Corona Jazz Clinic I: Situation Report
Greetings from the Eye of the Storm!
Greetings from the eye of the storm that is COVID-19. We have been in shelters since 3 months. The sun just barely started to shine through the clouds. It is calm now, hopes are high, minds confused. We are wondering what we will do when autumn returns with rains and waves of anxiety.
Who are we? We are all the music people, organizators, venue owners and those working in the kitchen of jazz. And we sincerely are waiting for someone to lend a magical helping hand to us. We ask ourselves “Who will pick up the pieces of our shattered lives?” The answer is unplesant but straight-forward: Noone!
We will pick up the pieces. We will put aside the victim mentality saying “How we suffered”, “We won’t bounce back” whinings, “It is over for us” desparation and “Nothing can happen to us” indifference and focus on the focal meaning of our lives; jazz. Yes, the weather is calm and sunny, let’s go out and see what is gone and what still stands tall. What materials are needed to build what has been torn down, what can we do to be prepared in case the hurricane is back? I will try to list the tools that might be of use to us with some healing recipes in this “Corona Jazz Clinic” article series during these days when we sit down and negotiate with faith. I will utilize the questionnaire I conducted among 200 musicians between 29 April-21 May on occasion to shed light to our topics.
Leaving Depression Aside
We found ourselves in a process that dragged us among those who are suffering from this deadly illness or those who have lost their loved ones during this post-modern plague period that witnesses the loss of livelihoods as well as lives. This process, which we can define as the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, works as such: Denial->Anger->Negotiation->Depression->Acceptance. We are well on our way of following these stages since COVID-19 entered our lives.
First we denied it; we wanted to view staying home as a vacation. Then anger showed up, we looked for a guilty party. We paralyzed WhatsApp chat groups with countless conspiracy theories and complaints about careless people. Then existential crises showed up, “Who am I?”, “What is left of me when I cannot make music and share my music with other musicians and audiences (not listeners)?” and such questions started to gnaw at our psyche. Our stages, studios, schools and audiences were taken away from us and we found ourselves playing on our toy keyboards like we did during our elementary school years.
But human nature is programmed to change, adapt and survive. Therefore, a negotiation period started. We will freeze the frame here. The aim is to get through the next stage in the Kübler-Ross model, which is depression, with the least amount of pain. This is how we can become active and happy participants in the new world order and jazz world as we come to “accept” these. We are jazz musicians, we can do this. A pinch of creativity, a pinch of improvization and we are good. No matter how old we are. First, let’s analyze the situation at hand:
It was Never Easy, Being a Jazz Musician in Turkey
As Batu Akyol pointed out in the title of his interview book released in 2016, Caz Çok Zor (Jazz is Really Tough). This is a genre with lots of heart, a universal language and a limited circle of listeners. Especially in Turkey (I am not personally criticizing this. I think the reasons for this lie in its culture rather than the educational level of its people etc.). I would like to present you some striking numbers.
We see that there is a community that consists of about 900-1000 people in Turkey when we look at the information I gathered through various sources along with my personal knowledge. For example, when I look at the jazz musicians list as published by Jazz Magazine, we are 817 people including those of us who passed away or are inactive. 314 of these 817 are no longer performing on the stage despite all of them being alive. Those who are acitve include foreign musicians who left Turkey due to the tough living conditions here or returned back to their own countries. This is a big loss! The biggest loss is on vocals (88 among 167 people, meaning almost 53%), followed closely by drummers (60 in 138, meaning 43%).
Even these numbers seem to prove how big of a sacrifice is needed to be a jazz musician in addition to putting one’s heart into this music and studying it at school. Moreover, self-sustainability in the times of need is more evident during these days when we are couped up in the house. Speaking for my vocalist colleagues just like myself, we all remembered the importance of learning how to play accompanying instruments even at the most basic level.
The Percentage of Those Who Lost their Livelihoods are High
All of the night venues in the country were closed folliwng the evening of 10 March, Tuesday, when the “first” case was announced in Istanbul. Concerts and tours were either cancelled or postponed, so were the festivals… There were no insurance companies to pay for the losses. Even reassurance companies wouldn’t be able to save jazz musicians during this global turbulence. The following months witnessed the turmoil in jazz’s land of birth, America. Musicians were left to deal with their own fate. Some were even left to die! The situation wasn’t better in the European countries which we can call the Florence Nightingale of jazz. Jazz didn’t become a notch on the crises management agendas of the political leaders. Only Germany was the exception. Angela Merkel called local beurocracies to support musicians while musicians who managed to pass through tough legal processes in Austria were given 1000 euros. Norwegian jazz clubs did the test runs of social distancing but even they are worried about their own survival despite this.
Luckily all of us jazz musicians in Turkey are live and we didn’t lose anyone to this menace so far, as far as we know. We dutifully sat cooped up in our homes.
Yes, we didn’t lose our lives but a new challenge of survival started instead. Think of all the jazz musicians and workers who live in rented houses, making a living for their families, paying off loans and most likely without any steady income or social security. The first data from the questionnaire I mentioned in the beginning of the article is presented here: 112 among the 200 jazz musicians I was able to reach, meaning 52%, stated they lost all of their earnings from music.
Let’s hope that there are many of those with a second university degree or a second job.
We Cannot Breathe
We are conditioned in dealing with not having money as jazz musicians. However, the dark centre of this bleak landscape hides an even more important loss: The loss of the right to perform together while breathing the same air! We are desperately missing those catastrophic concerts at the smallest, dirtiest, tiniest of stages; the smallest moments like those. Yes, we cannot breathe together these days. “We cannot breathe”. COVID-19 built walls between us and imprisoned us in digital boxes with a few inches of screen. Collective improvization, the lungs of jazz, is no longer functional.
On the other hand, the results of the questionnaire below show that even if we are hungry, even if we cannot breathe, Turkish jazz musicians will continue to persevere:
So, isn’t there a remedy for this collapsing lung? There is but the medicine at hand are all technology intensive and only work to relieve the symptoms, not to treat the illness itself. Especially for an older generation not really used to technology. Nevertheless, we will take a look at these remedies. The possibility of healing is only possible through giving our bodies a chance by taking the prescribed medicine in the doses we can handle. This is exactly what we will try to do in these days which are relatively calmer as we stand in the eye of the hurricane. That’s how our immune system will get stronger against the new world order.
Continuing to Play and Learn
The expert opinions on the TV and in articles state we have at least 1, at most 5 years ahead in the process to heal, while jazz musicians living in Turkey seem to prioritize “self-sustanability” subject as I mentioned above. “Music etudes at home” is the choice with the most ticks (152 times) among the activities that can be done at home, looking at the results of the questionnaire I conducted. “Instructing music” is the second lead with 124 ticks.
This means our enthusiasm to learn and to teach is still intact, which is promising news for the sustainability of jazz. It will undoubtedly be exciting to collect the fruits of these concentrated efforts.
The same graphics show the other popular options that follow are online videos (115 ticks) and livestreaming concerts (94 ticks). Yes, our willingness is great but the likelihood of livestreaming concerts other than our own social media accounts is up to debate. Since we make such a niche genre of music, what we create doesn’t get caught in the radars of big companies which command to high numbers of followers (I will return to this subject on the 3rd article). Now to discuss livestreaming through our social media accounts. This doesn’t seem to be a popular option in the questionnaire (69 ticks). But this is exactly what we are often doing nowadays.
Let’s look at the general situation of our morale before coming to an end in this situation report.
The morales don’t look too bad. Depression doesn’t seem to have taken over. Then let’s return to our negotiation table and focus on the first card on it “livestreaming on social media accounts and on other online platforms” and see what are its pros and cons.
More to follow on “Corona Jazz Clinic II” article next week!