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Live Reviews

International Jazz Day: Istanbul, Turkey April 30, 2013

By Published: May 24, 2013
In his speech that morning, Hancock toasted the worldly crossroads capital that is Istanbul, saying, "your city exemplifies the beauties of jazz." Bringing his attention more to the room at hand, he said, "when I see students' eyes light up, then I know why I do what I do. The future caretakers of jazz are here with us."

By day, on International Jazz Day, a series of events wove its way across venues around the city, nearby the Taksim area and the day's home base, the Marti Istanbul Hotel. One could walk down the long pedestrian boulevard of the Istiklal Caddesi—also the address of the Galatasary—and swing by various events, stopping for tea, roasted chestnuts or Turkish Delight candies along the way.

Down at the Beyoglu Municipality Youth Center, a panel discussion called "Jazz Festivals: The work and art of promoting jazz around the world" brought together some prominent European festival directors and significant figures, including the Umbria Festival's Carlo Pagnotti, the Vienne festival's Fritz Thom, Jean-Rene Palacio (Jazz a Juan and the Monte Carlo Jazz Festival), and Claire Whitaker, whose director of the company Serious, is partly responsible for the London Jazz Festival.

Clearly, for decades, the jazz festival circuit and scene across the Atlantic has had a critical role in nurturing, preserving and nudging jazz culture forward, and in a stronger way than some of its counterparts in America. Asked by a member of the audience about the process and considerations involved in choosing a festival program, Palacio stated, simply, "It's for you. We must sell tickets, but we all have a passion for jazz." He pointed to the money-oriented choice of booking Sting, which allows him to then showcase emerging and more genuinely jazz-inclined talent, adding that, "keeping the soul of the music alive is very important."

At the end of the panel, Whitaker wisely commented—in a statement which registers deep in the institutional ethos of jazz supporters and International Jazz Day at its core—that, compared to other more commercial areas of music, "jazz is not the easy choice, but you get a quality of engagement."

There was plenty of quality engagement going down—and turning multiple corners—that night at the Hagia Eirene. UNESCO head Bokova set the sweeping stage for the event by telling the capacity, invitation-only crowd that, "tonight, Istanbul is the capitol of jazz." Hancock introduced the evening by noting the global network of related activities and energies, touching every country in the world and every state in the U.S. He asserted, "I can't imagine something that promotes peace and fosters goodwill as jazz does... it's a symbol of possibilities."

In an intentionally wide-ranging and eclectic musical pageant, smartly and elaborately organized by the inherently flexible Los Angeles-based keyboardist John Beasley
John Beasley
John Beasley

piano
, the stylistic map began with the root system of the blues, via "Some Kind of Wonderful," sung with soulful gusto by Joss Stone and Joe Louis Walker. Latin jazz met swing era nostalgia as Ruben Blades sang "Begin the Beguine," beguine-style, with funk, Braziliana (Nascimento's lustrous "Traversia," with old comrade Shorter weaving sinuous lines on soprano sax) and shades of bop (be-, hard, and neo-) filtered through the night. So did a touch of Indian-flavored jazz, courtesy of McLaughlin, Hussain and Ponty, while South African musical heat and righteous social indignation came from Masakela.

This being jazz—subject to change and muse-kissed chops on given themes—improvisational high points of the show sometimes materialized on the fly. Some kind of magic swarmed into the air as Esperanza Spalding and pianist Robert Glasper
Robert Glasper
Robert Glasper
b.1978
piano
traded riffs on "Afro Blue," and formidable Russian tenor saxophonist Igor Butman
Igor Butman
Igor Butman
b.1961
sax, tenor
fell into a deep dialogue with Terence Blanchard on "Isfahan," while clarinetist Anat Cohen
Anat Cohen
Anat Cohen

sax, tenor
, the increasingly high profile Israeli-in-New York, proved what the fuss about her is all about.

Turkish elements in the program, in the real-time present tense, included impressive Turkish players, trumpeter Imer Demirer and dazzling guitarist Bilal Karaman, and notably spotlight-seizing clarinetist Hüsnü Şenlendirici. Repertoire-wise, the set list navigated through Arabic-related standards, including "Isfahan," "Night in Tunisia" and "Caravan," as well as Al Jarreau's take on recently departed pianist Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
1920 - 2012
piano
's "Blue Rondo à la Turk," inspired by a rhythm Brubeck heard while on the streets in Istanbul.


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