In 1984 the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts had brought Chick Corea to the Istanbul (Culture) Festival, today the same Foundation organizes a Festival dedicated to jazz music - well, not puritanically that is. Some outfits of pop, soul and rock have infiltrated the "Jazz" headline in Istanbul. This year Simply Red (the Festival opener), Jane Birkin and Malia were among the genre outsiders, and the Festival’s director is heard thinking loudly about Radiohead and Tom Waits for the years to come.
Let’s return to the main facts: 40 groups featuring over 300 musicians, 8 venues, a "Jazz Boat", 2 jazz movies, 4 discussion panels, a jazz brunch, a 9-hour-long "Jazz Sunday" and 45 concerts over a total of 16 days.
The most memorable concert was surely Ibrahim Ferrer’s stunning Buenos Hermanos gig on July 15, which turned into an unforgettable tribute and farewell to Ferrer’s companero Compay Segundo. Marcus Miller was much appreciated for his cunning and breath-taking versions of new standards and old classics, while the perfection and wizardry of tabla-jazz excursionists Zakir Hussain and George Brooks’ Summit left the open air venue Cemil Topozoglu gasping for air.
Another Grammy-winner and Buena Vista Social Club member, Eliades Ochoa and Argentina’s Voz de la Gente (voice of the people), Mercedes Sosa, seemed to underline the popularity of Latin music in Turkey, if it hadn’t been for the contemporary European jazz by Esbjörn Svensson Trio, the very modern Travesi Octet, Brad Mehldau Trio’s fusion, and, last but not least, the avant-garde impros of the legendary Ornette Coleman.
The greatest party, though, was thrown on the "Jazz Boat", which took its guests on a 5-hour sightseeing-meets-music-tour accompanied by Senem Diyici’s Gypsy music and wedding tunes with her Octo Band. Elsewhere Anthony Bennett and his Original Royal Players Brass Band turned Istanbul’s most famous quarters into New Orleans. Last year’s Turkish pop newcomer No 1, Nil Karaibrahimgil, took her first jazz lessons with a newly-formed Septet, competing with the most beautiful view and the most stunning venue of the Jazz Festival, the Esma Sultan Yalisi, situated at the renown Golden Horn.
Just close to another famous site, the Galata Tower, the official jazz club of the Festival, played host to more than a dozen local artists and bands, mostly young contenders to the future of jazz music in Turkey. The owner of the Nardis is himself a pioneer of Turkish jazz. Önder Focan and his wife Zuhal have not left anything to chance in terms of the up-and-coming generation of Turkish artists. Next to the club, Zuhal Focan is the founder and editor-in-chief of the only "Jazz" magazine in Turkey.
It seems like Caz is making huge steps in Turkey to become a more recognized and appreciated form of art and entertainment alike. The International Istanbul Jazz Festival is definitely one of the great facilitators for this development, although their choice of acts could be a little more to the point and a little less crossing it all over.