Kerem Görsev is undoubtedly the first name that comes to mind when jazz in Turkey is concerned. We had a chat about his new album “After The Hurricane” in the 23th year of his discography in a prolific life as a pianist for 51 years; almost all these years are adorned with an album each. Kerem Görsev is accompanied by prominent musicians in his 18th album “After the Hurricane” such as trumpet player Terell Stafford, double bass player Peter Washington and drummer Ferit Odman. Görsev spoke about what came after the hurricane in his life in a sincere, naive and humble way during our conversation which took place right before a rainstorm.
Let’s bring clarity to an important subject before we star talking about the album. I have interviewed hundreds of jazz musicians, both Turkish and international alike, but none leaves the impression you do. Everyone has something to say from “Say hi” to jokingly “Why jazz” when they hear I have an interview coming up with Kerem Görsev. Is this a result of being a jazz star in Turkey?
Being well-known and being well-known due to your work are two different things. I worked in television field from 1997 to 2005, making “Kerem Görsev’le Caz” program for eight years. I worked at TRT Music for two years. I worked at Joy FM for the past five years. From my albums to the interviews I have done… The reality of the situation is this; I don’t play music I do not enjoy myself merely for money. Nobody can make me touch a note I don’t want to, I have a stubborn attitude and I don’t compromise. I play the music I believe in with the musicians I believe in. I am into wooden instruments, into acoustic music and I want to go on with such a mentality. If this is called getting recognition, be it, it makes me really happy if people know me through my music. I thank them if they know me otherwise. I am a musician, not a star; I am a soldier of jazz. There are many jazz musicians in Turkey like me, my difference might be my height, I am taller than most.
After playing together for a long time, Kerem Görsev Trio became Kerem Görsev Quartet instead of merely “KG Trio feat. Engin Recepoğulları” after Engin joined. But we hear the quartet music from a different band in “After The Hurricane”. You chose to play with Terell Stafford (trumpet) and Peter Washington(bass); two musicians we are used to hearing in Ferit Odman’s albums. Why? Why did you choose the trumpet instead of the saxophone?
Great Turkish musician İmer Demirer played in “Hands and Lips”, my first album with a trumpet player. Then there wasn’t a trumpet for a long time. Russell Gunn played the trumped in my 1998 album “Warm Autumn” and 2003 album “Meeting Point”. I like the trumpet. Then there was a period without any wind instruments for 15 years. Then came along London Philharmonic and Ernie Watts with “Therapy”. We enjoyed playing with Ernie Watts so we recorded “Emirgan” and then “Four Days” in quartet format, I enjoyed these. But I frequently played with a trio mentality before that. We played with four big orchestras; St. Petersburg Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Prague Philharmonic and Los Angeles Philharmonic last year for “Spring Water”. That was immersed in the world of imagination with Alan Broadbent, Joe LaBarbera and Darek Oles. I started to smile more, started to feel more confident in myself. I have known Peter Washington for 30 years and Ferit since he was 13 years old. I should add, Ferit’s “Nommo”, “Autumn in NY” and “Dameronia with Strings” albums are higher than the international standards. I told Ferit “Go ahead and arrange everything, I won’t worry about it.”
Ferit worked more or less as a producer.
I said “Arrange the plane tickets, arrange the studio, tell Terell and Peter, and come play the drums. By the way I am getting married on the 24th.” He replied “Great, then let’s record on the 25th.” I got married and we got into the studio the next day. Ferit has put in a log of effort in this album as a musician. He came over to me before the recording session and we played together in Bodrum. We went there, the two musicians were already prepared, and we played. The electric, the looks, the heart, the soul… They played just like reading a poem, or drinking coffee. We finished recording in four hours. Mix was done and we sent it to mastering the next day. This is the first time I release an album just two months after recording it. I usually wait and see what happens. But I full-heartedly wanted to release this because it was over like a hurricane.
The titular piece “After the Hurricane” starts with an eclectic intro that is very reminiscent of a hurricane and then slowly transforms into something peaceful afterwards.
To be honest, I didn’t do anything until my marriage was over. When it was over, I visited the Greek Islands with Deniz, who was then my girlfriend, and had an argument because our egos clashed. We broke up. I started living a different life. Then I got a phone call at 2 am. I didn’t even realize it was her that was calling, but I flew to Italy right away afterward. Everything was peaceful then. I wrote this piece when I returned home, we had decided on our plans. I wrote “Maybe Ona Day”, “Dorea” and “Mermaid” for her.
There is a beautiful balled as well called “Big Heart”.
I wrote that in five minutes while crying after seeing how much people from all over Turkey loved and respected Mustafa Koç during his funeral. I don’t even personally know Mustafa Koç. I have met him a couple of times, that’s all. Tens of thousands of people went to that funeral. “December” is similar, too, I wrote that for my father after he passed away. I write pieces like a funeral item supplier.
Then there is a beautiful “Olive Tree”. We can see your respect for nature and all living beings through this piece as well as in your whole discography. How does the nature-music-Kerem triangle work?
Nature will take care of you if you take care of it well. Nobody is powerful enough to challenge Mother Nature. I am very respectful towards it. I planted some trees, I go over to them to touch then and to speak to them. I water them and give them fertilizer. They need compassion and attention as well. There is a piece called “Cat Shelter” in this album. It is written for one of my bully cats. My daughter, her mother and I built him a shelter when there was heavy snow two years ago. We put blankets in it and plastic sheets as well. We became friends with this cat. He was old. I found his body in the shelter after a couple of days. I wrote a jazz waltz with the sadness I felt. We have to love animals and nature to become better friends with people.
So now what?
I am happy. I am always happy about my albums but I see a lot of things I am lacking in after each one. I wonder how I will be less stiff in the next album. That applies to this album as well; sometimes a hand slaps me while listening to the CD. I don’t want this to repeat, I want it to only happen once or twice but I will never succeed in that. However, I like that challenge. The double bass and the drums feel like Rolls Royce for a moment, I like to take my time alongside them. I am the luckiest in Turkey as well. We have been playing with the best double player for the past 12 years. Kağan Yıldız is something else with his stellar personality, his musicianship and his upbringing… Ferit is a systematic and disciplined man, I think we are very similar and that’s why we are also friends off the stage. Kağan on one side, Ferit on the other; we persevere.
You finished the 50th year of you as a pianist last year. 50 years is a lifetime. If you were to reply honestly, did you ever think “I wish I had played another instrument”?
I enrolled in the conservatoire in 1967, that’s why. Now knock on the wood 51 times. I will honestly say that I don’t have any “what if”s in my life. You should neither deny nor regret after doing something. I do whatever my heart wishes as long as I want. What is done is done, you shouldn’t ponder upon it. I have many young pianist friends in Turkey, I listen to their work in admiration. I should add that there is no idleness in music in Turkey.