I’m not of those in favour of ‘only jazz should be played at jazz festivals’. The benefits of programming concerts by popular non-jazz names and projects with famous guests (as long as they have something to add to the project apart from their name), such as attracting attention to the entire festival, and perhaps more importantly, with the high ticket revenue, supporting the rest of the organisation, cannot be overlooked. Of course the chosen marketing methods are also important.
I find myself thinking about these while I review the program of Gece Gezmesi (Night Out), which I will experience for the first time this year.
Istanbul Jazz Festival is not a conservative festival in their programming, on the contrary, it’s a festival that closely follows the musical trends and in their program, they include different types of music in the neighbourhood of jazz as well as jazz. This is in the nature of jazz anyway; neighbouring jazz is possible from ethnic to electronic, blues to soul, classic to funk, in almost every genre. We’re talking about a huge freedom, a wide range. Of course, for logistical reasons, the program of the festival largely depends on tours that take place in Europe around the festival dates.
Then I think of last year’s discussions. The jazz community wasn’t very happy about Nick Cave’s launch as the star of the festival at the press conference for the 25th anniversary of the festival. No one objected to Nick Cave being in the program, but emphasising him, who happened to answer a Q Magazine Readers Poll question “What is your least favorite music genre? as “If we leave Miles Davis aside, I don’t like that smoky jazz sound. I react as if my knee was hit with a rubber hammer”, on the 25th year.
I would like to quote from an article, written by Görgün Taner, who had been the director of Istanbul Jazz Festival for 8 years since its first year in 1994, before being appointed as the director of İKSV(Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts), about the festival’s programming concept. He talks about a European Jazz Festivals meeting in New York in 1995:
Soon after, begins a debate about whether a rock band takes part in jazz festivals. Claude Nobs (founder and director of the Montreux Jazz Festival), who is just a phone call away from all major artists in the world, says, “I will have David Bowie on this year’s poster. The festivals are an umbrella. In the future, we will not discuss which music belongs to what genre, what is jazz and what is not. The music and people of different cultures will stand side by side and be influenced by each other. They will learn from each other both on stage and in the backstage. I open the door to beautiful projects with different artists. Today David Bowie, tomorrow, Jamiroquai.” The debate flares up. First, inside, then outside, I say I agree with Claude Nobs. The talks go on.
I understand all Nobs was aiming for and I agree, only is there really a need for a jazz label? To me, if the music touches the listener somehow, the tag loses its importance – a tag is a marketing tool after all- but if the organisation you follow has chosen a tag, you’ll inevitably expect to hear examples of music promised by that tag. Istanbul Jazz Festival seems to have found a solution to that with its slogan #jazzandmore as of its 25th year, but in my opinion, balance is an absolute must. Why is David Bowie used on the poster of Montreux Jazz Festival or Nick Cave is the highlight of Istanbul Jazz Festival program?
While looking at ‘Night Out’ program, I keep thinking about all these. Two non- jazz names, Gaye Su Akyol and Liraz, are on the top of poster of the event presented with ‘festival in festival’ slogan, all other names are written in smaller fonts and in alphabetical order. I pick a few jazz concerts in the program and add them to my program, but I think I was expecting more jazz concerts within the event. I can count 3 jazz in 21 events. As far as I can see, most of the names in the ‘Night Out’ program are not even in the neighbourhood of jazz.
I ask my cousin, Denibanka, for her opinion. She is active on the more alternative side of the music industry and I benefit from her vision from time to time.
“Don’t think of it as jazz,” she tells me, “it’s an organisation of its own.”
“Then why is it in a jazz festival?”
If you ask me, it’s a great organisation idea. It is an activity where people can experience 5 to 10 concerts within walking distance, depending on the length of their staying at the concerts, at a price of a single concert, as if they were in a festival area in the youngest, active and art sensitive district of Istanbul. There’s jazz, electronic, ethnic, pop, rock, folk, pick whichever you like according to your taste. Even better, it introduces new names of their fields to the crowds along with the popular names. It’s a great showcase for young names who don’t make mainstream music but produce world class material. A great IKSV project. But can this project be considered independently? Once in 2016, it was held outside the festival, but I am talking about its independence from the jazz festival. It can even be done several times a year. Considering the crowds it reaches, it is also a project with the potential to find its own sponsor. It is a fun, varied and inexpensive event for the audience, crowds that are not easily accessible for the musician, and in terms of İKSV, a great support to the new music. I think the music industry needs such a movement.
I also think that this event taking place within the scope of the jazz festival has to do something with benefiting from the opportunity of introducing young musicians to the foreign press and festival members who are invited to the festival. This is a great opportunity for those musicians and I think that these meetings has had positive results in time, but I think there should be more jazz in the showcase of a jazz festival to introduce international professionals. Turkey, after many years of trying to play western jazz as good as the westerner, is eventually generating its own original work but apart from individual efforts, it is a country not yet included in the European tour route with its musicians. Sectoral support is very much needed.
These were the thoughts, now let’s get down to ‘Night Out’ experience. I start the tour with Şallıel Bros.’s concert. Anıl Şallıel on tenor and Batu Şallıel on alto sax are accompanied by Tolga Erzurumlu on keys, Caner Üstündağ on electric bass and Ekin Cengizkan on drums. They jazz up the standing crowd with the up tempo opening song By Bro from their first album, everyone in the venue is dancing and cheering… Then they drop the tempo abruptly with Dafi. Although it contains a wonderful solo by pianist Tolga Erzurumlu, if you ask me, it is a sharp transition and a long intro for a standing concert. Then comes a very Anıl-esque piece with a colourful arrangment, Türk Caz Musikisi (Turkish Jazz Music) that will be in their forthcoming album. Anıl likes to briefly get in and out of classical Turkish music. They head towards latin with Horace Siver’s The Cape Verdean Blues and close the show with Song For Barry from Brecker brothers and don’t forget to pay hommage to late Michael Brecker.
The brothers are as impressive as ever. They have different styles, but it’s always a pleasure to listen to both. After the show, I ask Anıl where he thinks their styles differ with Batu. They surely have a common taste in music but they must have been influenced by different names. To Anıl, the main difference between them is their character. Actually, if you put aside the musical influences, the character difference really shows from their appearance on the stage to their playing. While Anil has a slightly more extroverted playing, Batu plays more to himself. Caner Üstündağ and Ekin Cengizkan provide a solid foundation for the solo instruments. I listen to Tolga Erzurumlu live for the first time, his playing is delightful. Afterwards I look into his work, it’s a shame that I’ve missed him.
We leave the venue refreshed, with enough energy for the rest of the night training and plenty of groove in our systems. Our next target is Eda And ‘Augmented Life’ concert at Kadıköy Cinema but we have some spare time. We have a look at a few non-jazz performances, climbing the stairs three by three – of course we’re at the beginning of the night, and we’ll see later that this can’t go on like this.
We arrive at Kadıköy Cinema with a little delay, there is a long queue at the door. Between songs, they get spectators from the queue inside, instead of the leaving ones. I’m waiting for a while, but if I wait for my turn, there’s no way that I can get in before the concert is over. I ask the attendants to get me in, saying that I am a journalist and I have to watch at least a few songs from the concert to write about it. They let me in with timid glances, but there is a serious nuisance at the queue. Giving press cards as before or wristbands in different colours to media members would help us in this kind of situations. For example, Gaye Su Akyol’s shows have become a phenomenon but I had never seen her live and her concert within Night Out was a good opportunity to satisfy my curiosity. The queue was going up the street, I didn’t even dare to try my luck.
Fortunately, I can watch the last few tracks of ‘Augmented Life’ concert. Crème de la crème musicians are on stage. Yahya Dai and Tamer Temel on saxophones (Serdar Barçın was on also but I couldn’t catch him), Volkan Hürsever on acoustic bass, Emre Günay on percussion and Volkan Öktem on drums. The project is by a young pianist, Eda And. It’s the first time I’m seeing her live. She is the daughter of double bass player Kürşat And whom we lost 6 years ago. With him I had the opportunity to work on Tuna Ötenel’s How Much Do You Love Me?’ album. The song I’ve caught in half is ‘Augmented Life’ from her album released last year. Then the winds leave the stage, they play Jazz Fantasie, a delicious jazz interpretation of Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu (Op 66). Eda And’s arrangement, that’s also from the album.
I miss most of the concert, but luckily I catch Izmir Ballad with Sibel Köse on vocal. Sibel Köse sings Eda And’s homage to her home town with her usual angelic voice. Seeing the reflection of pleasure that she receives from singing on her face, hearing the sound of her voice and feeling the wrap-around feeling she emits with her singing, to me, this beautiful woman on stage cannot be described only experienced. I’m not much of a ballad person but the song is beautiful, Sibel is beautiful, Yahya Dai’s EWI touches that add a Stevie Wonder feel to the song is beautiful and of course Izmir is beautiful too.
The only thing that’s not beautiful is the constant movement in the hall. At the end of the songs, even before the applause begins, there is a crowd going up from the front of the amphitheater-shaped hall and those who are taken inside trying to find a place for themselves in the dark is a bit distracting. I think this is the rush of seeing many concerts with one ticket and ‘you can leave any concert, there are many more anyway’ thinking. This is not much of a problem in standing venues with high-tempo music, but it’s not tolerable in theater-like venues . It shouldn’t be great for the musicians either. I was pleased to see such a big crowd at a jazz concert but have they come to see the concert or was it one of the marathon’s legs to stop by? After all, we left a few concerts that did not interest us after a few pieces but would I get up if I was sitting in the front of the hall or would I sit in the front if I knew I wouldn’t stay long? Perhaps a gentle reminder for such concerts can be included in the program notes. People are surely free to get out of any concert, but if those, who come only to stop by, realise that walking up and down the hall isn’t actually great, maybe they can choose to sit in the back. Just thoughts …
Our next stop is The Kites, and then we think we’re going to make a few more stops, I intend to go to Liraz when we get out. Her music came to me quite ethnic pop from afar, but I wonder if they are more jazz oriented playing live. But unfortunately, when we go out of The Kites, we realise it will be over by the time we go from Kargart to Moda Kayıkhane. We can go to see something else closer but hey, what’s happening? Are we worn-out already? It’s a hard job I must admit, climbing up 4-5 floors trying to catch more concerts wasn’t definitely easy. It surely feels great too, but to some extent, one should remember her age, otherwise her body reminds her. Looks like the next stop will be home.
But before, The Kites. The Kites fly and let fly. Actually, I listened to them in Kalamış Park last year within the scope of Jazz in the Parks but although it is very much my kind of music, I don’t remember such an impact. I was far from the stage, that must be the reason I didn’t notice them. Of course, their music that stands closer to improvisation gets more powerful in a small club environment. ‘Psychedelic funk jazz fusion’, plenty of 70s and Hammond sound, a nice groove, long solos…
The Kites was founded in 2017 by drummer Tan Deliorman and guitarist Ozan Erverdi. In an interview, Ozan said, “Unfortunately, there is no one around who makes the music we enjoy listening to, then we have found the cure for ourselves.” Nice move! I can’t do it myself, but at least there is a band that play the music I love.
That’s why it was great to listen to them at Kargart, right in front of me, with the groove in my veins. Yağmur Kerestecioğlu on keys, Baran Ökmen on electric bass, Yağız Nevzat İpek on percussion, and of course Ozan Erverdi and Tan Deliorman. They’re all good and all have a colour to add to the music. Solos are mostly on guitars and key, but when long solos come one after the other, sometimes feeling the presence of other instruments makes the music breathe, like the passage by the end of John Scofield and Medeski, Martin & Wood’s Little Walter Rides Again with electric bass and percussion solo. I think their music will be more fulfilling when it becomes more written and less improvised.
I am pleased to have known these young gentlemen, I leave the concert joyfully, but it doesn’t take long to face the truth after the adrenaline level comes back to normal. I’ll be better prepared next year, who knows what more groups are there to discover like The Kites? Maybe jazz in total increases a little, who knows that either?
In brief, it was a beautiful night, I hope this organisation will become a little more functional in the name of jazz in the coming years.