Saxophonist Serhan Erkol released his first album “Motel ATM” last month through Kabak-Lin Records. Serhan Erkol was accompanied by Alper Yılmaz (b), Ercüment Orkut (p) and Volkan Öktem (d).
Erkol’s education in music started with a focus on Classical Music at Dokuz Eylül University Buca Faculty of Education’s Music Department. He then graduated from Bilgi University’s jazz saxophone department, and went on to enrol in the graduate program ‘New England Conservatory Contemporary Improvisation’, which enabled him to work with prominent musicians such as Ran Blake, George Garzone, Peter Row, Jerry Bergonzi, Allen Chase, Joe Morris and Anthony Coleman. Erkol participated in various festivals both local and overseas, working with bands like Ricky Ford Orchestra, Donavan Mixon Quartet and Teneffüs. Erkol and I conversed with the occasion of his first album “Motel ATM”.
The first Google result for “Motel ATM” is a motel in Mexico’s Monterrey city. The imagine in my head, on the other hand, is a scene from Zarazoga. They put seats with cushions in ATM booths so that homeless people aren’t cold at night. What does “Motel ATM” mean for you?
Yes, the piece called “Motel ATM” is a symbol for the Istanbul version of the Zaragoza scene. Closed ATM booths were common in Turkey for a while, they have been gone since then probably due to security reasons, now there is almost none. We come across such scene quite often in the urban life, the homeless people in these ATM booths show us the state of the society without any need for guesswork. The documentary “Hotel 22”, directed by Elizabeth Lo, tells about this situation very well. The 22nd bus line becomes a home for the homeless during night time.
While the saxophone in “Ölü Adam” is soft like a ballad and progresses without interfering with the straight-forward melody, the piano is more nuanced, it is reminiscent of Northern jazz.
Jim Jarmusch’s film “Dead Man” is the biggest source of inspiration for this piece. The atmosphere of the movie and Neil Young’s minimalistic approach to music have affected me fundamentally and I wrote this piece.
Who is “Benekli”?
I have cats, three of them, just like any jazz musician. they all have different personalities. One of our cats is spotted, so its name is “Benekli” and we call it Benek.
There seems to be a dramatic structure in Benekli. But the entire text is told through music. The bass guitar plays the leading role. Piano and drum are in the supporting roles… The saxophone is the narrator.
The dramatic structure in this piece tells about Benekli’s dual personalities. Benekli wasn’t born at home like the others, we adopted it from the streets. So it has lived a tougher life. Now it is a very gentle and sweet house cat, but occasionally it remembers those memories of the streets, gets tense and aggressive, you can see that madness in its eyes.
When the music shifts towards blues, it is reminiscent of pentatonic scale. Who are the muses of the piece “Penta”?
I made a selection from the pieces I wrote with very different perspectives for this album. “Penta” is a piece written with a more technical perspective. I started with the concept of poly pentatonic, as taught to me by my teacher Jerry Bergonzi at New England Conservatory. I tried to make the permutations of different pentatonic scales and to bring them together to make a coincidental effect. I recommend Bergonzi’s book “Pentatonics” from his “Inside Improvization” series on this topic to musician friends.
Even though Tamer Temel was born in Istanbul and Engin Recepoğulları in Ankara, they lived in Izmir for extensive periods. Serdar Barçın was born there. You have stayed there for a long time yourself. Is it something in Izmir’s water that makes its saxophonists so famous?
I was born in Berlin but I grew up and lived in Izmir, up until I left to attend Bilgi University to study jazz. I started learning about music there. Istanbul has a firm grip on the incomers, it doesn’t let go, but Izmir is the first place that comes to my mind if I considered leaving. I love Izmir, it is one of the most relaxed big cities. Actually, a lot of musicians come from Izmir. But it seems that us saxophone players hold the flag.
“Çay Benim Çeşme Benim” is a well known folk song from the Aegean region. What differentiates folk songs from this region from the others?
According to some sources, “Çay Benim Çeşme Benim” folk song actually originated from Antalya/Korkuteli region but its intricate melody embellished like lace onto the 9/2 rhythm makes it sound similar to Aegean folk songs. I am interested in the melodic and rhythmic structure of Aegean melodies. While the ‘Hüseyni’ makams and 4/4 rhythms dominate Eastern folk songs, Aegean folk songs have different makams like ‘Hicazkâr’ and more complicated rhythms. This is one of my favorite recordings of the album with Alper Yılmaz as an incredible sideman.
“Hine Binin Li Teşte Kin” must be this album’s surprise. It is great to see a Kurdish folk song in the titles. What is your reason for choosing this folk song?
We had an ensemble band called A26 with Ferit Odman, Samed Kamalı and Altay Dönmez when we were studying at Bilgi University. We had the opportunity to play at the spring fest of Diyarbakır Dicle University. This was our first time visiting the eastern religions, with some prejudices for the obvious reasons, and it turned out to be an incredible and unforgettable memory. The beauty and people there affected us deeply. We wanted to include a piece from that region to our repertoire, and we added a folk song we know called “Kınayı Getir Aney”. When we played it, people started dancing ‘halay’ (a regional dance) and they kept on dancing for the rest of the jazz pieces. This folk song remained in my repertoire after that.
How is your relationship with folk music, with folks’ music, generally speaking?
I view music as a whole, without any discrimination, I try to discover all kinds of music from every class and culture. I have a special fondness for Anatolian music. I am influenced by the plainness, the aesthetics and the literature of this music. At the same time, it is very comprehensive and rich. I keep on doing research, I try to find lesser known examples, I listen to its prominent artists.
What do you think about crosses and hybridizations between musical genres?
These crosses between genres come natural to me. I have always felt it problematic to confine myself in a single genre. My perspective is to view all the musics in the world as a whole. The department I studied at New England Conservatory, called “third stream”, is founded on the principles of creating new music from various different musical movements.
Would it be correct to say that “Motel ATM” is an album that starts out as an example of modern jazz, and ends as one of ethnic jazz?
Yes, the pieces which mingle with Turkish music come later on in the album. Two folk songs and the piece called “Devr-i Kebir”, in which I played the melody with ney (a traditional wind instrument) wander off to a world of makams.
Do you miss your days with Butch Morrisli, Donovan Mixonlı and Ricky Ford?
I miss them, I also feel lucky to have witnessed that period and to have benefited from it at the same time.
Since then what positive or negative changes have you and jazz undergone since those days?
Istanbul Bilgi University’s Music department was very special when I studied there. They had some incredible teachers and an intensive program. Everybody was passionate about learning and cooperate. This department changed my life, as well as many other students’. This didn’t continue, due to the closing down of the performance department. I wish it could continue and go on as an energetic music department. I still feel positive about today. There are great productions as far as music is concerned, even though they aren’t done in an educational institute. People keep improving themselves, do research and create new things.
Who do you listen to these days?
There is a great movement currently in America, David Binney, Miguel Zenon, Donny Mccaslin, Aaron Parks, Ari Hoenig and Ben Wendel are some of the musicians I follow from this movement these days.
What are your hopes and expectations regarding “Motel ATM” and the future?
We are going through tough times as a country, this situation undeniably affects what we do. My biggest hope and expectation is to continue making music in a more peaceful environment. Despite everything, great albums and projects are created, I hope this productivity always continues and we can make more albums and give more concerts. The pieces I am preparing for the second album are almost ready, I plan to record it as soon as possible.