LOCAL JAZZ HEROES
“As long as you keep your internal hope ablaze, you emit that light to those who surround you. I believe that every artist is illuminated by their own light. That is why I try to follow my own path.”
These words belong to one of the most unique voices of jazz—Şenay Lambaoğlu, whom we know through her lyrics and interpretation. Şenay Lambaoğlu is a rare artist who illuminates her surroundings with her own internal light. She knows what she wants and she does everything in her power to get it. She has to believe in the single comma or the dot in the songs she sings. That’s why her songs feels alive when she sings.
I saw Şenay for the first time, except for her photographs and videos, when she accepted my invitation and came to the studio. She was emitting so much light and I couldn’t help but tell her “You talk as if you are singing” when we were chatting. That’s how our friendship started.
We will learn about Şenay Lambaoğlu’s story, as well as many things about jazz in general and jazz musicians in Turkey in this interview.
During this session of my ‘Bizim Cazcılar’ program on NTV Radio, Şenay Lambaoğlu played “Uçurtma”, “Başka Türlü Bir Şey” and “Sensiz Olmaz” from her Başka Türlü Bir Şey album, “Kalbim” from “Zarf Tümleci” and “İçimde Aşk Var” from her album with the same name. If you wish, you can play one of these pieces to accompany this music journey of Lambaoğlu. It will be enjoyable.
Now, let’s embark on Lambaoğlu’s music adventure…
I Started Singing With A Hairbrush Instead of a Microphone
I was a kid who lived in her own world of imagination. Music has always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
I grew up in Germany. The most memorable moments were probably listening to opera during Sunday Concerts when I was 3 years old.
Kendi hayal aleminde yaşayan bir çocuktum. Müzik, kendimi bildim bileli hayatımın içindeydi, hayatımın bir parçasıydı. Of course, in Istanbul there are concerts, especially during Sunday mornings, conducted by Hikmet Şimşek. That’s when music entered my life. School orchestras… But even before that, I started playing the classical guitar in Germany when I was 10 years old. Playing an instrument never felt that interesting to me (maybe due to my impatient nature and unruly character).
I did the childhood rituals girls sometimes do, like singing in front of the mirror. I was a kid who would wear her mother’s morning robe and sing in front of the mirror, while using a hairbrush instead of a microphone. But I can say that I had a talent for making up songs.
My father gave me a small radio as a gift when we moved to Istanbul. I would listen to it in the background when I was studying, there were no private channels. An hour of Classical Music and and an hour of ‘Jazz Kuşağı’ programs would be broadcasted on TRT Radio 3. So, it wasn’t at a later age when jazz entered my life.
Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, John Coltrane during my middle school years… That music I would listen to on the background drew me in. I couldn’t help but form a repertoire. I even recorded some. There were cassettes back then, I would record the pieces I liked on those.
Milliyet’s music competitions were very popular when I was in high school. Our teacher was a bass guitar player who used to play with pop jazz orchestras. There was a song called Nah Neh Nah by Vaya Con Dios, it used to be very popular. We decided to participate in the competition with that and got through the preliminaries. We got a good result. We inevitably formed a jazz repertoire after that.
University, Masters, Building Blocks
There was a place called Gramofon on İstiklal Street when I was studying in the university. Önder Focan, Şenova Ülker and Neşet Ruacan. I was a child compared to them back then, but it was very valuable to perform on the same stage in the same jazz club with them. I was singing in Selçuk Sun’s orchestra, with his quartet. These were the factors that contributed to my building blocks.
I graduated from Yıldız Technical University’s singing department. I did my graduate studies there as well. I went to the States for a while, to Boston. I participated in vocal workshops of Sheila Jordon and Pragdit as a guest student. Those took place in Harvard. But I believe that you learn by performing on the stage. Even if you decide to pursue an academic career, the circumstances are so that a mentor-protoge relationship ultimately leads to good results.
Life Changes Lanes
I didn’t stay in Boston for too long. Even if you have a scholarship, you are ultimately a student and the circumstances are tough. Working as a student is tough as well.
If you aren’t lucky and something isn’t happening in spite of your pushing, life changes lanes. One door closes and another opens. That’s what happened to me.
I met Randy Esen when I returned to Istanbul. I took classical singing education from Yıldız Dağdelen in school, and I practiced vocals and style knowledge with Randy. So it was a comprehensive learning period. Then I found myself right in professional music life while performing with orchestras and Big Bands while working on projects.
My family supported this adventure. However; we didn’t have anyone around us who did a living with a career in jazz. That’s why they saw this as a hobby, just like photography or painting wood. One is never offered their dreams on a silver platter, but I have always felt their moral support. They have always been respectful of my choice. It is way more important to meet the right people in the right time and to push your luck. Because even the most conservative family gives in when they see your consistence and excitement. Sometimes young people tell me “My parents aren’t giving me permission, they don’t support me so, the circumstances…” and ask me what to do. I reply “If you really want this, you will surely find a way.”
Time To Record An Album
I have been involved with music professionally for more or less 15 years. It took time for jazz to find its place in the music market in Turkey. This might be why I was so late in working on an album. Because there is a structure in the music industry lead by big names. Even radio programs are like this. There aren’t studios involved in this, the venues to play are limited, the TV and radio channels, newspapers that you can present with your work are limited. Everything is limited. My first album “İçimde Aşk Var” was released through Ada Müzik. My musician friend Ercüment Orkut has been a great source of support. The arrangements belong to him. We did this project as we felt like it, without planning much or worrying about whether it would be liked. It was received really well. I think that album brought me luck, because we were able to meet many listeners during Istanbul Jazz Festival and Akbank Jazz Festival ‘Campus’.
“Freedom Is In The Essence of Jazz”
We released the second album by combining the songs that didn’t make it to the first album with some others that we thought would fit the concept. I worked with 5 arrangers for this album, called “Zarf Tümleci”. Every arranger picked pieces that would suit their character. I like to submit to people I work with during albums in this sense. The end result becomes something collectively achieved. Even if it is my project, the product is all our work. We are talking about the freedom in the essence of jazz.
“Başka Türlü Bir Şey” is my latest album. I start with names, they come first. At least when I am making the albums. Doing so feels like writing an essay under a title. This might be a habit due to my affinity to literature.
I Did Something Different
Maybe I should have taken a break after the second album, but I am excited about creating and building new things again. I cannot hold it in. I wanted to bring together my favorite authors, lyrics writers, stories and compositions. These were all coming from our own geography and have touched my life somehow. There are those like Sevinç Tevs. These are really really valuable musicians. Their musics are actually very international in nature. I wanted to compile the names who provided me with examples while I was writing poems, composing, especially when I was writing lyrics during my youth. That’s how “Başka Türlü Bir Şey” (meaning “Something Different”) was born. So when I am asked “What to do?” or “How to define this album?”, I reply by saying that we tried to do “Something Different”.
Dear Can Çankaya is both the producer and arranger of the album. Some of my valuable musician friends contributed to the album. Okay Temiz is one of those guests. Berke Özgümüş on the drums. Kağan Yıldız played the double bass. Selim Saraçoğlu played the acoustic guitar and Volkan Polat played the electric guitar. Cafer Nazlıbaş played ‘kabak kemane’ (a string instrument used in Classical Turkish Music).
When it comes to the songs, there are Can Yücel’s and Füruğ Ferruhzad’s poems. There are Ömer Hayyam and Nazım Hikmet Ran, Fikret Kızılok, one of my favorite lyrics writers Vedat Sakman, there is İlhan Şeşen. It was a great pleasure working on their material.
Music Shouldn’t Be Confined In Narrow Boxes
I cannot say that I follow new things coming out. I even asked a very popular musician who works with the same label and logo as I do “Are you involved with music too, do you work here?”; I didn’t know them. I felt bad about it afterwards.
My popular culture is weak in that aspect. But Neşet Ertaş is very valuable for me. Erkan Oğur is a real music connoisseur. Aside from those, I look up to Zeki Müren when it comes to Classical Turkish Music. The names who were influential in their own periods should be researched. I don’t want to confine music in narrow boxes. We would be no different than the previous generation if we do that. Now we can talk about an integration of different genres. Being single minded would be a great injustice to music and it affects creativity too. Even if you say you only listen to jazz, the jazz musicians aren’t closed to the world. The reason why they are well known is their openness. I also listen to classical music. I try to follow concerts as much as I can. I like Birsen Tezer among the popular names, for example. She isn’t actually that popular but she is proves that existence in those alternative platforms is possible. Or the songs of Müzeyyen Senar; they are so special.
Here, I see that jazz world is very closed minded. We cannot naturally break those walls down while communicating with other people. The musician doesn’t even want to, so the listener isn’t enthusiastic as a natural result.
Sincerity and Love
The albums with Turkish lyrics are more popular so that might be why those reached bigger audiences. However; this really isn’t an obstacle. Instrumental music can reach big audiences. For example, Okay Temiz (ultimately he focuses on percussion and drums) reaches those audiences. Because there isn’t a space that sincerity and love cannot touch or reach.
Jazz musicians have certain characteristics that differentiate them from musicians of other genres. I see that we are generalized into certain moulds when people who produce and those who listen to jazz are concerned, because our space of operation is limited. There isn’t space to grow as a listener as well. We could be having problems resulting from defence mechanisms we developed concerning creating music, because of jazz musicians are having trouble reaching large audiences. However; a classical jazz musician has the opportunity to collaborate with a popular music artist and thus reach larger audiences. Even then, there are concerns about who is helping who. Ultimately, you can be a part of something when your music reaches a bigger number of people. You can be a part of the advertisement. There is a very fine line.
I Am Happy That I Am A Jazz Singer
I try not to use the words “if only” in my life. I am glad that I am involved with music. I am happy that I am a jazz singer. That I spend time with people who produce music. I want to include journalists like you to this list. Because we really are leading tough lives in tough times. What we are trying to achieve is tough. We try to stand up straight against all the odds. That’s why it is great to have lives surrounded by people who love us. We are thankful that we do what we love. We start the day smiling, go to work with a smile on our faces, and leave work smiling. These are really priceless treasures.
That’s why I consider myself lucky. Aside from that, people who entered my life, my family, my mother, my son, my dear Deniz… We live life learning from our mistakes, always going forward. When I hear similar stories from people I work with or somehow meet, I feel that I am not alone. This thought puts me at ease and renders me strong. That’s why nothing is too hard.
As long as you keep your internal hope ablaze, you emit that light to those who surround you. I believe that every artist is illuminated by their own light. That is why I try to follow my own path. When things sometimes don’t go my way, I think “There must be a message in this, what am I doing wrong?” and try to go back to my essence. I might sound like a life coach but these are things that everyone knows about. We can sometimes forget them. That’s why I wish everyone sentences that start with “fortunately” instead of “if only”.