Many jazz albums have been released in Turkey especially in the past 10 years. The fact that so many albums are being recorded is a big step forward for jazz music in Turkey. Media unfortunately keeps writing about the same names even though so many albums are coming out. Some of our jazz and classical musicians achieve great things on the international platforms. This makes me very happy and proud as a music author. Burak Bedikyan is one of these successful musicians. He is a leading jazz pianist, composer, arrangement writer and educator. His albums are always successful endeavours. It isn’t an easy feat to receive such credit and admiration in the music field in the international arena. This subject becomes even more significant when jazz is concerned because we only have a handful musicians who are successful internationally and bring us pride. Burak Bedikyan’s 4 albums received much acclaim from international music authorities, especially American ones. Unfortunately one of these albums were released for sale in Turkey. I hope we can see these albums in the music stores soon. They are deserve to reach wide audiences the most among many others in the category of jazz. They are all diligently created and much thought was spent on them. Turkish jazz listeners must listen to them. Burak Bedikyan achieved a success most musicians only can dream of. I hope we will get to appreciate his work in Turkey as well. We had an interview in the Izmir-New York route with Burak Bedikyan and had a lovely conversation about his music. I hope you enjoy reading it.
You frequently record albums, your productivity level seems to be very high. How did the ideas for your lastest album come about, what did you have in mind while forming the trio?
Thank you for this observation. The music I write is the product of almost twenty years of work. Many musical notes I irregularly jotted down before even thinking of recording an album became drafts and those drafts transformed into completed compositions. A more intense production routine took over my life after the first album. I never make detailed projects with the albums. Or I don’t sit down and write compositions to record an album. Everything is spontaneous. I make a selection that suits the way I feel in a certain period and look into people with whom I can achieve a common language and expression. My producer and the recording company usually decide where and when I record. I sometimes opt to work with my colleagues whom I know and have worked with before or friends I haven’t even met face to face before or played with. Recording as a trio was something I had in mind for a while but didn’t have the courage for; or rather, I didn’t feel ready for it. I gave my concerts with my trio with Can Kozlu and Matthew Hall, except for the collaborations I made with my European and American friends, in the two or three year period before I left Istanbul. Therefore I had the opportunity to test some of the ideas and concepts I had been working on. There is a recording that we did before I moved to New York, I expect it to be released in the upcoming months. “New Beginning” documented a spontaneous moment noone was prepared for. Jay Anderson and Adam Nussbaum were musicians I have been admiring for years but haven’t had a chance to meet before. SteepleChase brought us together in the studio for the first time. I didn’t bring anything other than three written pieces of mine. After meeting and chatting a bit, we said let’s go into the studio and play a bit. They asked me what to play and I replied that I didn’t know, that we should just be in the moment. Adam especially found this idea plausible. We played for two sets in two hours as if we were playing on the stage. We toiled to wander amongst free and standard song formats and create a music that was improvisatory in nature. All the thematic material and their variations stemmed from our conversation, except for my three pieces and a Victor Young classic. There are no pauses between some of the tracks, if you pay attention, the track moves onto the next piece without slowing down in the flow of music. We left all of these as they were. There is absolutely no editing in the album. We have almost the same amount of material that didn’t fit in the CD from the very same session. I don’t know if SteepleChase will use this material in the future but we had a lot of fun during recording.
What are you up to abroad? What are your future plans?
I had been travelling back and forth to New York for recording sessions and concerts since 2012. It has almost been one and a half years since we permanently moved. I have a very busy schedule even though I am still basically new in the city. I am teaching at two different music schools and have been appointed the head of the piano department in a third. I come together with old and new musician friends in addition to this. I get a lot of opportunities to play gigs and converse with them during the sessions I am invited to. I can say that I receive calls once or twice a week for sessions during some periods. It becomes great when some of these turn into invitations to play at concerts. I had the opportunity to come together with known names like Steve Cardenas, Jed Levy, Steve Wilson, Jeff Hirshfield, Rez Abbasi and Mark Shim as well as many new generation musicians from New York and make music with them.
I didn’t achieve an ideal balance between gigs and being an educator; my priority obviously is to settle in a standard routine and provide a comfortable life for my family. On the other hand, I am very happy with where I am at the moment despite being busy and tired. The city has an incredible energy and power that keeps you on your feet and recharges you. I don’t have special plans for the future. The reason why I moved here is evident, I am working towards that. I plan to perform the new music I write with a bigger band and play them both in the States and in Europe. My fifth SteepleChase Records album “Istanbul Junction” will be released in spring. A live concert recording of Burak Bedikyan European 4tet, it is called Hybrid 4tet now, will be released soon. We are working with Alessa Records which is an Austrian label.
Do you give concerts in the city you live in at the moment? Do you have a venue you frequently perform at? Is there enough attention?
I regularly play with two trios and a quartet. I usually play with Tim Horner, Harvie S, Peter Slavov, Luca Santaniello, Donald Edwards, Peter Brendler and Jed Levy. I had the opportunity to perform regularly every week for a month at 55 Bar. The participation was really good. I have been playing at Cornelia Street Cafe (solo and quartet), Fat Cat, ShapeShifter Lab, Trumpets, Triad Theater and Club 75 on rotation and at Drom and Nublu once. It is a bit more problematic when venues without regular customers and jazz audiences are concerned. The venues expect you to bring your own audiences and fill a certain number of tables, sometimes they even make this mandatory. It is up for discussion whether the audiences here are as curious and as prepared as the European audiences, but I can say that the members of the audience usually is above a certain level of comprehension and musical culture.
You have been working with the same label for your albums, what did you look for while choosing them?
There were more than one label I corresponded with in the beginning of my album adventure; Enja, Fresh Sound New Talent, MaxJazz, Criss Cross etc.We had the best agreement deal with SteepleChase and ended up signing with them. It seems like we will continue traveling this path together since both sides seem happy.
We can only listen to your albums on the digital platform. Why aren’t they distributed in Turkey?
I have no knowledge or control over the sales, marketing and distribution aspect unfortunately. I don’t know who was contacted and what kind of a deal was made or not. I only know that they are searching for a way to distribute at the moment.
Jazz musicians in Turkey have been releasing a lot of albums especially in the past 10 years. Do you think these reach the intended audience?
I cannot say that I followed everything so closely but quality and quantity sometimes don’t go hand in hand. This applies mostly to everywhere. Whether these works reach the intended audiences depends on the content, richness of expression as well as what their aim and expectations are. It is happy and even hopeful to see the interest in jazz music increasing in Turkey and to witness the increase in the production aspect of this. However, as long as the huge gaps and deformity in the cultural formation and education systems in our country, the job of a handful musicians who aim to bring their arts to international platforms with much love, effort and talent, will never be easy. On the other hand, no matter what the handicaps and negative conditions of a certain geography are, it is possible to create your own isolated area in your mind and imagination and achieve some sort of a creative process. It is unnecessary to stress about the fruits of your work as long as you keep adding onto your accumulation and keep creating despite the hardships. Do your job and let the universe take care of the rest.
There aren’t many clubs in Istanbul other than 2-3 places. Izmir and Ankara are even worse. On the other hand, there are jazz clubs in Bulgaria and Armenia and they receive a lot of attention. We are different when it comes to our populations but the audiences are not that different. How do you regard this situation with your experiences?
I don’t know about Bulgaria but you are correct about Armenia. There are many new and proficient names emerging in the modern jazz, especially bebop and mainstream. They have a bebop foundation and culture that we do not possess. There is a steadily increasing interest in American culture and music that was suppressed during the Soviet Union era in the Eastern block countries. I believe that the rich Soviet tradition of classical music and their search for rooted discipline created a very strong infrastructure in countries like Armenia. Tastes in music are shaped as new generations grow up in that. I know that many musicians with their heart in mainstream jazz and bebop travel back and forth from Armenia to USA, spending much effort to expand this genre and for its education. Therefore, the number of clubs, festivals, orchestras and musicians sent abroad is impressive. Our path, on the other hand, is a long one. We don’t even feel polyphonic music in our bones, let alone jazz, we don’t know about it, we don’t enjoy it or are curious about it… Because we aren’t educated on it, we still see it like a foreign invention, a needless hobby. As long as the government policy does not prioritize culture, art and aesthetics, we will not be able to raise new generations who are as aware and perceptive as we wish. As long as classical music, jazz and other fields of art do not become needs, as long as people are not encouraged to read, to research and to create, the number of festivals, clubs, schools and libraries will not increase.
What is your biggest dream as far as music goes?
I don’t have a specific dream or aim. I try to keep doing the only thing I love and know how to do. My every second is filled with music, I am still as curious and excited as the first day. I feel like I am entering a new phase these days. My mind, perception and senses started to work differently together. This gives me both joy and courage. I don’t have any big aims or claims. I try to enjoy and value the moment both when music and life are concerned. I try to let myself go in the big flow as much as I can. I hope to play and record the music I have been writing more in the future.
Do you have a project idea for Turkey, do you plan to return one day?
I don’t know what life will bring in the long run but I don’t see my future there at the moment. The feeling of being imprisoned, contained, not belonging and feeling alone pushed me away from Turkey, so I can’t sayI plan to go back. People want to live in places that appreciate them and have the best conditions for their work.
I would like to thank Burak Bedikyan for his answers. We still have a long way to go when all branches of art are concerned and not only music. We need to turn our gaze upon art with a more decisive attitude. We are not where we should be when music is concerned in our country with a population that exceeds 80 million, compared to other Western countries. I closely follow the progress our musicians do for the sake of jazz music and their success. I hope we will read and hear about the success stories of many musicians like Burak. I wish you all a life filled with good and proper music.
Burak Bedikyan discography:
Circle Of Life – 2013 (SteepleChase)
Leap Of Faith – 2015 (SteepleChase)
Awakening – 2016 (SteepleChase)
New Beginning – 2018 (SteepleChase)