It is hard to write a memorial. There is an “I wish” behind every sentence, but if only ‘I wish’s had a meaning. So I want to approach the subject with a ‘grateful’ attitude and I am sure everyone who knows Levent Altındağ has something to be thankful about him. Twenty years ago, we released Habbecik’s album as Aura Records, working with him has been one of the most valuable and meaningful achievements of my career. I am grateful to him for adding to my life with his music and presence.
He was a truly special musician; he engraved his breath into our souls and touched us deeply. He reached and guided so many, not only with his music and musicianship but with his humanity, fatherliness, wit and humour, needless to say he was loved dearly. Beautiful things are written about him after his passing, I hope he knew how much he was loved.
A little resentful of the industry, he was a musician who should have been cherished and handled with care, but unfortunately, his talent, musical vision and mastery were too much for the sector that was transforming in parallel with Turkey. He was a genuine artist, fragile spirited, sensitive and idealistic; anyone who had little to do with the music industry or observed the last 20 years of art in Turkey would understand that he was doing a job that idealism would most likely end up with disappointment. The insincerity in human relations, the bureaucracy he had to struggle with, especially when he was a lecturer at the conservatory, the indignity of the sector, new Istanbul, and perhaps most importantly, the feeling of ‘futility’ he had as a musician had exhausted him. He was healing us with his music, but as the perception of art and artist kept degenerating, the music ceased to heal him.
Having decided to quit music and leave Istanbul 7-8 years ago, Baba (father) Levo had actually left us orphans long before, but there was still hope, we were surely going to see him on stage again one day. His musician friends always tried to pull him back and I would occasionally approach him about, but his wound did not seem to heal easily. For a while, perhaps it was good for him to be away from the social life and the pace he was accustomed to but the situation of the country was also breaking his heart and he was watching humanity going insane with a deep sorrow. He seemed to be focusing on the things that upset him while he remained distant to music, and I think that loss of hope prepared his early departure. Heartbreak is the most difficult disease to heal; cancer is its visible face. We talked about these in our last conversation, he said, “You’re right, but I can’t”… Unfortunately, he could not. Levent Altındağ left us very early; we had so much to learn from him and more to feel at the other end of his breath.
For those who do not know him, listening to his music would be the best answer to why Levent Altındağ was a special musician, but if I try to put it into words; first he was a musician who had a unique voice. He had a profound knowledge of all types of music that he took part of with his instruments but he always added something of himself to what he was playing. While fulfilling what the notes required, he somehow managed to make the music his own with his playing. He was not the sharing type; on the contrary, he would make a joke, burst into laughter, push his emotions inside, but then talk about them through his music. He would add the musical advantages of living in this land to his music. Especially with his soprano playing he opened wounds in our souls that we did not want be healed. He would suddenly start playing his heart out; sometimes he would only drop a tiny local melody between western forms. The fact that Perihan Altındağ Sözeri, one of the star voices of Classical Turkish Music, and Neriman Altındağ Tüfekçi, one of the important performers of Turkish Folk Music were his aunts, must have had an effect on this.
Levent Altındağ was an irreplaceable legendary musician and an idol for many musicians. Baba Levo was a musician who deserves all the cliché at the highest level. If during his active musicianship the social media was this effective, his impact would be wider than his musician friends, jazz lovers and even Turkey. Actually, I used a wrong expression by saying ‘impact’, it would be more correct to say ‘recognition’.
In addition to his works with names such as Onno Tunç, Şerif Yüzbaşıoğlu, Ismet Sıral, Emin Fındıkoğlu, Nükhet Ruacan, Neşet Ruacan, Süheyl Denizci, Durul Gence, Okay Temiz, Erkan Oğur, Aydın Esen, Arto Tunç, Fahir Atakoğlu and Aşkın Arsunan, there are also countless albums that he played in pop music scene. We are talking about a career of more than forty years. He had such stories that could change the perception of popular music history in Turkey. He played saxophone and flute in many albums from the late 70’s, including the 90’s. His flute solo in Tarkan’s Dön Bebeğim is one of his most acknowledged accompaniments in popular music. Until the recent past, musician names were not written properly in the album booklets, I wonder whose hearts he had left a mark on during that time.
As the quality of pop music decreased in the 2000s, he became a little more selective about the albums he played, those were the years that he was more visible with his jazz works.
In 2001, we released Habbecik’s ‘An Meselesi’ album. With the super line up consisting of Levent Altındağ on soprano – tenor sax and flute, Cengiz Özdemir on keys, Berç Yeremyan on electric guitar, Eylem Pelit on electric bass, Cem Erman on percussions and Volkan Öktem on drums, Habbecik’s music was one of the most accurate examples of how jazz was felt from these lands. It was not a synthesis created for marketing purposes, but a heart-felt music. In the press release Altındağ stated, “I have this music inside me. Actually, all Turkish musicians do, but they never associate Turkish music with jazz. There are improvisations played in harmony in this music too, all of the ‘makam’s (Turkish musical themes) correspond to a harmony after all. Turkish jazz may reach a different dimension, if other musicians think about this too” Words from 20 years ago… It is possible to say that Turkish jazz has become much more authentic in recent years, but back then, a more elitist attitude prevailed. Unfortunately, Habbecik did not last very long, but even with a single album, it has been one of the cornerstones of jazz music in Turkey. Today, so many young jazz musicians say that they grew up with Habbecik and got inspired by that album.
Then followed the Passiflora era. They delivered wonderful live performances with Erdem Sökmen on guitar, Serkan Özyılmaz on keyboards, Eylem Pelit on bass and Volkan Öktem on drums with Latin jazz fusion arrangements that really required mastery.
Simultaneously with Passiflora, Levent Altındağ played with Ethno Karma Project, Istanbul Superband, HiJazz Istanbul and Okan Ersan; he gave concerts with international musicians such as Nana Vasconcelos, Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernandez, Anthony Jackson, Federico Ramos, and Cliff Almond. He took part in the concert recording of Dzihan & Kamien Orchestra, ‘Live in Vienna’.
If he had lived in another western country, he would have been a world-renowned jazz musician. He quit music when he was at the peak of his knowledge and musical efficiency, his lack was felt strongly, but none of us expected today to come. Our values go one by one, and our ties with the past are slowly breaking away. Levent Abi (brother) would tell us stories that would document the days when the Turkish music scene was being built by great musicians. I was nagging him to write his memoir but I think he thought that Turkey was not ready for what he would tell. So who will tell us those stories now?
I feel sad. I think writing about him made me realise his absence more, but I know that he will always be somewhere in me with his laughter, the fragility he tried to hide with jokes, his compassion and of course the music he poured his heart into. The bond of love never disappears. The memories he left in me and the way he makes me feel with his music are priceless.
I wish, I wish, I wish … They do not seem to stop, but as I said at the beginning, I want to turn to what would be grateful rather than futile. I am glad I got to know you my dear Levo, I am glad I became your fan and we shared good times together. I am grateful to you for what you have contributed to my life with your presence. Be at peace, luckily you have left behind all the troubles of the world. You must be feeling like making music too, now blow the minds of those who are there with you.
FROM HIS MUSICIAN FRIENDS ABOUT LEVENT ALTINDAĞ
Our being like brothers comes from our families, our musicianship also. My father Ferahim Töktökü was a drummer and Levent’s father Erdoğan Altındağ played the accordion. Our fathers played music together in the same orchestra for 29 years. They would take us to their gigs, we were kids, we were sleepy, but eventually we had the bug. I started playing the piano, Levent mandolin. Then he wanted to play piano too, and we took lessons from the same teacher. I studied piano in college in Ankara. Levent formed an orchestra with his brother and started to work with various artists. We never played together but we haven’t lost touch either, we talked on the phone until the last day. I fell apart with his passing.
I think it was 1970 or 71, we played together for a short time in Behiç-Levent Altındağ Orchestra. Later we shared the same stage numerous times. He was a very good saxophone player and flutist and I am sure that he influenced many musicians. Levo, with many other great musicians, was a part of modern music history in Turkey. He was a performer who touched the hearts of those in Turkey as well as European-American people / musicians who had listened to his playing. God rest his soul. My condolences to all who love him.
I met him in 1977 or 78 at a studio recording of the late Onno. I had heard a lot of praise for his musicianship. When I saw him, I thought “What a grumpy guy” but later on, we shared a life based on friendship and indispensability with very, very happy musical memories both at home and abroad. He was a masterful musician on a global degree. He would perform the ‘local’ with an extraordinary quality and cleanliness. I think he was a magician who presented what he got from the people to the music. That was what made him special. I know he regained the peace that he was looking for. Goodbye, dear Levent, farewell. Say hi to Onno.
I met Levent while accompanying Sezen Aksu with Onno Tunç Orchestra, and then we became very good friends and played countless concerts together. He had a unique tone. He would read and feel the music very well. In my project, he played with Anthony Jackson and Horacio Hernandez and once with Cliff Almond, and I remember each of them admired him. “A version of Michael Brecker born in Turkey” they would say for him. If he had come and lived here (US), now the world would be listening to him… I wish we could play together again and record albums… May he rest in peace.
I first saw my Levo when I joined Onno’s orchestra in 1979, and it was an instant connection. His intelligence, musicianship, and outlook on the world were way ahead of his age. My Levo both exemplified and supported me with his personality and good humanity. Over time, our friendship evolved and in every project we played together, there was joy. He grew in our hearts with his humility and jokes as well as his musicianship. His loss will not only leave an irreplaceable void in my heart and soul, but will also be a great loss for our country’s music scene. May your soul be enlightened Baba Levo; you are always in our hearts with your memories.
We started working with Levent Altındağ in the same institution since 1985, when I came back from the Netherlands, and we were together in many projects. Beck’s Big Band, 0212, Backstage, Istanbul Superband, Habbecik, Dzihan & Kamien, Ajda Pekkan … If I continue writing, it would be as thick as a book. In addition, we played together in studio recordings of hundreds, perhaps thousands of songs with ŞAL-Kemik Üç that we formed with Şenova Ülker. There is no way to describe our Baba Levo in a single line; an extraordinary musical talent, a creative brain, an incredible soul and flavour, all in one. We all know how efficient he was with saxophone but if you saw him playing flugelhorn and trombone, even though he had never practiced them, you would think he played those instruments for 5-10 years.
Even though he tore the notes, which I wrote spending days and nights, in rehearsals like a mischievous child, I love him very much, I will always love him. Especially when with Eylem Pelit, we used to watch them like watching Tom and Jerry. A giant man with a child’s soul. I think most of us will always remember him with his jokes and with a smile on our faces. Some people never die, they are legends, and undoubtedly, Levent Altındağ is the foremost among them.
We are happy to have had him listen to two different versions of Mr. Levo, song that I composed for him and interpreted with his beloved musician friends.
Aşkın Arsunan: Piano, Aycan Teztel: Electric bass & trombone, Batu Şallıel: Saxophone, Volkan Öktem: Drums
It will be difficult to squeeze Levent into two words because you needed to live him.
Anyone could play those notes, but the breath that came through him was the analysis of all his spiritual and physical experiences. He would get the ambiance of a place very quickly, and blow his instrument accordingly. Besides his sensuality, he would bring joy around him and become everyone’s Mr. Levo with his incredible intelligence.
I got to know Levent when I came back from abroad; it was 1996 I think, we played in countless projects together. We have such good memories! Be in the heavenly light my beautiful friend. We will miss you dearly as your friends who love you very much and the music community.
Levent Abi was a master who showed us how important and valuable are intelligence, tolerance and knowledge for being a successful musician. He always guided us with his potential as an arranger (although he did not accept it), the sound he blew out of his instruments, his phrases and the marks he left on the projects he touched. We have countless memories during rehearsals, concerts, travels and family meetings. The ‘boom’ game they played with guitarist Beco Abi is one of those that we still laugh when we recall. He laying a heavy trip on a Japanese passenger who was disturbed by our noise in the plane to Japan is one of the most memorable ones. When the janitor knocked on the door, it was also Baba Levo who answered dressed as a jokey. During our tour in Japan, he kept calling us, Volkan and me, from his room and reading a book in the middle of the night. Then we hid his book with a daytime operation, when he realised that, he raided our room at midnight and poured water down my head despite Volkan’s interventions while I was sleeping. In short, he is a great loss, both musically and as a human, he will never ever be replaced.
We had a brother-friend relationship that started with ‘Habbecik’, the first project I took part in when I first came to Istanbul, continued for 20 years both on stage and in the studios, and we never experienced a lack of sincerity. He was an incredibly intelligent, very humorous and successful musician. He has always made Eylem Pelit and I feel like friends with his jokes. Being together with him at any concert, organisation or any moment in life made us feel like a child, excited and happy. We knew that we would both have a great time and a great performance. To say a few words about his musician identity; for me, the most important feature that a musician should have is the vision. Levent Abi had that. He was a musician who understood the mood desired by the composition and immediately created that atmosphere. So if you did not know it was him playing, you might have thought a Norwegian, Cuban or Spanish saxophonist was playing. This is very important to me and is a feature that I strive to have in my own musical world. When you think from this point of view, it will be a little difficult to replace Levent Altındağ. May he sleep in peace… We will remember him with all the beauties he left behind in life and music, with love and longing…
Levent Abi has a very special place in my heart and mind with his fatherly attitude that made you feel close to him immediately and his incredible musicianship. It is not possible to put my feelings and thoughts about him into a few sentences, but I would like to briefly mention the energy and impact he created, especially in our international concerts.
During the period we played a series of concerts in Germany, the line-up consisted of very important musicians; nevertheless, Levent Abi was always leading us due to his age and experience. With his pre-stage suggestions, high energy and motivating sincere behaviour, I experienced exactly how he brought us into a ‘high performance’ mood. We met with many famous musicians in Europe, especially in Germany, and shared the same stage. In fact, many of them were musicians that we listened to and admired for years. That being the setting, I never forget the expression of admiration on the audience’s faces when Levent Abi started playing. You can imagine how the audience suddenly became all ears when they started hearing different tones from the saxophone. I haven’t listened to another saxophonist who synthesised eastern and western melodies so well and I’m sure it was a first for them too. While working on my compositions back then, I always dreamed of playing together with Levent Abi on stage and how he would interpret the composition with his own unique approach. Levent Abi was not only playing synthesis melodies, but also conveying his life experience to the audience with a wonderful harmony and spirituality. The applause of the Germans was so intense that we sometimes had a hard time getting into the melody after the solo.
Levent Altındağ was a legendary saxophonist and musician who, in my opinion, had a very special place in the world, unique in his own style. At the same time, he had a great place in our lives with his humanity, fatherliness, wit and jokes. The fact that he said goodbye to the stage of life early is painful for those who love him, but it will be our consolation that the sounds coming from his instrument, which is integrated with his personality, still resonate in our ears. With respect to his beautiful memory…
I am very saddened today, as is everyone who knows and loves him. I feel lucky to have the chance to be on the same stage with Levent Altındağ, aka Baba Levo, in Istanbul Superband and Passiflora. I am sure that whoever tries to list how many bands he played with, in which recordings, something would be missing. It was always exciting to be around him; aside from his competence in different geographies’ styles and wind instruments that he exhibited his mastery in each of them like a magician, his improvised sense of humour, smartness and quick wit, his cheerfulness, fatherliness, his support to young musicians, and his bluntness… Now we feel sore by the great emptiness he left behind with all his characteristics that made him a ‘legend’. Even though he had been away from Istanbul for a while, his presence and support was sufficient. With gratitude, respect and love for all the beauties he had given us, we send him off keeping him alive in our hearts. May he sleep in heavenly light.
I knew about him as they were playing with my brother Eylem Pelit. His breath was almost in every album I listened to, especially the different genres they played with Kemik Üç had impressed me a lot, but I first had the opportunity to see him play with Okay Temiz in the mid-1990s. Soon enough I was fortunate to share the stage with him and Volkan Konak. Then the Habbecik era came. I was with them all the time and it was one of the most important experiences of my life. Our playing together turned into a brotherhood, even a father-son relationship after a while and I lived an energetic life with him in every sense. Levent Abi’s great intelligence, intellect and masterful musicianship have been a great guide for me in every moment of my life. He always pushed me towards many important issues in my life, either by showing the way or being directly involved. I collected incredibly beautiful memories with my legend; each one of them is special, meaningful and all funnier than the other. His one of the most important characteristics for me was his professionalism that he never let go. In 2006 or 2007, we went to visit the historical castle in Kastamonu. While being photographed by the cannons on the walls, he fell and broke the capsule of his right wrist. After being cast in the hospital (it was a multi-piece fracture), he came out again and played with all his energy and musicality for 2 hours. When I saw that stage discipline, I understood once again that; yes, you can be a very important musician, but it takes a lot more to be an artist.
It is difficult to write down my love and longing for him in words. Endless thanks for his music, fellowship and everything he contributed to my life.
Good old Baba Levo. How untimely you abandoned us. Actually, you left music that made you so special, your best way to express yourself in life, much earlier. In the last 40 years, you were always in the centre of all main and side stream music creation in our country and at the beginning of the firsts. You were in all those lofty formations that are our source of inspiration, whose stories we listen to like legends. With a tremendous instinct, dedication, and openness of mind, you would play the world, not just one style. So much so that even Michael Brecker school that you loved and got inspired by would change dimension with your blow, and go to a completely different place at a timeless and unreferenced point. Perhaps, you were the only common denominator of the prominent musicians of our country and one of the most demanded in all musical formations. In addition to all this, you radiated with your great sense of humour and intelligence, you were always a source of inspiration, the older brother, and the favourite of the next generations. Although the musicians who knew you well treasured you, the facts of the business drew you away from your instrument in a way, Altınova, which you enjoyed in the last years of your life, was a partial consolation for you.
Goodbye Levent Baba, you will always be within us. Your legendary music will now resonate in the ears of young people; but more importantly, your smiling face and humour will always make us remember you with a smile.
Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernandez
I met him the very first time I played with Fahir Atakoğlu in Turkey, it was in Izmir and we made an instant connection because of his sympathy and humanity. From that moment on, I called him Baba (father) and it was always a joy to see him and play together. Superb musician. Rest in Peace my dear friend.
Vlado Dzihan (Dzihan & Kamien)
I was a big fan of Levent as a person and as a musician. He was a real master on his instrument and one of the most versatile musicians we played with. The first time I heard him play was on Sezen Aksu’s ‘Davet’ – that was really amazing. Levent was one of a kind, a warm-hearted man! He will be missed!