I conducted an interview years ago with the very well known jazz doyen Ali Perret, who was born in New York but then moved to Istanbul with his American father, Turkish mother and sister when he was seven years old. I got curious after many years about what he is up to these days and came across his interview with Melis Danişmend when I looked into it. The title was this and I think it summarised who Ali Perret is perfectly:
“Inspiring life story of musician and sailor Ali Perret who has always prioritized freedom”…
I first wondered what I could add to that but then remembered that every single interview is a photograph that shows a certain moment during that person’s life. I was curious about what the captain wrote in his logbook today and met him to chat about jazz and the sea while eating a humble simit with cheese at Nişantaşı Zeynel Kafe. However, please regard that as bread and cheese, alright?
I have been practicing and playing the piano ceaselessly every single day lately. We give concerts with different bands, different musician friends and at different venues. We performed “Sınırsızlık” project with Meriç Demirkol and Şenol Küçükyıldırım at Salt Galata and Kaset Mitanni. We gave a concert in Luzern in Switzerland in October with world-famous duduk master Suren Asatryan whom I play with in “Ali Perret’s DU.DU”. I will perform with my friend Timuçin Şahin, who lives in New York, once more in the end of January. I also have an upcoming concert with TRT Jazz Orchestra during which we will play a big-band version of my compositions in the end of January, if the schedule doesn’t change in the last minute. I am prepping intensely for these concerts. I will attend the workshops in Bergama for the second time as an instructor in February, during the school break, with Timuçin Şahin as the director. Musicians and instructors both from Turkey and overseas will also contribute. I am also still giving private lessons.
Music and the sea have always been my two ultimate passions at the center of my life. I have a custom made 20-meter long Tirhandil boat that I brought down to the sea in 2007; “Trippin”. It means jazz in Afro-American slang. This is the third instalment after my “Acid Trippin” and “Mingus Trippin” albums. It is the last step of the trio. I have always loved the sea and renting out my boat to foreign musicians allowed me to make the music I want. I have always felt lucky because of this. I had the luxury to bring both of my passions into life. However, I will sell my boat this year and buy another just to sail by myself because I want to concentrate on music and education from now on.
We talked about what he has been doing in the field of music lately:
I have a band I play with for the past two years. What is interesting is that I have been playing ethnic music after avoiding for so many years. I didn’t think ethnic music and jazz go well until recently. I love the purest version of Anatolian Folk Music, especially the tradition of ‘Aşıklık’ (Minstrelsy).
We are preparing for a new album, the name of my band is “Ali Perret’s DU.DU”. Duduk master Suren Asatryan from Yerevan is my friend. We said why not play together, and we initially played together for three days at my club Pannonica in Bodrum and developed the project when we both enjoyed that.
Oğuz Büyükberber plays the bass clarinet in this band. Giannis Poulios, a young musician from Thessaloniki, plays the violin. Apostolos Sideris was born in Athens and attended Berklee College of Music like I did, and he joined us with his double bass. Berkant Çakıcı plays the percussions. We sail in unchartered territories with this band. We play Anatolian music with contemporary music and jazz harmonies. We prepared an album called “On The Move”. Grammy Award winning sound engineer Evren Göknar, who lives in Los Angeles, did its mastering. I am currently looking for a foreign recording label for this album. Then we will release it in Turkey. Most of us are very knowledgable about both jazz and ethnic music. We want to give concerts with this band. We gave concerts in three cities in Ukraine during the jazz festival there, in Mehmet Uluğ evening during Akbank Jazz Festival in Istanbul, at Nardis and Bodrum Pannonica. A documentary is also being shot about the band. It was among the full-length documentaries backed by the Ministry of Culture in 2017. I am also working on other things.
Ali Perret opened “Pannonica” club in Bodrum in 2013, and the seeds of “Ali Perret’s DU.DU” band was planted in this club, whose name has an interesting story. It takes its name from one of the most mysterious personalities of art history, the “Jazz Baroness” Baroness Kathleen Annie Pannonica de Koenigswarter of the Rothschild family, who spent all her life supporting African-American musicians due to her passion for jazz. Everybody lives according to their own values in life, and Ali shares the same passion for jazz as this baroness. But the club has been closed down. He explained when I asked him why;
Pannonica was open for three years as a club, it still continues to work in the field of music and arts. But I had to close the club down after 15th of July. I might be able to keep it open if it was in Istanbul. Every jazz musician dreams of opening a jazz club, I made this dream come true, but this club was more of a social responsibility project that served Bodrum. I think I did what I had to do for this country, and now I want to work on stuff for myself. But I still have a project for Turkey, I am working on the correspondence for this.
I sometimes think of living in another country, I already did, but one of my teachers was Muammer Sun, who was a real son of the Republic. He used to say “Even if you go, you should come back.” What brought me to Turkey was the necessity for educating masses of people in that period. However, New York has always been the best place for me for the jazz music style I like, where I feel the most comfortable in. But here I have another conflict; my love for the sea. I have to be outside the city for this passion, and yet in the midst of the chaos which is the city itself for jazz. Actually, there are so many differences from one city to the other. There are many different jazz inspirations in the sunny California and in chaotic New York.
We founded the Music Department in Bilgi University and did many great things there back in the day, but I resigned in 2003 when I realized I would be limited in what I want to do in order to bring the department to the international platforms. What happens when the management has no idea about art education? We were actually very autonomous at Bilgi. This reflected on the students as well, we raised many musicians for the Turkish jazz scene. About 70% of the active jazz musicians graduated from Istanbul Bilgi University with our guidance. We got together with many esteemed musicians in this department. I was together with my close late friend Lawrence Butch Morris, legendary saxophone player Ricky Ford, Can Kozlu, who was my housemate in Berklee and Aydın Esen. Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin, who is one of the most important contemporary musicians in Turkey, gave classes in our department. Our students won many competitions and scholarships abroad. The success of my students have always gave me indescribable feelings as an educator. I raised musicians for thirty years. I want to New York once more after Bilgi University, because the music scene was dried up in Turkey. Music venues were getting smaller in number. But the day came when the sea called my name and I came back to Turkey.
Now I have a different project in mind. I don’t want to be the founder of another jazz department.
I want to be the founder of an independent, interdisciplinary department within the structure of a university. There won’t only be classes on jazz, but also on contemporary music, philosophy and introductory art classes. I have ideas about a music-focused kindergarden which will be open to children between the ages of 3-6; the period when their perception is the most open. It is a scientifically proven fact that music supports the development of the brain.
There will also be a department who are interested in music and the arts outside the school, we will teach what music is and how it should be listened to there. We will cover all genres of music, arts and life. There will simultaneously be classes on various disciplines such as contemporary arts, film and philosophy.
We aren’t looking for a sponsor for this project, we want to collaborate with a foundation or a university. I don’t want to be an entrepreneur after this age. I will manage the arts, music and educational aspects of this project.
Ali Perret worked not only on jazz music in his club in Bodrum, but also on many other arts projects that he dreams to integrate to his school project. The Municipality of Bodrum supported only in affirmation, and I felt that he was deeply disappointed as he said this. However, he still gives workshops elsewhere in Turkey with the support of other municipalities. He said he would go to Bergama mid-January, the municipality there supports creative music education.
Ali Perret’s sign is libra, he was born on the 30th of September, and one can see the energy of libra in his eyes. He wants to continue on making music and educating students. The sea will always be a fundamental part of his life. Music and sea are two interlocked beautiful things in his life; one feeds the other. His life style will continue to form around these two passions. I asked him what his last words will be for the readers of Jazz Dergisi:
“Music makes one feel good, and helps them improve; arts will bring peace to the world. I recommend people to frequently listen to music. I have a couple of words for contemporary artists; they are interested in many fields of art, but they don’t listen to contemporary music. They should listen to it in order to improve themselves as artists.”