My notes on the jazz panel organised on 22 October 2008 in Istanbul, titled “Listening To and Playing Jazz Music Today.”
Hulya Tuncag (Moderator): Jazz Programmer
Orhan Kahyaoglu: Journalist
Ayse Tutuncu: Musician
Hakan Atala: Archivist and Lale Record Store Owner
Kerim Selcuk: AK Music Distribution
Although jazz has been born as music of the streets, being created by poor people; the perception of jazz today has been evolved into an elitist one, especially in Turkey. Hence this panel discussion organised by Akbank Art Centre on 9th October 2008, went into this opposition, which is the source of endless discussions.
Kahyaoglu firstly started to talk, touching on Adorno’s jazz criticism; “Über Jazz” (On Jazz), published in 1936. Then jazz meant swing, being the popular music of the 1930s. Kahyaoglu also noted that jazz has been sophisticated after the bebop period (1940s). He underlined that the status of jazz as music of the streets takes its roots from the Mediterranean culture, leaning on “openness to coincidences” and this can also be seen in Istanbul.
Tuncag in her turn explained one of her memories to enlighten the discussion: when she went to Afyonkarahisar Jazz Festival, she was asked to explain jazz to school children in a village’s primary school. The children were very poor, but also ready to listen to her. While she was thinking how to illustrate jazz to them, she drew a Louisiana map on the black board, and explained them how jazz was created by the poor workers in the cotton fields. Then she drew an Afyon map and tried to connect the both regions and their people, comparing the similar climates and working conditions of the slaves. Then she played work songs of that time. Tuncag took attention to the fact that jazz, being perceived as the field of interest of the elites, can be embraced even by poor village children, if they are given the opportunity to hear it.
Tutuncu also shared a memory of her about Alanya Jazz Festival: she played in the Kizilkule Square, in an open-air concert. The audience and the atmosphere were naturally very different from the ones that she is used to: children who ride their bikes, middle-aged and even old village women were in the Square to listen to her. Her conclusion was similar to Tuncag’s anti-elitist one: she is sure that jazz can be brought even to Anatolia. So the opposite approach (defending that the Anatolians would not understand jazz, because it is so complicated) is totally wrong. Moreover, she questioned the concept of “understanding jazz”. She emphasised that even one does not “understand” jazz, it can make one feel or remember something: a sense or a memory… Besides, she underlined that this is also valid for all the arts: one does not have to understand an artwork, but he can definitely enjoy it.
The panel was enriched with the questions and comments from the audience: these indicated technology-arts relationship: illegal downloading, pirate albums and sales levels of jazz albums.
Selcuk and Atala indicated that sales of jazz albums are very low, but it is not a situation peculiar to Turkey. They stated that their job is difficult because it is not profitable, but they do it because they love it.