“Life goes on in its own disciplined way. If you do something, and love what you do, this has to be done within disciplined boundaries. When success is concerned in a global scale, there is always a disciplined method behind it.”
Born in 1970 in Izmir, Volkan Öktem’s interest in music started when he was 7 years old. He started to play with the military orchestra in the officers’ club when he was 11. Öktem moved to Ankara after his father has passed, and worked with many rock and pop bands in this city. He started to show interest in jazz music and took part in jazz gigs. He has worked with pianists such as Tuna Ötenel and Janusz Szprot.
Öktem then moved from Ankara to Istanbul and recorded for more than 100 albums. Sezen Aksu, Fahir Atakoğlu, Nilüfer, Sertab Erener are only a few of the musicians he has recorded with. Öktem is currently performing onstage with Tarkan as well as working on various different projects and recording both with local and international artists.
During my ‘Bizim Cazcılar’ program for NTV Radio, Volkan Öktem played his own composition “Mazi” from Volkan Hürsever’s ‘Hediye’ album, “Ark” from Ercüment Orkut’s ‘Low Profile’ and “Karnaval” from Eylem Pelit’s ‘Yedi Uyuyanlar’ album. If you wish, you can play one of these pieces before reading about Öktem’s adventure.
I Would Make Music By Thumping On My School Bag
We would move from city to city frequently because my father was in the military. I was about 4-5 years old, we were living in Polatlı. They took me to either a wedding or a circumcision celebration. I remember the big drums there. I think that’s where I first saw any kind of drums. I couldn’t move away from the stage. Those huge drums were in my little dreams for years. I started playing by thumping on my school bag in elementary school. I started to accompany popular music of the times, like Sezen Aksu, Ajda Pekkan and Barış Manço’s. I would sit right next to the orchestra in receptions. I wouldn’t get up or walk away once. My parents wouldn’t even panic about losing me during the reception, they would simply look over to the stage to find me. My interest kept increasing; I would watch, play and listen. One day, one of the soldiers who played in the orchestra, Erdem, asked me “What are you doing here? I keep seeing you here.” He sadly passed away, but he taught me many things. Then violinist Sendur Güzelel said “Come over tomorrow and play for us.” I was about 11 years old, I went over and he said “Play and I will accompany you.” So I did, and he played a melody, this lasted about 5 minutes. Then he said “We will play together during the 5 o’clock tea this evening.” I panicked, and got so excited. And then we played together and my adventure started.
Another Step Towards Jazz with Tuna Ötenel
We moved to Ankara after my father has passed away. I went to high school there. I played in two bands with my friends who played pop-rock. I played in festivals, METU Spring Festivals, concerts at Hacettepe University’s hall, etc. After a while, I started to play in Alpay’s Karpiç Bar. I started to play with Alpay. My interest in jazz increased after that. I was influenced by, to give examples of musicians who play the drums as well, Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, David Garibaldi. When I started to listen to classic jazz, I got even more influenced by musicians like Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette. I met Sibel Köse when I was about 20 years old. She used to sing at Gece Bar. We formed a few bands with her. With Alper Yılmaz as well. I met Tuna Ötenel thanks to Sibel Köse. There was a club called ‘Mimarlar Derneği’ (‘Architects’ Club’) and they were playing there. We stopped by after work and sometimes they would come over. One day I played with Tuna Ötenel. This is very important for me, because he is an incredible pianist, and my interest in jazz peaked through playing with such an amazing musician, and this was a step towards jazz for me.
They Collected Money To Buy My First Drum Kit
There weren’t many jazz venues back then and I was interested in several different genres. I played at placed we call ‘pavyon’ (meaning ‘pavilion’) as well. My mother was very uncomfortable with this, she would panic. Because those places are open until very late hours and I was only 18 years old. Sometimes my brother would come over for security, because they were worried. However, my family has always supported me, and never caused me any obstacles. They never told me not to get into this profession. Everybody, including my dear late father, was incredibly supportive. My first drum kit was bought by the money collected by my grandmothers, aunt and mother. This is something very special and important for me.
Think Of Your Own Future, Go To Istanbul…
A few of my friends got a job offer for the summer while I was working at Karpiç Bar in Ankara; 6 months in Alanya. My friends really wanted to go to Istanbul, but I wasn’t as eager. I didn’t want to leave my mother alone, since my father was no longer with us. My friends would move to Istanbul after Alanya. Our guitarist friend Cihat Akyıldız came from Istanbul anyways, and would return there and the rest followed. Their drummer friend informed them that he wouldn’t be able to go at the last minute, so they asked me. I thought it was only a summer job that would last for 6 months and said okay. We went and worked for 6 months. They were talking about going to Istanbul afterwards, but I was supposed to return to Ankara. Cihat asked me “Why are you going back, what are you going to do in Ankara?” I came from Ankara and was simply returning home. I was going to work there. He asked me who I would play with since all my bandmates were going to Istanbul, and I had to take a step back and think. I called my mother, my life with her is extremely important. She said “Make your own decision, think of your own future and focus on it. Please don’t think about me.” I decided to go to Istanbul with the ease of that conversation. That is how I came to Istanbul.
A Pop-jazz World That Started In Istanbul
Barış was my roommate when I came to Istanbul. He knew Asya, the singer. He called her and said if she needed bandmates he and his drummer friend were interested. We were playing at Kemancı once a week (for 13 years). What a coincidence, Asya was looking for a bassist and a drummer. So we started working with her. Then I met Cengiz Özdemir, he is a great musician as well. He wanted to hear us play. We played a couple of pieces and he really liked them. We joined the band and started to play with them. We founded Habbecik’ team with Cengiz Özdemir, a sizeable band that included Levent Altındağ, Berç Yeremyan, Ercan Irmak, Eylem Pelit and Aycan Teztel. This started my pop-jazz world in Istanbul. Then my work with Mirkelam started. My life started to expand uncontrollably while playing with İskender Paydaş or Mirkelam or others. I worked with Sertap Erener for two years around 1997. We took a break, but started to work again 2 years after. I worked with a different team every time we got together and performed with Sertap.
In Love With The Drums
I wanted to play the bass for a while. My roommate Barış Kıratlı was a bass guitarist. I would take his bass guitar and practice. I tried some things with Murat Ejder’s bass guitar as well (he also is a very valuable musician friend of mine). However, after a while I asked myself “What am I doing here? I have so much to practice with the drums, why am I practicing with this instrument instead?” and went back to my main instrument. I started with the drums, and I will go on with them as well. We are having a love affair with the drums for 30-40 years now.
What Does ‘Special Music’ Mean?
The most important aspect of jazz music is improvization. What does this mean? For example, you are making a dish, but you do it differently every time. Similarly, you can play the same piece differently. This is why it is such a special genre of music. This is important for all the musicians. There are many successful musicians in the field of jazz music. Sibel Köse has been in the business for years. There are Çağıl Kaya, Jülide Özçelik, Şenay Lambaoğlu, Elif Çağlar. We are a very rich country when it comes to musical variety. There are many accomplished musicians, singers, instrumentalists in our country who play jazz or other genres; people who play their instruments very well, those who are incredible singers, amazing arrangers, musicians who perform greatly on the stage. I hope this continues.
Being A Jazz Listener Can Be Tough…
Turkey is a country that has been interested in jazz music for a long while. For example, there is Tuna Ötenel, Muvaffak Falay… This really has been receiving great support and interest since the 1960s. Compared to other genres, yes, the level of interest is lower, but I see this as a global problem. This isn’t a Turkish phenomenon. When we look at the States or Europe, we see that interest in jazz is lower compared to other genres. Because the sound might please some people, but it is a tough genre when it comes to its context. You can digest and understand it well only when you are a musician, or love or hate it. You have to know its form, and understand what the musician is playing there and recognize the interpretation. You should hear the difference between how he played the same piece the day before and today. There are some dedicated followers but the more detailed something is, the less followers it receives. Can we talk about other forms of degeneration? Surely. The simpler things in the world have always received more attention. For example, I went to Brazil. I am crazy about samba, but I didn’t hear any samba there. That is why I see this as a general problem, and not a Turkish problem.
Particles In The Music
I think of piano and saxophone when I think about jazz. I listen to Folk Music in addition to jazz. I really like Neşet Ertaş for example. I have always liked weird things. I like Orhan Gencebay’s interesting pieces as well. My uncles (I have three) would listen to it frequently when I was young. All three of them are good singers. Maybe this has something to do with the family I come from. These are the sounds you grow up with, they get familiar. I don’t think of music in singular genres. Rock, pop and jazz are particles in the concept that we call music. I like music in general. This includes classical music as well. I consider everything that sounds great as music. The projects I take part in are like that as well. You can see me play folk songs with Laço Tayfa, or ballads with Hediye. I don’t discriminate and I love this.
Life Is A String Of Moments…
I played in many albums. In Aşkın Arsunan’s“One a Day”, Tamer Temel’s “Serbet Düşüş”; with Serkan Özyılmaz, Eylül Biçer, Matt Hall. I played with Alper Yılmaz and Sarp Maden in Ercüment Orkut’s “Low Profile”. We released “Hediye” album with Burçin Büke and Volkan Hürsever. This project was actually founded by Burçin and Volkan; I joined them afterwards. The pieces are softer and more ballad-like. Everyone brought their own compositions. Volkan said “Let’s call this Hediye (‘Gift’).” Let’s make a gift out of it. We said we can continue on with this as a series; Hediye 1, Hediye 2, Hediye 3. The piece called “An Meselesi” is a composition by Cengiz Özdemir. It has a story; a fire beaks out at a club when Cengiz was playing at a club with a musician friend. All the musicians run out right away. However, this saxophonist friend forgets his saxophone inside and said “I will grab it and be back.” They all tell him not to, but he says he must get his instrument. They cannot hold him back. He goes in, but cannot get out. And he loses his life in the fire. He was very effected by this event, and that’s why he wrote this piece.
Both The Schooled And The Self-Taught Should Work, There Is No Other Way
What is the difference between people who go to schools and those who are raised through experience? They both are aware of their talents and work on these to improve themselves. I spent most of my life trying to improve my talent. I didn’t get a related education but I worked hard on the theory aspect. There are institutions that give education on jazz, just like other genres. And people show these schools interest now. There are those who get enrolled in Berklee by their parents because they say they like jazz music at the age of 15. Of course it is different when you receive a theoretical education. However, there are some incredible talents on the other hand—those who cannot tell the notes apart, but end up playing unique and incredible solos. There is such a thing as well.