Dave Brubeck’s second greatest hit is “Blue Rondo à la Turk.” It therefore
ranks rather highly on the all time jazz hit parade, considering he also
recorded the definitive version of Paul Desmond’s “Take Five.” Brubeck was
serious about the “Turk” reference, crediting its genesis to his experience
visiting Turkey and exploring the local rhythms. Inspiration would also flow
back to Turkish jazz musicians from the American jazz masters. Batu Akyol
surveys the history and music of the scene that developed in Jazz in Turkey (trailer here), which screens
during the 2014 San Francisco Global Movie Fest (in San Jose).
might expect it to be treated like a dirty secret, but pretty much everyone admits
the pioneers of Turkish jazz were largely Armenians and Jewish Turks. After
all, they were more receptive to western music and culture in general—and could
maybe better identify with its blues roots. Of course, they were aware of the
music’s African American heritage. In fact, one of the early popularizers of
jazz in Turkey was an expatriate African American ensemble called Seven Palm
will be more familiar names in Akyol’s documentary than casual viewers will
expect, like Ahmet and Nesuhi Artegun, who discovered jazz when in America as
the children of the Turkish Ambassador and would later become the leading independent
producers in America through their label, Atlantic Records. Super-producer Arif
Mardin also grew up as a jazz-loving teen in Turkey, before studying at Berklee
(which proved to be the start of the school’s long association with Turkish
students and faculty).
Akyol identifies two primary approaches taken by Turkish jazz artists. Many
follow western swing models, utilizing classical jazz instrumentations and arrangements.
Erol Pekcan, whom Akyol identifies as the great statesman of Turkish jazz (he
even worked as a translator for the U.S. embassy) largely fits in this camp—and
man, that cat could play. On the other hand, fusions of jazz and traditional
Turkish music also found an audience (particularly amongst tourists, not so
ironically). Özdemir Erdoğan emerges as one of the early leaders of this
movement—and man, could that cat play.
hardly seems possible, but perhaps the history of Turkish jazz will not
immediately intrigue broad-based mainstream audiences. However, the musical
clips Akyol selects should seal the deal. They swing hard and are played with evident
passion, yet many are still madly catchy. It would be cool to have a companion
CD for this film, because nearly everything sounds great.
that is the most important thing for any music doc. Akyol will definitely leave
the audience wanting more Turkish jazz. Fans will also appreciate the occasional
commentary from musicians like Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Terence
Blanchard. Those who enjoy hearing something new will find it very
entertaining. Highly recommended, Jazz in
Turkey screens this Friday (8/15) at the Towne3 Cinemas in San Jose, as
part of the SF Global Movie Fest.
Labels: Documentary, SF Global Movie Fest '14, Turkish Cinema, Turkish Jazz