04/02/2014

Jazz in Istanbul: It's there if you want it.

Elif Çağlar is particularly good at the jazz 

When I was a young boy, my father told me something that will always stick with me. “Son, there are two types of jazz” he said, “and they’re both shit”.

When something is funny, it is automatically more convincing – especially to an impressionable, snotty teenager seeking things to quote to sound cool. On this basis, it’s fair to say that my views of the most bona fide American art form were jaded from the get-go. I duly maintained a natural apathy towards jazz for my whole life; I’ve just never liked it.
To save you the trouble of falsely anticipating a charming literary twist, I may as well tell you outright that I still don’t like jazz. For I have never liked jazz.
This should make it all the more surprising that I found myself at a Mile Davis tribute concert at Salon IKSV on Saturday night.
How did this happen? Was I under the influence of drugs? Do I have masochistic tendencies? Had I landed there from space? There may be a certain amount of truth to all of these explanations, but essentially I’m just very susceptible to peer pressure. Besides, my one attempt to duck-out and head home early by complaining about the entry fee was botched by Yabangee editor Emma Harper’s insistence on treating me to a ticket. From there, with a grimace of polite appreciation, my fate was sealed.
It is predictably obvious to describe the audience walking in as people-who-seem-like-they-are-better-than-the-sort-of guy-that-I-am – but it’s true, they genuinely are of a better breed. IKSV jazz fans dress more fancily, swagger more purposefully and even smell vastly better than I do (although ‘decorum’ forbid me from verifying the latter conclusively).
The IKSV has been hosting these kinds of events for a while now. Since 2011, they have had musicians and singers from the Istanbul jazz scene come together to pay homage to Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington amongst other prominent members of the Jazz Ulema.
Our two presenters for the evening, Vedat Ödemiroğlu and Hande Soral, got up on stage to introduce the evening. Vedat looks like the kind of sociology professor who rides a bicycle to school and is apparently having an affair with a girl from another class. He has a very natural charm and, amongst cheeky çapulcu references, made sure to thank Garanti bank for sponsoring the night while trying to cajole others into doing the same. Hande actually looks like she could be the girl from the other class, in the jazz school-based soap opera now showing in my head. In any case, the two seem like regular big-wigs in the scene, as they looked immediately at-home on stage and fostered a familial atmosphere in the crowd, who responded to their presence with warm smiles and measured tezahür.
At this point I feel very comfortable. These people seem splendid. Even as a lone trumpet-player approached the mike, I remained untroubled. For almost a second, I thought that perhaps, like football and badger-baiting, maybe the reason I don’t get jazz is because I don’t get to see it live very often. I mean, at high school I used to take my girlfriend to a regular jazz night at the last independent coffee shop in Birmingham city centre, but that was obviously because I wanted to look continental and sophisticated – not because I liked jazz. For I have never liked jazz.
On a screen above the stage, a slide show displays various photos of Miles Davis from his youth, messing around with a trumpet – as was his habit. I’d never realised what a devilishly handsome young man he’d been: a kind of leaner version of Don Cheadle (who I now find out is literally portraying him in an up-coming biopic).
The success of this night was always going to be measured in terms of how our trumpeteer for the evening, İrner Demirer, dealt with the pressure of interpreting Davis’s masterpieces. Davis, after all, is credited with making staggering brass-based contributions to every sub-genre of jazz which developed during his long life-time. Many of those genres he himself having created. For an assessment of Demirer’s performance I relied mostly on fellow attendees’ views, as my own opinion was – simply stated –that while it was exactly what you would expect from a good jazz concert, mercifully, it didn’t go on too long.
The general consensus from other members of the audience though, was that whilst apt in the art of blowing and fingering his instrument in public, the focus too often shifted from Demirer’s givings to the three young, dazzling chanteuses, who took it in turns to orate before coming together in a debauched crescendo of scat.
All three performers are frequent frequenters of the Istanbul jazz scene, familiar to anyone who attends Nublu or Nardis clubs on the regular. Despite an unassuming stage presence, Ece Göksu’s voice glides between octaves and caresses your eardrums. Sibel Köse has a wonderfully silky tone in delivery, and despite giving fellow performer Elif Çağlar a run for her money in terms of beebopperloobing, the latter by far stole the most attention as Çağlar has an energy and flair to match her vocal abilities. A special mention should also be made for both the bassist and drummer – Volkan Topakoğlu and Ediz Hafızoğlu, respectively – who provided a strong backbone to every number, whilst at the same time reveling in their own talent with irreverent yet very impressive soloing whenever the time was appropriate. It’s this sort of behaviour which prompted Jimmy Rabbitte, from The Commitments movie to term jazz “musical masturbation” – another quote which has stayed with me since youth.
When I think about how resiliently both my father’s and Jimmy Rabbitte’s vituperative dismissals of jazz have stuck in my mind,  I come to the conclusion that perhaps it’s not a case of primitive brainwashing, but rather that, while my enjoyments are profane, jazz is divine.
To investigate that fully I’d have to throw off the heretical shackles and listen to much more of it with open ears, of course. But there are surely more worthwhile activities to pursue. So, I don’t like jazz, and that’s fine with me.

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