This panel discussion organised by Akbank Art Centre on 11th October 2008, searched for the definition of jazz and what is included in this definition.
Caner Beklim (Moderator): TRT Istanbul Radio Programmer
Murat Beser: Milliyet Music Writer
Tuncel Gulsoy: Jazz Magazine Writer
Seda Binbasgil: Jazz Magazine Writer
Selen Gulun: Musician
Gulsoy, being the first speaker, started his words by suggesting two books about jazz: “The Jazz Book from Ragtime to Fusion and Beyond” (Caz Kitabi) by Joachim E. Berendt and “Cazin Icinden” by Cuneyt Sermet. Jazz is a lifestyle, he stated, emphasising freedom. Following the elitism problem in jazz brought forward in the previous panel discussion, he underlined the difference between the terms “intellectual” and “elite”; expressing that jazz is an intellectual music genre, but must not be elitist, privileging upper classes.
Gulun shared Gulsoy’s opinion on jazz and freedom relationship. She defined jazz as the audio version of what has been lived and felt. Gulun also took attention that many music styles can be collected under the umbrella of jazz. As jazz is understandable even by the children from Afyon, as was told in the previous panel discussion, it is easy to share with other people, being a tool for dialogue.
Binbasgil preferred a more academic style than the other speakers. She mentioned two distinctive characteristics of jazz: improvisation and swing. But she also added that jazz can also exist without these components. For instance, neither all the improvised music pieces are jazz; nor all jazz pieces include improvisation or a component of surprise. Swing also follows the same rule: swing songs are defined as jazz, but jazz can also exist without swing: the free jazz movement of 1960s is a good example to clarify this. Another point Binbasgil underlined is that jazz is USA’s folk music, not ours. This is an obstacle for Turkish people to embrace jazz. The culture and history of the said societies are different. Additionally, jazz was a product of counter-culture once upon a time: Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, being one of the most powerful songs in the music history; which protests lynch and massacre of black people in Southern USA; illustrates the then protest spirit of jazz. Not accepted by major record labels, an indie one released this song. Another example that Binbasgil gave was Max Roach’s “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite”: this song from 1960s is ornamented by Abbey Lincoln’s screams to take attention to slavery, racism and Black Consciousness Movement. “Song for Che” by Charlie Haden is another example, being from the 1970s. But then jazz has been commercialised, by the white musicians who inherited this music from its black creators. Binbasgil also pointed out that jazz is made visible by these white musicians.
Beser entered the discussion from a different angle: where jazz stands politically and socially. He mentioned the famous theory of Marxism, “the base determines the superstructure.” Beser stated that this is also valid for jazz, seen as a product of American bourgeois, while being the music of African proletariat. This class reductionist approach indicates the backward evolution that today’s jazz struggles with: the elites see themselves as “privileged” since they enjoy. This is a sign of disconnection with the society and is rather reactionist: Beser thinks that the rising reaction also spreaded to jazz. Jazz today is tried to become stereotyped and a genre to listen solely in jazz clubs. Opposing this elitist circle, Beser put forth the idea of a jazz club where students could afford to be its audience. He suggested two books like Gulsoy: “Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music” (Dogaclama) by Derek Bailey and “Story of Jazz: Bop and Beyond” (Tarih Boyunca Caz) by Franck Bergerot. He also recommended the biography of Miles Davis. Beser also emphasised the necessity to define jazz again and again in every different phase since jazz changes according to the political field.
Tuncag, this time being part of the audience, also contributed to the discussion, to answer why jazz cannot be fully embraced in Turkey: firstly, the polyphonic harmonic structure of jazz is different from the Turkish monophonic structure. Besides, Turkish people want to hear a human voice; they get bored during the long solos. Another reason is the education level of people.