A selection from 31 artists presented at Jazzahead this year, to accompany the article and reflect Jazzahead’s musical world as well.
Jazzahead, world’s leading jazz fair and showcase festival, was held digitally between April 29 and May 2, this year, with the motto ‘Close Together From Afar’, after being cancelled last year due to the pandemic. I attended the organisation as a journalist. My intention was to both learn and share the current trends in the global jazz scene, new models created by the pandemic and their applicability in Turkey. What I’ve seen and heard there, naturally made me think about the state of our jazz scene, the obstacles in front of it being more visible and what could be done to better the situation. Problems caused by the pandemic are similar everywhere but having seen the measures taken, state supports and organisations in Europe and in other western countries, where jazz has a place of its own; it is not possible to compare Turkey with them. Considering that the most common use of jazz in our culture is the expression ‘don’t jazz’, meaning ‘don’t yammer’ and this field of activity is mostly referred as ‘selling snails in the Muslim neighbourhood’ (selling refrigerators to the Eskimos), jazz is surely not a big part of our culture in Turkey. However it is an invested area and there is an economy in it. We have three major international jazz festivals only in Istanbul; we get to watch the world’s biggest names. So, small or not, if we can beautify our terrain, we may also contribute to the world’s beauty. I will return to this but first Jazzahead, where the world of jazz meets.
Jazzahead, which has become the world’s meeting point of jazz over the years after its humble beginnings in 2006, facilitates the exchange of knowledge and the conveyance of experience by gathering professionals from international jazz scene such as musicians, promoters, managers and booking agencies, festival and club programmers, record companies, publishers, associations, and members of the media, seeks solutions to the problems of the sector through panels and conferences, and ensures that the musicians selected for the showcase performances are noticeable outside their own countries. This year, Jazzahead was held on real time community and management platform ‘talque’.
Apart from the panels, discussions, workshops and concerts organised by Jazzahead, the exhibitors introduced their countries’ musicians, opened common problems to discussion, shared their experiences and the system worked perfectly. As expected, this year’s topics were mainly the effects of the pandemic and digitalisation. The events about the problems and needs of the promoters, what should emerging artists do, digital marketing, the teachings of the pandemic, and the hybrid programming were especially interesting. Participants were able to direct their questions to the speakers from the chat screen on the system. Towards noon and at the end of the day, there was ‘Hang Out Time’. People started chats on their preferred topics and those who were interested participated in the conversation on camera. Although it was not a substitute for face-to-face conversations in the fairground, everything had been thought to reflect the real life to digital. And hats off to the moderator of the event, Götz Bühler. I must say that his warm and sincere presentation, his interviews with the musicians performing live concerts, his chats with the guests surely warmed up the screen and made you feel a part of what was happening there.
902 people from 50 countries attended Jazzahead Digital this year. In the last physical event in 2019, there were 3408 participants from 64 countries. I would expect the number of participants would increase this year. First of all, it was an advantage that there would be no travel and accommodation costs, and I thought that it would be tempting to attend the events in the comfort of your home or office without needing to run around. When I ask her about this, Jazzahead’s project manager Sybille Kornitschky points out a few issues. One of them is that the funds that support participation in Jazzahead have decreased due to the pandemic. Yes, after all, this is a ticketed event with participant and exhibitor categories, you need to allocate a budget depending on your participation preference. In addition, due to travel restrictions at the moment, even if they can be pulled off, the organisations have to tend to local artists. Constantly dealing with serious issues like cancellations, rescheduling, and unpredictability, it is very likely that discovering new international talents may have not been the promoters’ first priority this year. Another is digital fatigue. Right, since the concerts were gone, digital broadcasts have been everywhere, and like many other business professionals, members of the jazz industry have been doing their job online for over a year, so when it comes to socialising, it is apparent that the digital version is not a substitute for face-to-face communication.
“The jazz world has always been live on a grand scale and will continue to do so in the future. I would call that the natural skepticism of the jazz world towards the digital world” adds Kornitschky but she also says that they are very pleased with this result, even the participation in the activities increased up to three times the physical ones. This is understandable because attaining to everything is not possible at physical Jazzahead. There may be simultaneous activities you’d like to attend, you may come across someone on the way and choose to chat with that person but you miss the concert of a band you would like to see. That’s the beauty of the digital version. You can attend all events live or you can watch the videos on demand later on. One advantage of the live is to be able to ask questions to the speakers and chat with other viewers. You can communicate with all participants through the platform and chat with them in written or on camera. In physical events, you have to squeeze those meetings into four days, but the digital Jazzahead platform will be open to knowledge and experience sharing by the end of July.
Organising this event, which brings together thousands of jazz professionals from all over the world every year, in a virtual environment was a feat of bravery, but the organisers not only pulled it off wonderfully, they have also experienced a model that they could partially include in the organisation in the coming years and even spread to the whole year. Sybille says, “At the beginning it was simply the need to find a digital solution in order to not have to cancel for a second year in a row, at the end of this process there is now the question of what we can and want to take with us and transfer into the future from what we have learned digitally. We still need time to find the right answers to that question and of course it will also have a financial impact.”
Digital content was naturally the most talked about subject at Jazzahead this year. Live or recorded, digital concerts in the world were born out of a necessity, but they seem to be permanent. Even if concerts with audience can be held in the short term, it will be difficult to work at full capacity for a while. It may be possible to expand the audience by recording and streaming those concerts online, but of course that requires an investment. A professional production crew, different sound for live and recording, and the infrastructure required for broadcasting. Those who can fund this transformation during the pandemic period, those who invested and gained experience in this field tend to continue to use digital content as a second module. It is a little early to predict the results, but as far as I can observe, world festivals and big clubs are moving towards a hybrid programming approach that will offer digital content as well as live concerts after the pandemic.
Everyone agrees that digital concerts cannot replace live experience, but it seems that this model, which is used to close a gap, may have permanent benefits. Clubs and festivals in Europe share digital content. A concert, shot in one country, is broadcast as part of another country’s festival. Organisations license concert videos from the artists. This seems to facilitate the international circulation of music. Could this be an opportunity for musicians from countries like ours, where the music export is not supported by the government? I think it is a subject that should be observed carefully.
Jazzahead, organised in Bremen, is an important platform for all jazz institutions in terms of sharing experience, being aware of ideas and trends, and discovering new talents, but mostly for musicians who want to draw international attention to their music. This is possible in two ways. Every year, 40 jazz projects are selected to perform their music live, when you can be one of them -though it is very important to be authentic considering that there are over 600 applications in a year- you can play live to promoters, record companies, and media members that you cannot grab their attention by email. If you have been chosen there, it means that you have a high chance of attracting attention, moreover, you are in direct contact with those people, and even if you do not get an outcome immediately, you will somehow remain in their minds. The other way is that you personally or your representative participate in the event, with your references in hand, go from one meeting to another, participate in social gatherings, and you can still establish warm connections that you cannot get in writing. Jazzahead is an organisation that should be followed closely by every jazz musician who wants to access the international platform.
Showcase applications for 2022 will normally open around September. Participations from Turkey are considered within the scope of European Jazz Meeting and other categories are open to applications from musicians residing in Germany, non-European countries and the partner country of that year. The partner country of 2022 will be Canada, which has been postponed from 2020 and 2021 to next year due to the pandemic.
Twelve of the 31 showcase concerts held this year were broadcast live from Bremen, others were pre-recorded in their own countries, as the musicians could not travel. Jazzahead’s broadcast center was ÖVB Arena. Concerts were held there against the empty seats of the 14,000 capacity hall, only with the crew and maximum two spectators. Jazzahead’s artistic directors, Peter Schulze or Uli Beckerhoff, and sometimes the event’s host, Götz Bühler. They were all talking about the privilege of watching a live performance, and how happy the musicians were being able to play live, even under these conditions. I asked Peter and Uli if they would use recorded concert performances in their Jazzahead showcases after the pandemic. Uli said that this is a pandemic-only choice, after normalisation they will return to live format again because this is what made Jazzahead. He is right, broadcasting pre-recorded concerts, unless there is a specific need for that, is against the nature of what they do. Still I can’t help thinking, if such a platform also makes a digital content showcase, wouldn’t it help more high-quality projects from many more countries reach international jazz professionals? In their press release, it is stated that the organisers want to adhere to a year-round concept, and continue to offer online events. If projects, which have applied and found worthy to be showcased but could not be selected due to capacity, are digitally showcased, Jazzahead digital can be a very valuable center to discover talent and for being discovered. As Jeff Levenson from Herbie Hancock Institute, one of the partners of Jazzahead first time this year, said in his International Jazz Day conversation with Götz Bühler, Jazzahead is a kind of curator that allows us to see jazz music trends in the world and the effects of different cultures on jazz all together. Digital opportunities can expand the scope of this curation, as well as enrich the content they offer. Streaming concerts will never replace the live experience for the audience but for those in the business, they may be a facilitator. Just thinking out loud.
Jazzahead is an organisation followed by Turkey since its early years, attended by the major players of the industry regularly, and we were their first partner country in 2011.
Istanbul Jazz Festival Director Harun İzer says “It is a very important music fair like its counterparts and an ideal platform for networking” for Jazzahead. Derya Bigalı, General Manager of Akbank Sanat, who was on the showcase jury a few years ago -this jury changes every year- states, “We later invited some young artists I had seen there to Akbank Sanat and the festival. We supported the participation of artists from Turkey to some festivals in Europe.” Pozitif Senior Booker Elif Cemal adds that Jazzahead has been instrumental in making special projects that bring together foreign musicians and Turkish musicians, as well as having the opportunity to book many names they discovered there.
Harun İzer says that while organising Vitrin Turkey Contemporary Music Meeting, they took Jazzahead and the like as an example. “In the past four years, reviews about the participants were published in international publications such as Downbeat, All About Jazz, The Guardian, WDR, Süddeutche Zeitung, Songlines, and they received invitations from international music fairs such as Womex and SXSW. Some of the artists met record labels from America and Germany through the Vitrin event. Until 2020, we granted an award of 2,500 Euros to a total of 6 groups in a row for three consecutive years, and they utilised this award to participate in international events. Some of the award-winning groups were actually invited to foreign organisations by the festival and venue directors who had seen them in Turkey as part of Vitrin, so we were instrumental in their international recognition. ” Culture and Arts Organisation Manager of Akbank Sanat, Gözde Sivişoğlu, who participated last year in a digital panel, where Jazzahead featured women festival programmers from Turkey, states that they were planning to include showcase concerts within the scope of 30th Akbank Jazz Festival, but that could not happen due to conditions. This heralds that there may be more platforms to showcase our jazz musicians to international jazz professionals.
Turkish acts, selected for the showcase in Jazzahead up to now are Ayşe Tütüncü Quartet, Erkan Oğur & Derya Türkan, Korhan Futacı & Kara Orchestra, Baba Zula, Ceza, Taksim Trio, Ceylan Ertem and İlhan Erşahin’s Istanbul Sessions. All of them are very valuable projects, in their own category, which can be included in a jazz festival’s program but most of them are not jazz. I’m not of those in favour of ‘only jazz should be played at jazz festivals’ but all the showcases I’ve seen this year had a strong connection with jazz. So don’t we have such projects to offer to a jazz platform like Jazzahead? Then now, let’s get to the picture of jazz in Turkey.
Although jazz in Turkey had very good performers of the genre until about 25 years ago, the productions were mostly works emulating American jazz. Today, it is possible to say that there are much more genuine and authentic projects.
There are several reasons behind how jazz has found its own voice in Turkey. The education opportunity, which started with the music department established by Bilgi University in 1997 to give jazz education, and continued with the opening of similar departments in different universities and conservatories over time, brought in most of the young generation Turkish jazz musicians to the sector. Opened in 2002, Nardis Jazz Club became a constant stage where musicians could play their own music, not only standards. Over the years, many jazz venues have opened, although not all of them have always offered ideal playing and listening conditions, they have given musicians the opportunity to bring their own music to life, develop by playing, and be more visible. The increase in the number of jazz festivals and large concert venues that include jazz in their programming enabled jazz musicians to reach a wider audience. Digital music publishing, which has become more widespread in the last 10 years, gave jazz musicians the opportunity to present their own productions without the need for a record label. And yes, we now have much more original and exciting creations in jazz. However, when we look here from abroad, can we talk about a Turkish jazz or a country that is included in the European tour route? No, except for a few individual efforts. Not because we don’t have talent, but because we fail to deliver talent. Of course, the most important factor is that we do not have the government funds, which almost all European countries have, required to support this delivery. Another thing is that there are not many trained industry professionals in artist representation. We keep losing a significant portion of jazz musicians to pop music, of course, they need to earn money, but as this occupation reduces the time they can devote to their music, the quality of what they offer falls short of what it could be. Since musicians who live exclusively on jazz also accompany other projects almost every night, the time they spare to their own creations is restricted within that rush. In an interview with Jazzahead’s host Götz Bühler after his showcase, Dutch pianist Rembrandt Frerichs said that they were rehearsing with his trio every week, with or without performances, when I heard that tears may have rolled down my eyes. One or two rehearsals before the concert after not having played together for a long time is of course enough to remember the songs, but oh that solidity, communication and common language that comes with constant playing. It’s hard to expect that finesse as long as the musicians continue to be in a rush to make money. The number of jazz concerts is considerably low and they pay less comparing pop. Thus this way of working, born out of need, turns into an irreversible comfort for many musicians, and jazz into a hobby.
Everyone has their share in order for Turkish jazz to have a greater presence both locally and globally. First of all, it is imperative that musicians strike a balance between their passions and their vital needs because there is no point of talking about all this, if there are no authentic and heartfelt productions. It is very important for jazz festival and club programmers to look a little further out of their circle, to adopt a unique programming approach rather than to rely on box office guaranteed names, and for those who have this capacity, to develop projects that will enable musicians to play with foreign musicians. I’m not saying these are never done, but I think jazz needs a little more missionary approaches in Turkey. And of course the biggest share belongs to the sponsors who provide financial resources to the sector. The support given to jazz in Turkey is mainly used to import the world’s jazz here. Thanks to them, we watch great international names and this is wonderful, but now I think it’s time to take a closer look at the jazz made in Turkey. The albums or concerts of jazz musicians in Turkey are mostly supported with personal relationships, but I think that brands that are identified with jazz and or others that might consider supporting jazz can create their own national and international projects that will support Turkish jazz as well as event sponsorship, and this is an important need because in Turkey, the jazz industry is not yet able to support itself and reveal its potential. Moreover, we haven’t even talked about the pandemic yet.
The pandemic has caused an alarming loss of income in our music industry as it did all over the world, but looking at it on the bright side, it has been a blessing for some musicians who have not lost their passion. Those who were accustomed to being on stage every night, when they had that free time, tended to produce. Some have been published, others are waiting to come to light. Could some of the sponsorship budgets that could not be used in 2020 due to the pandemic be used to make them visible? The concerts will not be back for a while, even if they do, it will take time for the organisations to regain their former performance. How will we make use of this break in the industry, in what direction will we evolve? Would digital concerts help jazz emerge from obscurity to light? How did Turkey react to digital concerts? More importantly, is Turkey a suitable country to offer ticketed digital concerts and what are the advantages and disadvantages of free digital content? Hybrid and digital trends in the world and their applicability in Turkey? Supports? In order to draw a current picture of our industry, I pursued these issues and asked the opinions of some of the major festivals and venues. You can find the views and predictions of Istanbul Jazz Festival, Akbank Jazz Festival, Ankara Jazz Festival, Zorlu PSM, Pozitif and Salon IKSV in the next article that will be a continuation of this.
Before I finish this article, I want to go back to Jazzahead. There was an event where Italy introduced its own jazz musicians. They broadcast a 15-minute each, pre-recorded live performance of three groups. One of them was Michelangelo Scandroglio Group. I had the opportunity to have a little chat later with the double bassist and band leader, composer Michelangelo Scandroglio. I found out that he accompanied pianist Jef Giansily here in 3 concerts before the pandemic broke out. They played in Ankara and in Nardis Jazz Club and The Badau in Istanbul. Probably with the support of Italian Culture, he will come back next year, this time with his own group. I recommend you to listen to his first album, ‘In The Eyes Of The Whale‘, which was released last year. Michelangelo Scandroglio is an exciting talent who is barely 20. He made me think of Turkish musicians in his age group who, like him, spoke the universal language of jazz skillfully. I think the same model can be adopted to showcase them, this is how digital concerts may be of use to us.