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New Wave of Jazz Musicians Seeks Niche in Istanbul


ISTANBUL — Jazz is a fluid genre, and the jazz scene in Istanbul is fluid, too, with new venues offering a fresh generation of Turkish players a chance to perform original compositions, even as more established artists wonder where the audience has gone.For both the new wave and the veteran artists, faithful entrepreneurs are setting up stages and hoping that the fans will follow.

The saxophonist Yahya Dai was leading his combo on a recent Sunday afternoon at Tamirane, a former water-purification warehouse remodeled into an industrial-décor cafe space on Bilgi University’s Santral Campus. The Sunday afternoon jazz brunch draws an artsy crowd of customers who snack on pizzas, beer and 20-lira, or $12.60, cocktails with names like Orange Blossom.

“You might think that the jazz scene in Istanbul is growing, in terms of there being more clubs, but the audience is not really keeping pace,” said Mr. Dai, who taught himself to play sax when he was 17 years old. “It was 1981, and I heard a song on the radio and said, “Oh hell — what is that? It was Grover Washington Jr. playing ‘Winelight.’ I’ll never forget it.”

Mr. Dai is no doubt inspiring young Turks to pick up his instrument.

“Young people are getting more and more curious about jazz,” he said, “but there are so many young musicians now, and not that many places for all of them to play. I came from Ankara years ago, and you could play at the same club three times a week. Now it’s once a month.”

“Lots of new albums are coming out — it’s not just the addition of live clubs. This is a whole new generation of recording artists. I’m 39 years old and the people who were students 10 years ago have started being really productive and writing their own music. In just one year, I’ve bought 10 of their albums.”

She concedes that not all of her colleagues are as upbeat.

“If you talk to older players, the generation before me, they are more pessimistic,” she said. “They’ve suffered from this influx. They don’t want to play the way we are playing: We don’t ask for so much money. And we actually are eager to play our music, all originals. With the club owners, the older generation always had to fight to be able to play their own originals, so I think they are upset and don’t want to get involved in this new scene. The younger generation, of course, is eager to do what is new, and that’s why you have all these little clubs opening up.”

In the end, Turkish jazz is hard to define, ranging from music infused with Anatolian or Arabesque riffs, with percussion beats from internationally known virtuosos like Burhan Ocal and Okay Temiz, to more classical elements found in even the hip-swinging tracks like “Black Sea” from the pianist Kerem Gorsev.

But it can boast a growing corps of up-and-coming artists like the jazz/funk bass player Alp Ersonmez, the drummer Ferit Odman, who has just recorded a new bebop CD, and Meltem Unel, a vocalist whose style has reminded listeners of Nina Simone.

For Ms. Gulun, who sings her original jazz lyrics in her native language, it’s less about being a Turk and more about doing what has not been done before.

“I am mostly very much into what is new, really new at the very edge,” she says. “It’s not so much from being Turkish, but from growing up in Istanbul because it’s a very chaotic place, filled with so many things that can take your attention.” A lot like jazz.

Visit the The New York Times for the full article.

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