Istanbul is already home to two major jazz festivals, but the scene registered a meaningful new addition lately. Emin Findikoglu, a pianist, composer and arranger who studied in USA during the '60s and was behind the very first jazz festival organized in the Bosphorous city, was contacted by the Municipality of Besiktas to organize a jazz weekend. Now this is a great surprise and very welcome change, according to Emin, since in the past it was always the other way around: he had to go and plea to the local authorities to organize jazz concerts.
Besiktas is one of the many municipalities forming the Metropolitan Istanbul, and one of the most historically significant, boasting such treasures as the Dolmabahçe and Yildiz palaces in its territory. Apparently the administration has decided to bring new life to the ancient monuments with a full program of activities in the fields of arts, theatre, and music, giving another lift to the city toward an international standard in these matters.
Emin, for his deep love of the music and uninterrupted knowledge on the scene for many years, was an excellent choice for the purpose, and he came up with an idea to fill a void: there's no European jazz festival in the city, and whatever this means artistically, strengthening European ties with groups from all over the continent performing in Istanbul is clearly highly significant in the current political climate. The program was intended to show, at least partially, the different options available to jazz musicians in Europe today. It had no other unifying theme than excellent musicianship and integral committment to one's own ideas on music, and so many different tastes were catered for.
The municipality took a gamble with the location of the concerts, using one extremely popular spot: the small square of Ortakoy. This is an ancient village on the Bosporous from where the most used postcard image comes: the first bridge joining Europe and Asia dominating the ornate profile of a small baroque mosque erected right on the water. The forecast announced rain and storms; rain would have stopped the festival, as the old plastic sheet hastily fastened on top of the stage was blown away by the wind very early on, but weather is absolutely unpredictable in Istanbul, so we in fact enjoyed three days of sun and wind, making the occasion all more spectacular due to the banners and flags weaving around the stage. The organization was a little shakya one-man-show, where Emin had to act as Festival director, stage manager, MC, administrator, press office and generally everything; finally however everything ran smoothly, including press and television coverage for an event which could not boast any famous (by American standard) musicians.
In order to allow the best exposure, all concert programs included three groups and were repeated twice, one in the evening and the other in the following afternoon, starting from Friday evening and closing Sunday afternoon, for a total of six groups playing twice.
Italian group Lennie's Pennies is a pianoless quartet dedicated to the music of Lennie Tristano, featuring Pietro Tonolo on sax and Roberto Rossi on trombone backed by Aldo Zunino on bass and Alfred Kramer on drums. The details of the intricate, finely intertwined lines of the horns were a little lost in the difficult acoustic ambience, and Tristano's music is never easy on the casual listener. However it was played with such a masterful ease that the audience couldn't miss its quality, welcoming them warmly.
Denmark's String Swing, led by saxophonist Soren Siegumfeldt, presented their own brand of well-crafted, enjoyable music, drawing inspiration from Django's tradition but modernizing it; Siegumfeldt married a Turkish girl, so he's been a regular visitor and his speech in Turkish endeared him to the audience.
Trumpeter Stephane Belmondo also was not on his first visit in Istanbul, but he was even more impressive than ever. Playing with fire and imagination through a program of jazz classics, he confirmed to be one of the world top specialists on his instrument. Might be nationalistic pride, but Italian pianist Antonio Farao from this group stood out as one of the revelations of the festival, his rhythmic variations and harmonic inventiveness unhindered by the electric piano.
Hungarian trumpet player Janos Hamori had an hard time in the comparison to Belmondo, and the unquestionable musicianship of the members of his quartet did not translate, at least for this listener, into a personal, original statement. However they're very young and there's plenty of material to build on.