Entertainment Turkey’s 95-year jazz odyssey

Turkey’s 95-year jazz odyssey

Ankara jazzman and conductor Durul Gence
Ankara jazzman and conductor Durul Gence

(AA) – Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Led Zeppelin, the Grammy Awards and Atlantic Records – these unlikely bedfellows are tied together by one thing: the story of jazz music in Turkey.

Today is International Jazz Day and The Anadolu Agency spoke to veteran musicians, artists and performers to trace Turkey’s 95-year jazz adventure.

The history of jazz in Turkey dates back to the 1920s when adventurous youths went to America and Europe to study.

“They brought some jazz albums here and interest in jazz in Turkey started like that,” says 75-year-old Ankara jazzman and conductor Durul Gence.

The legendary musician, who taught jazz history at Ankara-based Middle East Technical University and Hacettepe University for around 20 years, is just one part of the tale.

Turkish jazz remained a niche interest until American performers like Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong and Dave Brubeck popularized the genre when they came here to give concerts in the 1950s.

During this era, Turkey’s first female jazz singer, Sevinc Tevs, was performing on TRT Istanbul Radio. Other female jazz performers like Ayten Alpman and Ruchan Camay followed suit.

In 1978, Tuna Otenel (pianist and saxophonist) along with Erol Pekcan (drummer) and Kudret Oztoprak (bass guitarist) released Turkey’s first jazz LP: “Caz Semai.”

Many Turkish jazz artists found wider fame by collaborating with English-language performers.

As a producer and arranger Arif Mardin, who died in 2006, was an important name in jazz development. He collaborated with non-jazz acts like Queen, The Bee Gees, Phil Collins and Norah Jones, going on to win 11 Grammy Awards.

Istanbul-born Ahmet Ertegun – best known as the 1947 co-founder of Atlantic Records – together with his brother Nesuhi, hosted a series of jazz concerts in Washington D.C.

In 2007, rock band Led Zeppelin held a concert in tribute to Ahmet Ertegun in London.

Ozdemir Erdogan (singer and composer), Onder Focan (guitarist), Okay Temiz, (jazz percussionist and drummer) and Muvaffak ‘Maffy’ Falay (trumpeter) are just some of the other important jazz performers from Turkey.

“Thanks to these people, jazz music spread and many jazz musicians started giving concerts in Turkey at the start of 1990s,” says Pelin Opcin, director of the long-running Istanbul Jazz Festival.

Jazz festivals in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, plus courses in universities like Ankara-based Hacettepe and Bilkent, also raised awareness.

Istanbul Jazz Festival has been held every year since 1994. It will take place in the city from July 1 to 20.

Ankara Jazz Festival will be held for the 18th time this year, starting May 9.

Over 200 jazz albums have been released in Turkey so far, according to Ozlem Oktay Varoglu, director of the Jazz Society, which was established in 1995 in Ankara.

Although most songs are in English, over the last five years the numbers of Turkish-language jazz songs have increased, Varoglu says.

Even so, the numbers of jazz lovers are fewer, compared to other music genres.

“Jazz is not known by every young person but their interest is increasing with every passing day. We have started seeing youths much more in festivals and clubs nowadays,” says 35-year-old jazz singer Elif Caglar.

Bass player Ozan Musluoglu, 38, who presents “Jazz Hour” on Turkish national radio, agrees.

“I think giving a place to jazz in concerts and festivals and the increasing numbers of departments at universities about this music contributes to the development of jazz,” says Musluoglu.

The proportion of jazz lovers in Turkey is around 15 percent of the country’s population, claims veteran composer Gence – meaning fans of the genre run into the millions.

Musicians are hopeful about jazz music’s future in the country.

“In my opinion, people’s interest is already high. Tickets sell out very quickly,” says Aydin Kahya, another Turkish jazz singer, adding:

“I think it has a promising future here.”

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