As the world marks International Jazz Day on Friday amid restrictions to stem the spread of coronavirus, the director of a prominent Turkish music festival explains the link between Turkish metropolis Istanbul and jazz music.
“Istanbul and jazz have a very long relationship – in fact, Istanbul is among the first European cities when jazz came to Europe from America, back in the 1920s,” Harun Izer, the director of Istanbul Jazz Festival- organized since 1994- told Anadolu Agency.
As Istanbul remains a city of jazz in Turkey, hosting performances and international stars besides producing local talent, the director also mentioned about fusion of Anatolian and local music traditions with jazz forming a geography and coming together.
According to Izer, the first jazz club and the venue was opened in the Turkish metropolis in the late 1960s. Also, the first international jazz festival in Turkey was held in Istanbul during the 1980s.
“Our foundation, the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts is also one of the earliest promoters of jazz. It also now organizes legendary Istanbul Festival,” according to Izer.
Over the years Istanbul has emerged as an important jazz hub with a growing number of musicians and fans and venues for festivals.
In 2011, UNESCO officially designated April 30 as International Jazz Day to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role in uniting people in all corners of the globe. This year, due to coronavirus pandemic, across the globe several events are being held virtually.
According to Izer, one of the key features of jazz is its adaptable nature, which has made it acceptable as a universal music form during the last century.
“Wherever jazz goes, passionate musicians successfully fuse it with local forms and create something new. Adding to this, Turkish music is also based very much on another key feature of jazz, namely improvisation,” he said.
- Improvised performances
Izer added that the improvised performances are key to many forms of Anatolian music traditions, so it was not hard for jazz and local music from this geography to come together.
''We see this also in other cultures based in Anatolia – that they have a good connection to jazz music. So, it would be a good conceptualization to call it Anatolian Jazz,'' he said.
He said the Istanbul Jazz Festival is also giving emphasis on this fusion and regularly creates collaborations between Turkish and international musicians.
“One of the nicest examples of this was the Istanbul Project concert where internationally acclaimed bass player Marcus Miller met with renowned local stars like Okay Temiz, Burhan Ocal, and Husnu Senlendirici back in 2012,” he added.
One of the important sections of the festival is the Genc Caz (Young Jazz) concerts.
“Instead of an award, we try to look at it as a selection process, where we choose six new young bands to be featured in our festival, at the special Jazz In Parks events,” Izer said.
The event aims to create a platform for new talents, where they experience and learn how to perform professionally.
“This year we are also introducing an additional, new benefit; in collaboration with the renowned record label Sony Music Turkey we will be releasing a music compilation of the performances by the selected bands and musicians,” he said.
“We hope that this will also provide a good chance for the visibility of young musicians,” he added.
- COVID-19 affects music
The director of the Istanbul Jazz Festival said that over the past 18 years since the festival became an annual event, many of the then-young performers have now grown into established and popular artists.
''I believe this is one of the most important accomplishments of this event,'' he added.
Izer said the COVID-19 pandemic related restrictions have heavily affected the musical events and live performances.
“Still, we are trying to find ways to present concerts and get audiences together with musicians in different forms,” he said.
“Thanks to the support of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and our festival sponsor Garanti BBVA, we are looking forward to presenting our festival again in July 2021 and getting back to live concerts at various venues,” said Izer.
The festival is expected to announce its program in the second part of May. He said that the free concert series called Jazz In The Parks will also continue in some of the nicest parks of the city, where music lovers will also be able to watch the performance of selected young Jazz musicians.
Recalling the International Jazz Day event in 2013 that has been an important high-point in the history of the festival, Izer said: “It was a huge challenge and also a huge success – some of the most important living names of jazz music were in Istanbul along with Turkish jazz stars and an unforgettable concert happened at the Hagia Irene Museum.”
The festival director hopes to repeat such spectacular events in the coming years – especially in 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his foundation.