I think I’ve seen the Sibel Köse on vocals and Michiel Borstlap on piano duo in 2007, 2008 in French Cultural Center when we could listen to concerts with wine in our hands at festivals held in parks and gardens at that time. It was an exquisite concert. Sibel Köse is one of Turkey’s most important jazz vocalists, featured in the albums of countless local and foreign musicians, and a very valuable musician that takes you on a different journey every time you listen to it. I know many fans of her’s have been waiting for her to release an album under her own name for years. Here comes the long awaited album! The duo’s first concert of the album, which consists of 8 tracks recorded live at the concert they gave at the 19th International Ankara Jazz Festival, took place in October 2021 at the 25th International Ankara Jazz Festival. In addition to 7 jazz standards, the album also includes “Love Dance” by one of my favorite Brazilian composers, Ivan Lins. Without further ado about this ballad-heavy album, which has a taste of a good red wine, I say “must listen” and pass on to my questions to Sibel Köse.
Sibel how are you? Let’s begin with how was your experience during the pandemic? I know that every artist had a different experience, how was yours in general?
I am great, dear Elif, thank you so much. I don’t know how I can help you enough for preparing this interview and how much of a great work you’ve done for the album’s graphic design. Let this be just the beginning.
I think that the last years have changed our perception of time on many issues, especially on time. With the pandemic, in a great surprise, we all went through a process that we have not experienced before. Self-isolating has brought a process where we all started to look inside ourselves, I think. During the periods when we had to stay away from each other, we tried to reach those we could not touch on the screens, online concerts, online lectures, webinars that we had not experienced before, out of nowhere, it has found it’s place in our daily lives, and became a routine. When we were stuck between four walls, we questioned ourselves even more, and maybe even our priorities has changed. The hardest one of them was to stay away from our loved ones, for sure.
First of all, I tried to protect myself from the virus, like everyone. We continued our education activities online. Following the news about the virus, adapting the way we live to the changing conditions. When I transitioned to such a life style from the previous period with plenty of travel and concerts, I spent this period by improving myself on subjects that, previously, I could not find time for, by taking care of housework, especially cooking, more than ever, and by participating in online classes as a student as well as an instructor.
Last year, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Akbank Festival, a beautiful album was released under the name of ‘Dün, Bugün, Yarın’ featuring 30 different musicians/groups. In that album, as Sibel Köse Quintet, together with for ten years, my dear musician friends whom I love very much, Engin Recepoğulları (ts), Kürşad Deniz (p), Kağan Yıldız (b) and Cem Aksel (d), played ‘Ballad for Paul Robeson’, which is a composition by Kağan. It was exciting to complete the recording of the song, which is also known as ‘We’ll Be As One’ with the lyrics I wrote for the piece of Kağan, despite the difficult conditions we live in. I tried to reflect the spirit of the period, it carries the hope in reuniting again. On the other hand, I wrote and recorded the lyrics with the title and theme of ‘The Dark Side’ for the piece composed by Aycan Teztel, where he played the trombone and bass, and which was recorded with Aşkın Arsunan and Volkan Öktem; Released digitally as a single. Finally, we completed the preparations for the album ‘Love Songs’, produced by the Jazz Association, and presented it to the audience.
Concerts have begun but you still are careful about not attending indoor concerts, right?
During the lock-down period, it wasn’t possible to make music in public settings. We could only attend in online concerts. After a long pause I went abroad, to Russia to give concerts last March. When the concerts that were planned for the summer were postponed due to fires, it was only at the beginning of autumn that a relatively busy concert period was possible again in the open areas. We went indoors with the winter but with the new variants, the virus is in increase. Thus, I still have my doubts on going indoors. Not only for myself, this is necessary for everyone’s wellbeing. Venues, organizations and musicians are trying to mind this sensitive situation and take precautions as much as we can. I want to think that we are drawing near the end of this whole situation.
Can you tell me about the process of “Love Songs”? How did you decide to turn the live concert into an album? How did you choose the tracks? I think not all the songs in the concert are in the album?
At the same time, thanks to, Özlem Oktar Varoğlu, one of the most important names in the establishment of Jazz Association, we came together with Michiel Borstlap, whom I knew a long time ago, and played at the concerts. Prior to the concert in Ankara, we decided to record the concert and Özlem set the theme on ‘Love Songs’ – ‘Aşk Şarkıları’ and turn this into an album. Michiel mostly plays his own compositions and he has a different understanding that he has mostly made solo piano albums in the course of time. We have created a concert list that we can perform together, some of which we have performed before, and which consists mainly of jazz standards. After the whole concert was recorded, we chose the pieces that tells the different faces of love and sat right with us.
I know that for a long time, your fans have been asking “when are you going to release an album?”, how is the reaction now? Are your fans content?
I hope the album reaches everyone who is waiting eagerly as soon as possible. I see some posts on social media, it is an exciting feeling, especially seeing the records – it must be a nostalgic feeling – spinning in different places. It’s just like I’m visiting a house that I don’t know but I know I am loved. Like entering into different lives. There has been a lot of good feedback so far, I hope it keeps being that.
Your first album published in Turkey is a duo album, do you think of a quartet or quintet album in the future with your own band that you always play with?
I really do. Our relationship with my dear musician friends, who I just mentioned and who are in Quintet, has been going on for a long time, and we took part in different concerts and festivals in the country and abroad. Our communication has become very strong during this time. I miss them very much and I want to meet again and make an album again. We made publishable recordings of our concerts with Dave Allen, Matt Hall and Volkan Öktem. I’m thinking about how I can share the albums which were published abroad between 2000-2010 and which I could not deliver to the listeners here, except for the radio programs, in the digital environment. I would like to complete the recording of the pieces by Polish composers and lyricists, Jerzy Wasowski and Jeremy Pzsybora, which we started with my dear friend Bogdan Holownia, with French lyrics. Let’s see how much of it realizes.
You are a lyricist, I know that you write marvelous lyrics. Janusz Szprot’s “Bossa at Sundown”, Aycan Teztel’s “The Dark Side”, Alp Ersönmez’s “Beşik”, Ozan Musluoğlu’s “Moon and You” Clyb Foster’s “I Don’t Wanna Make A Mistake” and There are many pieces you wrote lyrics for. How does it feel to write lyrics for you? How do you feel when you’re writing a song for someone else’s composition?
In a sense, when you write the lyrics for a piece of music, you re-interpret it in your own filter. The word is powerful, so it’s important to have the composer’s approval. When a piece is performed without lyrics, it’s more vague after all. When the human voice is involved, it becomes different, with the words, images, meanings, stories begin. There are many criteria such as involving a meaningful and harmonious story, timing, articulation and pronunciation of the sentences when voiced, finding an understandable expression in music, being able to convey different dynamics when sang. Sometimes spontaneous, sometimes by working on it, some quickly, some over time. It is the process of writing, changing, reworking, which often continues until it is voiced in its final form. Sometimes it is a very easy, sometimes complicated and in any case enjoyable process.
As far as I know, you have your own compositions as well, you play them in your concerts too, right? Will your compositions and lyrics accumulate and become an album one day?
I have been singing for a long time, therefore my relationship with music is intense and different. There are such precious pieces to voice, I become a ruthless critic when I do things by myself, I think. Since this question has started to be asked a lot, I think there is an expectation in this direction. I don’t think there is a necessity where a musician has to play only their own compositions. As a jazz interpreter, we endeavour to voice the pieces as seen through our own windows. Of course there may be some master artists we are inspired from, I think this is in the nature of art. Lyric is really important for a musician but when it comes to jazz, I think it is necessary to be open to collective improvisation at the same time. I am very lucky that I have always worked with master musicians. Their point of views, aesthetic, approach has definitely taught me a lot. The opinions, feelings, and evaluations of musicians were at least as important to me as the audience. For this reason, we need to be able to think of and construct songs that are excited by them and that we can play together in communication. I get excited when what is to be told is no longer internal, but a story to be shared, embodied within a common aesthetic sense. I think I needed experience within music and life experience for that. And of course we need to come together and make music like we used to. I hope we do our next interview for such an album.
What are you listening to these days?
In the face of this question, I wonder if I listen to music for my own pleasure. I think I listen to my young friends the most in my workshops and classes. I am listening to the newly released records, I recently listened to Cansu Nihal Akarsu’s ‘Planet’ track and Erdem Özkan’s ‘Get Around’ albums, for example, I congratulate everyone who contributed. I listen to the songs I will sing at concerts in the upcoming period and their different interpretations. Dear Kaan Bıyıkoğlu’s Monk project, songs that I will sing at the concert with my dear Can Çankaya. Masters I always love to listen to. I saw a new album from Shirley Horn’s old records, I haven’t heard the whole thing yet.
You are also teaching. We know that you worked hard to guide many vocalists in the country. How does it feel to be a teacher for you?
It’s spiritually intense. I always want to see myself as a guide, not a teacher. First of all, I am among people who love music. Thanks to this, I make very valuable friends, just like you. Maybe I’m the one who is learning the most. My bond with life and people is getting stronger, I see it as a responsibility as well. A creative process based on finding and discovering new ways, based on the idea that ‘what you will tell is as much as the other person will understand’; To be able to continue the interaction without getting tired and without losing the excitement – perhaps the most important thing. I try to build bridges between cultures and generations by trying different ways to share the beauties I have discovered. We all try to get rid of our shells so that we can express our feelings sincerely. We try to overcome the fears we face when expressing ourselves together. People that I have small touches in their lives, even though they are in different parts of the world.
What are your expectations from 2022?
First of all, health, we have seen that it is the most important thing. I wish surprise developments where we embrace life, music and each other again with motivation and excitement.