A recent and exciting event has taken place. Istanbul University State Conservatory is going to offer jazz as a major. We asked Aycan Teztel, who has been pursuing this right from its conception, about this recent development.
What is the story behind this conservatory initiative, how did this idea progress?
During the years when I was studying at Rotterdam Conservatory (Codarts) between 1979-1984 and at Boston University SFA where I did my graduate studies, the conservatory offered jazz music as a major along with classical music. We used to discuss with friends why there was no such opportunity to receive an education on jazz in Turkey even back then. On the contrary, teachers in Turkey would say things like “Don’t play jazz, it would ruin your fingers” or “It is forbidden to play jazz”. When I look back, I see that many musician friends and students who were interested in jazz left their studies in the conservatory halfway through.There are many esteemed jazz musicians who left their studies in Turkey and went overseas. I have been teaching for 32 years in conservatories, I am close to my students. There are hundreds of students dedicated to jazz, and there are many prospective jazz musicians who are hoping to study overseas. When the situation is like this, we shouldered this responsibility and worked on this topic for 7 years.
Today, receiving an education on jazz is possible anywhere in the world from Australia to the States. The Julliard School, famous for its classical music education, New England Conservatory, Oberlin Conservatory and many other music schools and universities have jazz departments. There should have been a jazz program in such an esteemed and historical institution such as Istanbul University State Conservatory. Finally our dreams are coming true.
Who else will stand behind the founding idea other than yourself?
One day 7 years ago I went to the previous president late Prof. Müfit Bayraşa’s office and we had a meeting on this subject.
He said “Aycan, I have been thinking about a ‘jazz program’ for years as well, you read my thoughts so well. If you are going to be the lead on this project, I will fully support you.” Vice president Vecihi Ofluoğlu liked this idea as well. We jumped right into motion. We summarized the situation to Sıddık Yarman, who was the director of the school back then, and he fully supported our idea as a jazz lover. Our colleagues such as Ass. Prof. Dr. Gülden Teztel, Ass. Prof. Dr. Müge Hendekli, Canan Kayacık, Ass. Prof. Gökay Gökşen worked day and nighr especially during the foundation stages. The current management, especially Prof. Aygül Günaltay, deputy directors Prof. Şebnem Ünal and Ass. Prof. Tufan Karabulut have worked really hard to hire the teaching staff.
What are this program’s mission and vision?
All of the artistic musical fields are taught in academic environments in the world.
Jazz, just like classical music, is one of the most valuable global languages a musician can be fluent in. Jazz, one of the most important forms of artistic expression in the 20th and 21st centuries, has always been a symbol for moving beyond the traditions. In this sense, it is an expression of the changes a society goes through. Even though there are successful classical music conservatories in Turkey, we haven’t achieved an efficient environment for jazz so far. Due to the inadequacy of academic education, a lot of students opt to study overseas or learn and develop through non-academic systems like master-apprentice relationships.
Jazz will be carried onto an academic platform when this program is offered. Students who are interested in different genres will be able to work together and create important syntheses. They can participate in innovative international projects after working on mastering various international styles and graduating with such degrees. They can include Turkish music in this blend and can sign their names under important academic works.
How does this program differ from other jazz education programs in Turkey and in other countries?
Almost all of the members of the faculty who will teach Jazz as a major branch have received their degrees overseas; therefore we are all familiar with the foreign education methods. We considered our own educational systems while discussing the classes for the jazz education program. So, we aimed to create a program which will nourish our own musical values while approaching the foreign standards. The mandatory classes are more or less the same with those in foreign schools. Of course, the young formation of ’Jazz Major Branch’ will hopefully develop in time…
Who are the Turkish and foreign teachers in the faculty?
Maarten Weyler is our theory and ensemble teacher, he is from Belgium, he was the head of the jazz department for years there. Ass. Prof. Evrim Demirel received his piano and composition degrees in Holland. He is our theory and piano teacher. Our guitar teacher is Erdem Sökmen and bass guitarist Eylem Pelit, just like me, will lend his help to the jazz program from other departments. Ass. Prof. Dr. Gülden Teztel and Ass. Prof. Dr. Müge Hendekli are other members of the faculty for this program. I will give the trombone and ear training lessons. The other members are currently being evaluated by the university: Ece Göksu will teach vocals, Şenova Ülker will teach trompet, Serhan Erkol, saxophone, Eylül Biçer guitar and Ekin Cengizkan will teach the drums.
Is there a school model you use as an infrastructure? Are you collaborating with a jazz school?
We aren’t using a particular model that we use as an exact example, we took bits and pieces from conservatories that teach classical music and jazz simultaneously in Europe and the States.
Are the curricula and fields of expertise decided yet?
This year we will accept undergraduate students for the first year through talent exams. During their first year, the students will attend ensemble, workshop deciphering, ear training, computerized music, jazz history, supplementary piano lessons in addition to the mandatory classes for the major requirements. Those include vocal, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, piano, guitar, bass and drum classes.
Do you plan to include graduate programs like masters and doctorate to the program in the future?
We are currently discussing opening graduate and doctorate fields in a few years.
How does this program fit into your long-lived music career as a musician and a teacher? Shortly put, what does it mean to you?
I teach and do my job with a great passion. I only had to skip three or four days of class in the 32 years I have been teaching. I love my students like my own children, or current students like my own grandchildren, and my colleagues at the same time. Their success makes me so happy.
I wanted to open this jazz program for the next generation musicians. A great generation has been raised, they have received their degrees here or overseas; Ercüment Orkut, Ferit Odman, Bulut Gülen, Engin Recepoğulları, Çağdaş Oruç, Serhan Erkol, Tolga Bilgin, Can Cankaya, Ece Göksu, Meltem Ege, Elif Çağlar are all world-class musicians who do their job incredibly well. I believe these young musicians will serve as great teachers for the next generations. I hope they will all participate in this academic journey.
Where do you place the meaning of jazz music in such a chaotic world? What can people hope to find in jazz music in our day?
For me jazz is ultimately a creative musical journey leading to endlessness that consists of improvization. Music has a different meaning for everyone; but I think one of its most important purposes is to bring order to the human soul within the chaos. To nourish the life force of a person despite all the negativity and the chaos. I think jazz is like a safe haven. It is really hard to decide on its boundaries. Many different tastes have formed since the era when jazz was born. As the techniques of the vocalists and instrumentalists improve, so did the interpretations and beautiful new nuances kept getting added to the music. We liked some, we disliked some. But there has always been someone who enjoyed them.
Ultimately, musicians who make ‘universal jazz’ music generally bring their own nationality’s taste to essence of the music, which is the same for everyone. We can say “This musician is from the North” or “This man is from Cuba” when we hear their playing. I hope ‘Turkish Jazz’ can be known similarly in an international platform in the future.