Selen Gülün is a composer, pianist, vocalist and teacher. Her father brought home a wooden toy piano when she was little. Her love for the instrument started right away. Her family noticed her talent and encouraged her to enter the examinations for Istanbul State Conservatory. She succeeded and became a part-time piano student. Later on, she got enrolled in Mimar Sinan University State Conservatory and started her education on piano and composition.
She went to Berklee Music School in Boston to study in the Jazz Composition department in 1996. She started working as a faculty member at Bilgi University’s Music Department when she returned to Istanbul. Selen Gülün now lives in Japan, and continues to give concerts both in Turkey and abroad with her jazz and modern music bands.
During my “Bizim Cazcılar” program for NTC Radio, Selen Gülün played the titular piece from her 2013 album Başka, “Passacaglia” from her Kapı album, “Altı” from her album called Solo and “Internal Pain” from her first album Just About Jazz Live. You can play one of these pieces to accompany this interview.
It All Started With A Fake Toy Piano
As a kid, I expressed myself the best through music. For example, I remember my father showing me the notes on a fake wooden toy piano that he brought home when I was really young. I was really taken aback, I was enchanted. I said “What! How beautiful, they all have names!” Then they got me a melodica. My family was really involved with music, both my parents are actually engineers. We would always go to Ataturk Cultural Center (‘AKM’) to listen to the Istanbul State Symphonic Orchestra every Friday. They would also follow all the music festivals.
The Rest Is An Adventure But This Part Is Great As Well
They would call me over from one class to the other for me to sing when I was in elementary school. Selen should come over and sing the song called “Orda Bir Köy Var Uzakta”. I founded an orchestra when I was barely a third grader. I entered the conservatory examinations after my uncle said “This girl is talented. I think she should take the conservatory exams.” It is actually a funny story; we went in, I didn’t know what a conservatory exam was like, of course. The they said sing this note, sing that note… Then they told me to sing a song, I sang “Makaram Sarı Bağlar”. Everybody ended up laughing. They must have found it strange? When I got out, I told my mother, she got upset an asked “Where do you know that folk song from?” I must have heard it from somewhere. Then my conservatory education started as a part-time student. I attended as a part-time student during middle school as well. I graduated from Beşiktaş Anatolian High School, and I got my business management degree from Istanbul University. I continued my conservatory education while attending Istanbul University. When I graduated, I got enrolled in Mimar Sinan University to attend both composition and piano classes as a full-time student. The rest is an adventure…
I Tried Classical Music But It Didn’t Work Out
I don’t define myself only as a jazz musician. I am actually very interested in both improvized and modern musics, in more contemporary sounds. My parents would listen to all sorts of genres at home, but mainly to Classical Music. I remember how excited I was to watch Neşet Ruacan and Nilüfer Ruacan (they were married back then) live on TRT. I also loved musicals. Those melodies sounded very good to me. We didn’t discriminate any music genre in our household. My parents weren’t particularly interested in jazz. I have never been a good musician when it comes to Classical Music. I really tried, but it didn’t work out. That musical format didn’t give me any piece when I played the piano. Therefore, I started to improvize at a very early age. I have always been interested in writing music. I started my professional life at an early age. I wasn’t even 19 years old. We started to perform four days a week at Kedi Bar. There weren’t many bars back then in Turkey. I started singing there. A friend used to play the piano. I started getting known as a jazz pianist in Turkey at a much later date. But my attention was always focused on improvized music.
I Am Interested In Complicated Things
I try to play the soprano saxophone in addition to the piano. I really improved myself at some point, but I had to give it up. Then I started playing it again. I bought myself a soprano saxophone with the first paycheck I got in Tokyo. I made a connection between singing and playing the piano: I am not someone who takes pleasure from just singing. Those who know me are aware that I am sort of an introvert. Being on the foreground on the stage was really tough for me. I have never been interested in merely singing. I have always found expressing myself through an instrument more attractive. I am interested in complicated things. or example, making a single sound, and forming a harmony instead of connecting them back to back, that’s more like me…
I Kept My Mouth Shut, Until My Father Got Sick…
Later on I went to Berklee College of Music to study jazz composition with a scholarship. I kept my mouth shut there. Nobody knew that I could sing. I studied as a instrumental musician. I didn’t sing for a long time after returning to Turkey as well. However, my father got sick and lost his ability to talk. When this happened, vocal expression gained a new important for me.
I Made A ‘Surprise’
My second album is an album of songs. This album, called “Sürprizler” (meaning ‘Surprises’), has bass, piano and drums. It is an album with Turkish lyrics, in which I both sang and played. It was recorded in 2005 and released in 2006. So I had started singing again. However, singing while playing the piano is a different format. When you do that, the vocals and the piano become a single instrument, because you aren’t accompanying yourself; you are doing both at the same time. When I sing while playing, they complete each other. I play differently when I am not singing. Or if I just sing—which I don’t do anymore—then I sing very differently. These two turned into two things that are merged together in my life.
Don’t Take It Too Seriously, After All, It Is Just Music
The fact that I found a space in which I can express myself if what drew me to jazz. My teacher one day told me “Who do you think you are! Beethoven wrote this. You shall play as he did!” Such a huge pressure. When I heard this critique, that I put too much of myself in the music I play, I reacted and thought “I have a musical perception as well. I somehow perceive what I play. I want to express it as such.” However, a very valuable teacher at Berklee College of Music told me “Don’t take it too seriously, after all, it is just music.” I felt like I was at the right place. I can express myself the way I want to through an instrument. You aren’t actually free from the beginning in this space of freedom. First you are somewhat like a slave. You have to practice nonstop. You have to know a lot of jazz theory, not only to be able to play what is written, but also in order to be able to create. I have been interested in temporality. I have a connection with music that I wish would last forever. Therefore, I am very interested in how people find their own spaces and expressions in jazz music.
What I Want To Last Forever
My first album is called “Just About Jazz Live”. Foreign musicians recorded with me, my old band from Berklee. I released my trio album “Sürprizler” right after that. Following that “Answers” was released, in which I am accompanied by Austrian drummer Jörg Mikula and bassist Patrick Zambonin. I have been working with them since 1998. We recorded the album in 2006. I recorded a solo album as well, called “Solo”. These albums are available on various online platforms now. I released my “Başka” album in 2013. This is a song album as well. I sang and almost didn’t play anything as a soloist. I called it “Başka” (meaning ‘different’) because its though process was different. A lot of musicians contributed. There are stringed instruments, there are wind instruments. We recorded this album with a big team. I record all my albums life. “Başka” was recorded the same way. Aside from these, I have an album called “Kapı” that I recorded with my Italian friends Marcello Allulli and Emanuele de Raymondi. And my latest album “Kadınlar Matinesi” will be released soon. That is a project that I work on with female Turkish musicians, or more specifically, female musicians who create their own music. The team is very crowded; it includes Elif Çağlar, Ece Göksu… There is a piece by Jehan Barbur, another by Sibel Gürsoy, there is Başak Yavuz. They sang live as well, and it was recorded live as well. It is a first in its area in this aspect.
Why I Don’t Live In Tokyo
I went to Tokyo because of my album “Answers”. The Japanese somehow wanted to distribute it. It was all a coincidence; one of my followers saw my album in the top 10 list as the 6th in a CD store owned by this distributor and they shared the photo of this. I was very surprised and happy at the same time. It is an interesting album, one we might even call an example of modern jazz. I thought if I might be able to go to Japan, because I have many friends there from my Berklee times. While I wondered how, I met Engin Yenidünya who could make that connection. My first concert in Tokyo took place in June of 2015. I even had a signing day. It was a small concert. Everybody came over with their CDs. I am a touring musician and I have been all over, but I didn’t expect to receive such an attention in Japan. So it was a big surprise. I started to travel back and forth often for these concert. I decided to live there for a while because I was really happy with the attention I received and to get to know as many musicians as possible.
Jazz Is Tough, You Have To Have Strong Communication Skills!
Turkish society is hesitant towards musicians who challenge them. They keep not only jazz but all the genres of music that require them to spend some effort while listening at an arm’s length. And Turkish people feel distant to some instruments, the piano being one of these. I know this personally from my neighbourhood relationships. However, when you sing, when lyrics are involved, then the communication becomes different. They accept that relatively more readily. Instrumental music is very subjective. One has to make a connection to the music in order to understand what it tells. I think those who have trouble with this type of music have communication problems. I believe that the ability to communicate with music is connected to the ability to communicate, and to understand other people. I gave Critical Listening classes for years at Bilgi University. We even made this a mandatory class, it is an important thing for musicians. It really isn’t easy, listening to instrumental music. Jazz embodies some aspects that related to freedom and expression of self, that is a different subject.
Start By Listening To Contemporary Jazz
One has to start by listening to contemporary jazz and and go backwards. If you direct someone who has just started to listen to jazz towards Charlie Parker or John Coltrane, then of course they would feel as if they are listening to something so chaotic that they cannot deal with it. They could start off gently by getting to know contemporary musicians. If a Turkish listener wants to know more about jazz, it would be better if they start off by listening to Turkish musicians, get curious and question “Is there a tradition behind this?” Jazz sounds foreign and scary if you direct someone towards 1930s and 1950s jazz. We are talking about a geography-centric music here already. There are thousands of miles in between. It makes more sense to start off by listening to contemporary music and to expand while going back chronologically…
I Live And Play In A Scattered Way
There are a lot of different musician profiles. Differences aren’t so easily accepted among other groups of people, and not only among jazz musicians. This isn’t how it is supposed to be. We are all travelling on the same path. For example, classical musicians do not readily accept jazz musicians. Jazz musicians also adopt an know-it-all attitude towards classical musicians, saying they have travelled on a different path. I am noticing this: The life style of a person who chose to interpret the 1930s, 1950s music and spend a life time on doing this in a good way cannot be the same with a ’scattered’ person like me (I am calling it ‘scattered’ because I am interested in many different areas of music at once). Because I inevitably live a more open life. This is more like a necessity. Therefore, I prefer to play in this scattered way instead of playing one this really good, because of the scattered person I am. Because this is the way I live. I live a life in which I try to share the world I have seen so far with others. But if I had a more reserved perspective (when it comes to music), I would end up living a reserved life as well due to this outlook.