Kağan Yıldız starts playing the double base at the Mimar Sinan Conservatoire when he was eleven years old. He works with Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra during his student years. He makes the decision to pursue jazz in 2002. He starts playing with Kerem Görsev Trio in 2006. He shares the stage with legendary musicians such as Benny Golson, Freddy Cole, Dena De Rose, Kevin Mahogany, Alain Mallet (Caribbean Jazz Project). He is recently teaching double bass at Bahçeşehir University’s jazz department.
We conducted this interview with him and Can Çankaya for the release of their album ‘Timeless’.
Can Çankaya also graduated from Istanbul University State Conservatoire. He goes to the States with a scholarship in 2007 to enrol in a graduate program at William Paterson University. He plays his own compositions there with his own trio. Joe’s Pub, National Arts Club and 92Y are only a few of the places he performs at in New York.
How did the idea to to make this album emerge? What was the process like?
K.Y: Can and I have similar outlooks on music, and similar sensibilities. We are very happy when we play together, we more or less feel the same things. Our music listening cultures are almost the same. We are both conservatoire graduates by the way, we have commonalities. We started to create a good sound in this situation. We already play together in Ece Göksu Quartet and some other bands. We slowly formed an ensemble. We wondered whether we should release an album or something else. In the meanwhile, we had a gig in Ankara, Ece, Can and I. There is a photographer called Ceyhun Ergüven, an important artist, he took our photos. It took quite a long time, fifteen minutes or so. This happened after the concert at Samm’s Bistro. Then we got the photos back. We thought “These would make great album covers”. Then the idea to make an album started to emerge. It was already something we had in mind.
Which year did this happen?
K.Y: The seeds were planted in 2016. We recorded the album in 2017, in April.
I didn’t see the contributors yet since I don’t have the album. Who did you work with?
K.Y: It will be released this month, yes.
C.Ç: I always think about that, you cannot see the names of the contributors on Spotify. You cannot even see who plays in the album unless you give them an artist title. So we will tell you instead; because they are very valuable people and helped us a lot. Ali Sarıkaya, a friend of mine from New York, took the cover photo. Deniz Bankal, a graphic designer and a close friend for twenty years… He really liked the album and did the design. We recorded at MIAM. Can Karadoğan and his assistants helped a lot. Evren Göknar, a Grammy recipient, a very talented engineer. Ömer Göksel was a big help. Çağdaş Kurtoğlu also has a very special place for us. Because this structure was possible through him. A structure called Skoti Pati. There were a lot of people who listened and gave ideas.
K.Y: We rehearsed at Bahçeşehir University. In our jazz department. That’s where all the rehearsals happened. Sending thanks to Yeşim Pekiner.
How many takes during the recording session?
K.Y: Sometimes one, sometimes two or three. We were already ready so we just walked in and played.
How did your decision process happen?
K.Y: We chose the takes that both of us felt comfortable with.
How did you decide on the title of the album? Timeless…
K.Y: Timeless is Can’s composition. We wanted a piece in the album to be the title. It was the most meaningful.
C.Ç: Timeless is a piece I wrote in 1992, completed in 2017. I hadn’t decided which instrument would play the melody, I thought Kağan is comfortable with the box due to his classical music background. Kağan could play the melody and it would be great. I hadn’t done anything with the piece between 1992 and 2017, it is interesting that it waited for such a long time and was finished after 25 years. Maybe it isn’t finished yet.
I imagined myself in Haneke, the movie, while listening to Timeless.
C.Ç: I really like Haneke.
Me too. I wrote a story for Timeless unlike the other pieces.
K.Y: It has a dramatic aspect, yes.
C.Ç: The ending of the first part and the second part were recently written, so it is transformed into something that begins anew like a circle. This wasn’t because of its title. The title Timeless was born from this. What’s good about music is that everyone has their own interpretations of it.
There are jazz standards in the album as well. How did you deal with copyright issues?
C.Ç: You seem to want to make an album yourself. Are you asking about technical details?
What would you like to explain?
C.Ç: It’s fine, this is good, let’s go on.
K.Y: We played three standards.There are companies in Turkey. We applied and got the permission.
You made a payment.
K.Y: Of course.
Which ones are your own compositions?
K.Y: I have two: Snowflake and The Message. Can has three: Timeless, Mr. Continuous and Nova.
I listened to Timeless countless times. I was unsure if I liked it because it is the titular piece. It reminded me of my music teacher.
C.Ç: Who is it?
Çiğdem Borucu. I took cinema and music classes from her at Bilgi University. This takes me back to her teachings. I make a connection to cinema and theater while listening to Timeless.
C.Ç: I am glad that you enjoy it.
I would like to use it if I ever shoot a feature film.
C.Ç: Would be great.
How does it feel that it doesn’t have lyrics. What happens when you take those away?
K.Y: Vocals are an instrument too, of course lyrics are important. We have aduo concept. We had to come up with something appropriate. Piano and double bass duos are an important tradition in jazz. As you said, no lyrics, no soloists, no drums. We followed that. We shouldered their responsibilities.
Is this a decision that makes you feel more responsible in general?
C.Ç: We embarked on an adventure and this was the first step because recording is a whole different world. Performing live in a concert and recording are two different things; you go to a studio, there is no audience.
K.Y: You have headphones.
C.Ç: You hear weird sounds.
K.Y: In a room.
C.Ç: It is a different psychology, especially for such concepts. We will possibly record another album as a duo in the future and we will play differently then. For example, we will see where twenty years have taken us? I am not saying it’s good or bad. I mean story-wise. It has its own extension. Like Mr. Continuous. I am having a rather poetic day.
There is the jazz standard called Body and Soul in Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden’s duo album Jasmine (the one I asked for and you kindly sent) just like your album. How does yours compare to that?
K.Y: It would be wrong to compare. Ours is more beautiful.
How did you decide on the order of the pieces?
K.Y: That is not so easy to do. It is similar at a concert; the audience would get tired if you play uptempo pieces one after the other. You need to put a slower piece in between. Can thankfully figured that out.
C.Ç: We did it together. İmer Demirer listened to it as well, and thankfully he gave two key ideas.
How are the grooves of these pieces? Can we talk about such a thing in this setting?
C.Ç: Let’s not put ideas in people’s heads, because you actually take music to a more relaxed place in a duo project. There are no metronomes.
K.Y: There is a main structure but it changes in the flow of things.
C.Ç: Because there are two people. It is easier me him to keep up with me and vice versa; drawing more circular lines. We made a single decision: We said let’s not play as if there was a drum and then we took that drum out. Let’s swing to our heart’s content.
The album was received well by the esteemed jazz musicians who listened to the album as far as I can see on social media.
K.Y: Most of our musician friends, in addition to those you have seen, thankfully called and congratulated us. This is so valuable to us. It is a different feeling to have a musician like the album. It is an entirely different pleasure if you value those people, those musicians.
Is there anything else you wish to mention about the album?
K.Y: We have been innvited to Baku Jazz Festival. We will go to Baku in October. On the 23rd of October. We already played during Istanbul Jazz Festival before the album was released. These are great pay offs for us.
Congratulations. What can we do to increase the number of festivals you participate in abroad and to promote your work?
C.Ç: You can do whatever’s possible.
K.Y: It is important for a musician to be able to play. Why do we make albums? To give concerts.
C.Ç: I am not frequently on social media. I haven’t fully grasped it yet. I ask Kağan silly questions. I ask if I should put a hashtag here or there. It is interesting that musicians in other countries do not have to promote themselves. They ask me to post a video or photos. No, I should not have to.
I attended to workshops abroad. I met musicians there. They are now in my Facebook contacts. They see if I share something. I have witnessed musicians from different countries meet and play together this way.
C.Ç: Social media has those advantages.
How does your personality reflect in your music? Do the movies you watch, books you read, things you worry over change your music on occasion?
K.Y: Our compositions are born from situations. Harmony, technical infrastructure, its mathematics are important but your intellectual accumulation is very important as well. Our music is formed when all of these things come together. Then there are improvizations we play. Those are your own compositions as well. That’s what jazz musicians do. Scats are your compositons, too. What lies beneath those…
How do you evaluate ‘Jazz in Turkey’ and ‘Jazz in the world’?
C.Ç: Those who play and write are noticed, no matter what their motivations are. It is hard for a musician to understand the distinctions between jazz music, jazz in Turkey, jazz in Europe, jazz in America etc. There is no such label as ‘American jazz’, it has different styles. Not such a thing as ‘jazz in Turkey’, we play jazz and that’s it. Also, jazz musicians don’t like the word jazz. Legends like Miles Davis reject it, the label.
K.Y: It is a deep subject.
C.Ç: There are only a few schools that give an education on jazz. Not only in Istanbul. Is there a school that gives jazz education in Kastamonu? In Adıyaman? In Erzurum? That’s the subject. A unique style in Turkish jazz can only emerge when there is a school which gives a high quality education on jazz in every single city in Turkey. It is rather simple, if a country wants to excel in a topic and become world-renowned, they establish high quality education departments and improve the existing ones.
K.Y: For example, when I was in Lithuania; there is a tiny city in Lithuania: Klaipėda. As big as Beşiktaş. It is the third or fourth main city in Lithuania. There is a jazz conservatoire there.
I see. So, will there be an album video?
K.Y: We will put videos on YouTube. We gave a concert during the festival last year in the French Palace. There are some great shots from that concert.
You will be together once again at Gümüşlük Jazz Camp this summer.
K.Y: Yes, this will be the second time. Last year we had a very fruitful jazz camp. The days started with individual lessons and then we would go to the ensemble room to play together from morning to the evening. Ensemble is really important in jazz. Playing together is very important. We try to do that. What is the drummer’s responsibility, what is the bass player’s job? Then we give a concert at the end. Everybody gets to perform. There were great musicians this year. I observed the participants. They improved well.
C.Ç: It was very fruitful. It was Ece Göksu’s idea. Kağan was there, I was there. Berke Özgümüş on the drums. An esteemed musician like İmer Demirer. A prominent name like Neşet Ruacan. Bilal Karaman and Engin Recepoğulları will join us this year. It is getting stronger. It will be on the first week of September.
Would you like to talk about how the other pieces in the album came about?
C.Ç: We chose the pieces we like the most. Darn That Dream. Body and Soul. Kağan really likes Who Cares. They all have their stories of course. It would be too long to tell and we should not impose them on people.
I made some research on questions asked to musicians. I don’t know if you would like to answer those as well? For example, if you had only one CD which one would it be? What is your favorite piece that is not jazz?
C.Ç: Good questions.
Would you like to answer?
C.Ç: Fun. Let’s do this.
Then if you only had one CD?
C.Ç: Any style? Where am I? On an island?
C.Ç: I would be so bored. I would probably bring a classical music CD. Possibly Bach.
K.Y: I would take Earth, Wind and Fire with me on an island.
C.Ç: You are such a cool guy.
K.Y: But I am on an island. Or maybe Stevie Wonder, to enjoy.
What would you be if not a musician?
C.Ç: I would be a physicist.
K.Y: I would probably be a pilot.
The toughest thing that happened onstage?
K.Y: Not really tough but it was a moment when I was really excited. We were told we would play for a special guest at Nardis Jazz Club on a Sunday. With Önder Focan and Sibel Köse. I said okay. I don’t ask who. You go and you play. I learnt five minutes before getting on the stage. Morgan Freeman was in Nardis. Nobody knew he was in Turkey. We didn’t tell anyone until he left. I really like Morgan Freeman. Of course, after watching Shawshank Redemption… It wasn’t challenging but I was very excited during the first couple of pieces. He apparently really enjoys jazz music.
C.Ç: We played for Kevin Spacey.
C.Ç: We rapped.
What was the last book you have read?
K.Y: I read a book called Müzik Yazılarım. Written by Halim Spatar. It briefly tells the stories of musicians and composers who lived in different time periods. They include people like Adnan Saygun, Paul Robeson, Ruhi Su, Richard Strauss, Necdet Levent, Harry Belafonte.
C.Ç: I read a book called Evren Avucunda. I would full-heartedly recommend. It is written by a student of Stephen Hawking.
What is the last movie you have watched?
C.Ç: I watched an incredible movie. It was featured during the Film Festival. The Red Turtle. Kırmızı Kaplumbağa.
K.Y: Miyazaki’s Totoro.
C.Ç: There was Fringe. And Walking Dead. I love the zombie genre.
K.Y: Black Mirror and Marco Polo are the best TV shows I have seen.
It feels like there was another instrument in Snowflake. Or something else…
K.Y: I played with the bow, that might be why. Might be its sound. It was highs. It has a similar color to cello. I played in such a way. That might be why.