Hilton Roof, a customer at the bar asks Kafe whether he speaks English when the musicians give a break and they start conversing. I will relay what Kafe says about this encounter: He first introduces himself, he is a Swedish man who owns a hotel chain and then offers that this orchestra, whose performance he admired, plays at his venue in Sweden. Kafe thinks the gentleman might be drunk, but doesn’t give a negative answer and says that he will discuss this with his friends. He doesn’t know much about Sweden aside from what he learned in geography lessons and what he saw during the Football Championship games that took place in Sweden in 1958 (the games were broadcasted in movie theaters). After he realizes that this is a serious offer, he warms up to the idea as a young musician and his family doesn’t object much to this foreign experience that is to last three months. İsmet Sıral had already worked with Kurt Edelhagen’s orchestra, known as the European Jazz Orchestra in Turkey, along with Maffy Falay. Sıral somehow manages to convince the other members of the orchestra, who are much older than Kafe and some even have kids. And finally they sign the contract to start working in the June of 1962. In addition to Kafe, Ayten Alpman would also go as the other singer. At this point Kafe laughs, saying that he went to Sweden for only three months but ended up staying there for much longer.
Really, how come the male vocalist of a jazz orchestra that performs in small venues, someone who came to Sweden for only a period of three months ended up staying there for good? Of course, this happens through the unexpected popularity of the orchestra! From the first week of their arrival, they start receiving job offers from other venues. Because, in Kafe’s own words, “The quality of the orchestra was immediately noticed” and it was being promoted as a dance orchestra ‘at ease with jazz’ in the newspapers. İsmet Sıral is a leader who is very good at the financial aspect in addition to having a great communication with the audiences, so the orchestra becomes famous very fast. The three months in question becomes closer to a year, but as this period gets longer, the families left in Turkey would pressure the musicians more. Most of the members of the orchestra have young kids, the wives are back at home and it is time to return. Kafe doesn’t have such a family life, and is having an entirely different experience. He goes to jazz clubs in his free evenings, and gets cozier with jazz music that has nothing to do with dancing. “They would play with such harmonies as I wasn’t used to hearing in Turkey, and this way, I started to get used to jazz and music life in Sweden and appreciate them thoroughly.” He talks with his manager, and lets him know that he wishes to stay in Sweden longer. Due to his accumulation that comes from knowing many other languages beforehands, he has already started to figure Swedish out and roughly speaking it.
He is either very lucky or has some serious talent. He gets an incredible opportunity after Sıral and his friends return to Turkey. He starts playing as a full-time member in the very famous orchestra founded by Carl-Henrik Norin in 1949. He works with the same orchestra until 1967, but then decides that he should work with “younger people” (Norin was born in 1920 and most of the other members are older) and leaves the orchestra. He made his first recording in Sweden with Norin (Ser du stjärnan i det blå), and his first single LP that he releases in 1968 (the Swedish version of Bobby Darin’s “Things”) called Sån’t (can be translated roughly as “as such”) enters the top lists and stays there for 13 weeks. He is now a singer known in Sweden who has started to get some recognition. He also gets enrolled into a vocational school of higher education, his aim was to become an electronics engineer. He meets a Swedish lady and has his first child. In 1971 he receives a draft letter from the Embassy indicating that he is at a dead-end with his military service situation; he should either return to Turkey in order to serve or get denaturalized. He decides to stay in Sweden due to his family life and his accelerating career, etc., and his citizenship gets “annulled” in his own words. He marries the mother of his child and becomes a Swedish citizen shortly after. He has last visited Turkey in 1967. He has agreed to work at Kulüp 12’s summer venue at Rumelihisarı that summer and stayed in Istanbul for two months. He does not come to Turkey after that until 2013 (46 years!).
He releases his first LP (Ha det så kul, can be translated as “Enjoy it fully”) in 1973. His life would take yet another new turn and he would open his club with his own name in 1974. “Hayati’s Café” becomes a great jazz venue which is combination of cafe, restaurant and a club. He delves deeper into the Swedish music community, many musicians who became his friends would perform in this venue and he would also occasionally sing on the stage. This club stays open for six years. Trusting in his connections and close friendships Kafe decides to get into the managing-producing business. He becomes the producer of one of the most important musicians in Sweden, Cornelis Vreeswijk, in 1983. Vreeswijk (1937-1987), who has immigrated from the Netherlands with his family when he was 12 years old, is a versatile and beloved musician. He is a very important music personality what could be called as a sort of “troubadour” (poet-musician, sort of an urban bard) whose songs and lyrics could easily move the audiences. However, Vreeswijk doesn’t take good care of himself, battling serious health problems, and dies at a very young age. Kafe decides to quit the managing-producing business after his musician’s death, describing himself as a jazz vocalist since that date (1988), and starts working again. He tours with big orchestras that give concerts in various cities of Europe, and starts to regularly perform in Sweden. He has become a vocalist who was well-known both in his own country and in Europe. In order to give an example to his popularity; he was invited to Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday celebration concert that took place in Berlin in 1995. He has given more than 40 “Sinatra” concerts in Sweden in 1997.
To summarize: Hayati Kafe is a well-known, beloved and followed “classical” jazz singer who can be described more specifically as a “crooner”. Crooning means to sing in a murmuring manner, and crooners are an endangered species of jazz singers (Bing Crosby, Tommy Dorsey, Johnny Hartman, Billy Eckstine, Frank Sinatra etc). The singing style of crooners were due to the developments in technology after the 1940s, such as more sensitive microphones and the possibility of better amplification. Male vocalists who sang in a lower voice with a more sentimental and romantic manner received a tremendous amount of attention from the listeners. Kafe doesn’t object to being described as a crooner, saying he didn’t call himself as such but the listeners and the media did. When asked “How do you describe yourself as, are you a jazz singer?” Kafe decided to give an interesting answer from a different perspective. He quoted Tommy Dorsey and said he doesn’t know whether he is a jazz singer or not, but emphasized that he tries to sing with a jazzy feeling. He said maybe he isn’t a jazz singer but his feelings tell him so.
It is beneficial to learn about which singers Kafe is currently listening to when we get to the last stage of the interview, to the essential questions. First I ask about female singers and he gives the names of two singers from Sweden: Isabella Lundgren and Vivian Buczek. In the meanwhile, I cannot help but ask who his idols are right in this moment. Firstmost and ultimately Nat King Cole, followed by Johnny Mathis and Mel Tormé, and lastly Ray Charles whose style is fundamentally different. Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae when female vocalists are concerned. He mentions he has discovered Sinatra very late. He mentions Kurt Elling as a contemporary vocalist and says that even though his singing is very technical, he is a great singer. He also said he mostly cannot follow Turkish jazz, that he only occasionally gets to meet his old friends, and that he really likes the musicianship of Sibel Köse from the younger generation. He has met Köse in Paris and they quickly became friends. I want to ask the one question I cannot help but ask in all my interviews and get to the topic that is occupying my head. Do you think there is such a thing as Swedish jazz? He says “Of course” and starts to explain in detail. I ask the next question right away. So, do you think there is such a thing as Turkish jazz, is such a thing possible? He says it might be but that he hasn’t heard it yet.
Finally, let’s briefly talk about the 2016 jubilee album “What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life” that crowns Hayati Kafe’s 60 years in the profession; this album is what lead to this interview. I have to mention something beforehand. It is unfortunately not possible to find this CD in Turkey, including on digital platforms like iTunes. I am thankful that Kafe sent me a copy so I was able to have it. This album is a summary of Kafe’s musical life and has 18 tracks. The first track Segretamente was recorded in Istanbul in 1960, and the last track Have yourself a merry little Christmas was recorded in 2016. These 18 tracks add up to tell about an adventure full of turns and twists in the road, one which took place between 1956 and 2016. The two of these tracks are from the 1960s, three from the 1970s, one from the 1980s (manager-producer years), three from the 1990s, five from the 2000s and lastly four from after 2010. It is a good distribution, especially keeping in mind the last two decades. Kafe luckily has no intention of leaving the stages or us. This is exactly what he means in the short note he included in the middle of the CD booklet. Even though my knowledge on the Swedish language is limited, I would like to end my article with the translation of this note. För övrigt, vi tycker om dig Hayati, tack så hemskt mycket!
One day you wake up and realize time has gone by ever so quickly
It has been 60 years since I stepped on the stage as a singer.
What does one do for the rest of his life?
I have always sang and I think I will continue to sing.
This is the only thing I enjoy doing, the only thing I can do.
You will have to endure me a little longer…”