I had heard of her many times. We hadn’t met yet. We started our casual chat on a cool June evening under the shade of Galata Tower. I asked, she replied. Deniz Taşar is one of the newest names on the jazz stage, already making us wonder what she will create next.
We were finally able to make time to chat, Deniz. My first observation is that music has always been a part of your life…
We could say so. My childhood was surrounded by music, but I wasn’t one of the kids who started playing an instrument at an early age or those who clearly had a musical path ahead of them. The main reason for this was my shyness. I kept my relationship music to myself as much as I could.
Like a little girl who is secretly singing and dancing in front of the mirror…
I did spend a lot of time in front of the mirror, but I wouldn’t call it a secret! I was a big Michael Jackson fan and I remember singing his songs and dancing like him. My favourite thing to do at home was watching video tapes of his concerts, backstage shoots and clips. My parents always reminisce that I would imitate him nonstop. That’s what I meant as it not being a secret. My parents passed on their admiration for Michael Jackson to me. I learnt about a lot of musicians who influenced me, like Michael, through my parents at an early age. I was very lucky that they were both good listeners of music.
Good listeners usually take a “distant” interest in instruments as well.
Yes, we could say that I grew up around instruments. My cousins are musicians, both play the guitar. Mert, just like me, got into music as a hobby but then decided to pursue it. Ant is a guitarist who dedicated his whole life to music. My mother has a piano and a short conservatory background. Aside from them, my dad’s deep interest in music and his extensive music collection has been a big reason of my love for music. When people gathered at our house, someone would bring out the guitar, then someone would sing, and we would pass the time like this. During the years, I transformed from a listener to a participator, and became more confident to express myself with music.
I am guessing that you benefited from these experiences at home during your education?
Definitely. I realised how important music is for me through these experiences. Though I was able to leave my shyness behind only during my high school years. It was during my prep year in Robert College and our music teacher Deniz Baysal gave us a very enjoyable project to work on. We were asked to form into groups and compose a song and then to perform it. A group member composed a pleasant song and of course I was supposed to sing it. In moments like this, my experience at home played an important role! As soon as our teacher heard our performance, he told me that there is a school orchestra and that he wanted me to apply as a vocalist at the beginning of the school year.
And a star was born?
It was very encouraging to be called out like this. I think trying for the spot was the best thing I have done in my life. During the elimination I sang a Christina Aguilera song, because I used to love her and frequently listen to her songs back then. I was a vocalist in the orchestra for the rest of the four years. This was the best kind of education. With Deniz’s lead, I performed many pop, latin and jazz songs. I improved myself in this process and learnt what it means to be a big band, to reverse and to perform on a stage. I also frequently took part in musical and theater plays during these years. I wrote, directed, shot, and performed. I recognised what I liked, what I had the talents and tendencies for. I learnt about myself during these great years.
Amazing experiences. Those years that shape a person’s life…
Yes, I am very thankful that I got to life those years as I did. But I didn’t even think of studying music after I graduated from high school. I was also interested in painting and design and I was naturally drawn to pursue these instead. Music has always been an instinctual and pleasant aspect of my life for me, not something that one would sit down and study for. I knew it would be a big part of my life but I hadn’t yet realised that it was a passion that would take hold of my life.
You wanted it to remain as a hobby but then one day…
Yes! That day! The vocalist of my cousin’s band left without a notice and I was to “save the day”. I spontaneously found myself among professional without any plans. I even surprised myself with my ability to do this. I first performed in their pop-rock band and then founded a pop band with my friends from college and started performing as the vocalist of this band.
You were changing?
Exactly. Music has always been a hobby that I took seriously, but now it was drawing me in. During our chats, the bassists of the band and I realised that we share similar dreams. We were both interested in jazz and we wanted to follow that path. I lived in Portugal for a period that year and while living there I participated in jam sessions in places where music students and musicians hung out. I attended open mic performances presented by Elif Çağlar upon my return in Istanbul. These incredible experiences have motivated me in my music journey. Our bassist Şentürk Öztaş and I formed a band following this. We interpreted jazz standards, and did arrangements for some pop songs. While we were forming our repertoire, Nardis Jazz Vokal Yarışması drew my attention. I had known about this competition since my high school years, and had some friends compete, but for some reason I never thought about entering it. I guess everything has to do with timing, it felt right to enter that year.
A lot of jazz musicians perform on the stage today thanks to that competition. I follow both the juror and the competing talents very closely and take this competition very seriously.
I think this competition is very important for all the vocalists and prospective-vocalists who are interested in jazz. I don’t see it as a competition, though. I see it as a valuable event that aims to train vocalists for the jazz stage; a gathering that brings together people who has achieved a lot in the world of jazz, influential people, who want to keep up to date about recent jazz happenings, and those who want to observe and follow the newer generations. For me, it was like a beautiful test that I had to take before stepping into the world of jazz. We recorded a couple of demos as a group and I applied.
And then you learnt that you were one of the finalists?
It was an incredible feeling. I remember my excitement in that exact moment very clearly. Without losing a second, I started to think about what I should sing, how I could express myself with. I started preparing and then the night of the finals came.
Even I am excited now!
That night was a turning point in my life. I was shaking when I stepped onto that stage, I have no idea how I managed to hide it. I am still surprised today when I watch the videos. I was to sing for an esteemed jury, accompanied by highly achieved musicians to a “real audience”! I watched my fellow competitors give incredible performances as I waited for my turn and got even more anxious as I thought about what I was about to do. Believe me, I don’t remember what happened between the moments when I stepped on the stage and when I left it. I let go, and got lost in the music, and sang like that. The only things I remember are my excitement and enjoyment.
And the Oscar goes to…
Ah… Yes! They awarded me the first place. Leaving the competition with that award changed a lot of things for me. It made me take myself and music more seriously and made me realise that I had to work more. I met a lot of esteemed people, most importantly with Zuhal and Önder Focan, who created opportunities for me. I received an incredible amount of support from Sibel Köse before attending the competition in Estonia and met influencing vocalists during her workshops.
I think your active stage life started like this?
Yes, the outcome of the competition was becoming clearer. We started performing at Nardis and other jazz clubs as a band. We entered İKSV Genç Caz Yarışması (Young Jazz Competition) and learnt that we were among the finalists. Again, after yet another competition in Nardis and with the constructive criticism from the valuable jury, we won the right to perform at 2013 İstanbul Caz Festivali (2013 Istanbul Jazz Festival). That year I also entered Akbank JAZZ and following yet another exciting final I was given “The Best Interpretation” award. That was an unforgettable award night for me at Babylon and an incredible jam session shared with amazing musicians. Two musician friends and I won the right to attend The New School For Jazz And Contemporary Music workshop that was to take place in Venice. It was an incredibly valuable experience to meet these musician friends and many more, to attend classes, to participate in jam session and to perform at the Venice Jazz Festival.
We started seeing you name in the line-ups of various bands. Festivals, concerts, recoding sessions?
I have been performing with different projects for four years at Istanbul Jazz Festival and at Akbank Jazz Festival for the past two years. This is very valuable for me. We were encouraged by the incredible support of values like Nardis and Cafe Mitanni. Playing at these places that support jazz and the development of these projects, playing with these projects at various festivals, of course lead us to create more.
I know that you are currently working on an album.
Yes. As a result of this three-year process, we entered the studio to record my first solo album last winter. This is a five-song album in Turkish. I composed and wrote lyrics for these pieces, and they were arranged by the whole team. Barış Mert Peker, Şentürk Öztaş and Riccardo Marenghi have performed on this album. Dear Yahya Dai accompanied us with his saxophone in two songs. Volkan Topakoğlu and Ekin Cengizkan were kind enough to accept my invitation as guest musicians and joined in our excitement. The album has been ready for a while, waiting for its turn to be released this fall. Its name is “Uykuda Bir Bulut” and I am very excited to introduce it to you very soon. In the meanwhile I have other exciting things to share with you. Our bassist Şentürk and I have been performing together in different projects for a while. He has been with me since the beginning of this journey. We felt the need to translate this musical togetherness into something more unique and tangible. And thus a new project was born.
We hear a lot of positive feedback on your recent duo performance in Nardis. A daring performance.
Thank you! Yes, this has been a daring and important step for us. We have been dreaming about this ever since we started playing together and we felt that moment finally came. We have been performing this bass + vocal project that we named “Songs From A Breeze” for a year. We have two videos on the internet. One of these is an original named Origin 134
and the other is a live performance video of Moody’s Mood For Love, a piece that I really love singing
We will release a short album that will feature our original pieces soon, and its name will be “Songs From A Breeze: Chapter One”. “Uykuda Bir Bulut” and “Chapter One” have very distinct musical qualities. We could say that they reflect different sides of the group members. These two albums have many common points as well, though. For example, we will release both from the Kabak & Lin Records label, founded by a beloved musician, Ediz Hafızoğlu. Alp Turaç is responsible for the mixing both albums. The musical arrangements belong to us and lyrics are mine. Our pianist, with whom we did the arrangements together, is responsible for mastering for the duo album. As you can understand, music is very emotional for me/for us. It is alive; it grows, interacts and coalesces with the people we work with. Every single person who has contributed to the project or supported it add their own touch to the music. We can create deeper, more meaningful and unique content this way.
You can feel that you are evolving, and your musicality is progressing. Maybe your interactions are becoming more distinct.
I completely agree. I feel myself progressing with every single musician I take the stage or interact with. Every stage is like a lesson. I learnt a great deal of things from the people I have had the chance to work with in the past years. Of course, the music I have been listening to also contributed a lot. I can feel everything I have listened to so far in my vocals. It is vital to listen, to follow. To know what is happening around you, to be inspired… Amy Winehouse and Erykah Badu undoubtedly have been the biggest influences on my vocals. Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Nina Simone, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Norah Jones, Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill, Melody Gardot and similar jazz, soul, and new soul vocals have shaped me from my childhood until recently. Let’s not forget about groups like Zero 7, Air and Morcheeba that I followed and was influenced by during my high school years.
I understand that you are influenced by many different genres. You don’t discriminate—you are open to everything.
I don’t discriminate based on genre while listening to music. I am only occasionally affected by my mood about what I want to listen to. Lately I have been listening to alternative hiphop, rap, jazz, pop, electronic and indie music. I’m more moved by music that has its own sound yet influenced by different genres. An artist in this category is Hiatus Kaiyote whom I’ve been following for a long time now.
You give the impression that we’ll be hearing your name more and more often with time. You’re open to changes, along with your natural talent.
I think it’s important being open to changes because you don’t know what life will bring you. All one can do is embrace whatever is coming your way and create an experience out of it. For this, I need to be ready and progressive for any opportunity that comes up. I’ve met with a lot of wonderful people during my journey and I am only at the beginning. We have a lot of dreams and plans. These will develop and mature due time. I have lost myself in the music a bit too much last year and closed myself off a little bit because I was looking for my own voice. I know this search will never end but I believe that these two current works that I will soon present to you reflect the current Deniz really well and I am content with them. I hope you will enjoy listening to them and become a part of my stories. I can now focus on new inspirations and projects now, because I still have a lot of things to tell, a long road still to go. Exciting days are ahead.
Thank you so much for sparing time for this enjoyable chat.
Thank you so much for this interview. Congratulations on JazzDergisi.com, I will be following it with great excitement and curiosity.
Deniz Taşar Music @deniztasar
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Songs From A Breeze @songsfromabreeze
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Songs From A Breeze – Moody’s Mood For Love