Continuing my following of the 23rd Istanbul Jazz Festival, I was at Maslak Uniq Açıkhava (Maslak Uniq Open-air concert hall) on a Tuesday evening for Özdemir Erdoğan’s performance on the 12th of July. I had watched the mastery of Özdemir Erdoğan on the TV throughout my childhood, and hearing him perform live for the first time was destined to take place at a jazz festival where he was given the “Lifetime Achievement Award”. Life is full of surprises, or rather, ‘improvisations’. Improvisations lie deep within the soul of jazz; watching Özdemir Erdoğan as a lively and young 76 year-old on the jazz stage, listening to his pleasant conversation and his memories almost like a talk-show, might have been the most nostalgic jazz improvisation of the year. An improvisation lasted two and a half hours, covering all the fundamentals fro “Sevdim Seni Bir Kere” to “İkinci Bahar”… Erdoğan introduced the orchestra as “Saz ve Jazz Arkadaşlarım” (“my musician friends”). He was accompanied by his son Mehmet Can Erdoğan on the bass and Engin Recepoğulları on the saxophone.
To be honest, I was holding my breath for the Nicholas Payton and Jane Monheit concert that would take place on the 13th of July. The last time I had listen to Payton live was when he was a guest at the Istanbul Gençlik Jazz Orkestrası (Istanbul Youth Jazz Orchestra) concert. This time he would be playing the keyboard and piano along with the trumpet in the breezy and colourful garden of Sabancı. This is how we would take a deep dive into jazz.
Another change I observed took place at the Sabancı Museum’s garden. This time around we weren’t disturbed by Istanbul’s panorama of noise like we did during the Jazz at Ramadan concert, because the group on the stage was a crazy trio, instead of a fairytale-like duo. Actually, it was more of a quartet or even a quintet instead of a trio. It was a quartet because Monheit was on the stage too, and it was also a quintet because, as I mentioned before, Payton was so full of life and he occasionally played both the trumped and the piano at the same time.
The concert consisted secretly from two-sets within one. The first set belonged to, in Payton’s own words, three amazing men who played “postmodern New Orleans music”. Drummer Gregory Hutchinson especially was at ease, navigating smoothly through Payton’s Bermuda Triangle of keyboard-piano-trumpet like a glider plane! They played pieces from Payton’s “Textures” and “Letters” albums. The music warmed up slowly on the stage, facing a warm Bosphorus evening, and delved occasionally into free jazz like a glider and caught fire. It was eventually lead to a calm “rhythm section”, because it was time for Jane Monheit to take the stage.
I am not used to seeing such sudden and obvious set changes when a guest is invited to the stage during a concert. However, despite this sudden change, thanks to Monheit’s crafty and feminine stage direction, the band members and the vocals came together in a harmonious whole. The second set included pieces from the Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald album, and the song which moved me the most was Monheit’s take on “This Time The Dream’s on Me”, composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. I admit, I was again having a crush on a ballad. On the other hand, as Monheit also explained, her interpretation of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” was devoid of Frank Sinatra’s aura. Its melody and lyrics were reborn as a new story. It definitely was a more contemporary take on the song, compared to Özdemir Erdoğan and his bandmates’ interpretation the previous night.
Monheit’s scats occasionally made me think. I liked these scats that came in irregular waves like the sea, but I felt that sometimes music took a dive in the water like a cormorant and got lost in the depths. Maybe I studied Bill Evans phrasings too much for my own repertoire lately? I am not sure if that is why the sounds in my head became distinct, but I couldn’t help but occasionally feel uneasy during the concert. I was influenced by some ideas, on the other hand, especially during these days when I am constantly thinking about how I can incorporate more of myself into my vocal technique rather than focusing solely on my repertoire. I am curious about the thoughts of my vocalist friends who have also been to this concert, because listening to it live is nothing like listening to it from a record.
Another detail that caught my eye was the tired look on Payton’s face, despite the depth and beauty of the music. Was this caused by how concentrated he was to his performance? Or was this because, as his managers mentioned, the fact that they were in the middle of a tiring tour? I gathered my courage and approached Monheit after the concert, because I had a question I was eager to ask her.
The piece that Monheit dedicated to her husband on her first album?
Maybe you came across it, I have implemented a new part to Dünyanın Jazz (‘Jazz Around the World’) program that I am hosting on Açık Radyo on Tuesday evenings. I call jazz musicians every other week and ask them to name a record that hit their heart in the bulls-eye and to share the memories they have of this record. Then I prepare a condensed selection from these records and memories. Its name is “Kalpleri Tam 12’den Vuranlar Seçkisi” (‘Hitting the Hearts in the Bulls-eye Selection’). The opportunity to ask such big names this same question, especially when they are in Istanbul for the festival, wasn’t to be missed.
I asked Monheit this question and she had a hard time immediately choosing a recording on the spot, just like every jazz musician I had asked before. But when I asked her the first thought that came to her mind, she replied with “Bill Evans’ ‘Detour Ahead’. She listened to this album a lot in 1997, when she first fell in love with her husband. The New Yorker musician later recorded this piece for her first album Never Never Land in 2000, and it still has an effect on her. I would like to conclude my writing by sharing this recording with you, just like I do on the radio.
Here is the recording that hits Monheit’s heart in the bulls-eye…
And here is Jane Monheit’s take on it…
With hopes to share many impressions from Istanbul’s jazz nights and mornings…