Ismet Siral Creative Music Studio Istanbul 2006

Francesco Martinelli By

Sign in to view read count
The days of the Ismet Siral Creative Music Studio in Istanbul have been so intense and full of meanings to be difficult to describe in an orderly way, so bear with me while I try to organize the information beginning with a bit of background about the Creative Music Studio and Ismet Siral.


The name of Ismet Siral is not familiar to most jazz listeners, but there's a number of fairly well known and very much appreciated musicians who will instantly react to his name: among them Marilyn Crispell, John Lindberg, Cyro Baptista, Trilok Gurtu, Nana Vasconcellos, Dave Holland, Hamid Drake, Omer Faruk Tekbilek... the list could go on. They all share the same experience: participating in the Creative Music Studio established by Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso with Ornette Coleman in 1971, a very special kind of school where artists from all over the world met to teach, play and learn together. For more info about the CMS, there's a well documented website as well as a book by Robert Sweet, Music Universe, Music Mind (Arborville, 2000). Bob maintains also a blog about CMS. Their activities did not cease with the closing of their year-round facility and in fact what could be called the CMS network is now expanding all over the world with a new base in Woodstock.

Ismet Siral was one of the very first fulltime Turkish jazzmen. And with this word I do not mean that he was sharing a repertoire, or a style. He was sharing with jazz something deeper, an inexhaustible thirst for going further, going beyond what he had achieved already in order to learn more about the music. Born in 1927, Ismet started is way into jazz around 1949/50 with a small group of people in Istanbul, among them Arif Mardin, Ilhan Mimaroglu, Erdem Buri, Arto Hacaturyan, Celal Ince, Hrant Lusikyan, Muvaffak "Maffy" Falay, and later became a successful bandleader; a dashing figure on stage, his orchestra gave exposure to many young musicians who would later become very important in Turkish jazz and pop: Erol Buyukburç, Ozdemir Erdogan, Sevinc Tevs. But Ismet was looking for something more. He earned respect and love from musicians in all fields, like ney player Akagunduz Kutbay, and was reletlessly advising younger colleagues, like Erkin Koray and the Mogollar members who started the Anatolian Rock movement. He realized the need for an environment for these young musicians to grow and learn, and started planning to create a learning facility for jazz on the sea, buying to this end some land near Marmaris. During a visit to New York with his friend Don Cherry, they had met in Sweden in the 60's and later Don visited Ismet in Istanbul several times, he visited the CMS in Woodstock and ended staying there almost two years. Upon his return to Turkey his determination to found the school became his primary concern, but the political environment as well as the cultural institutions were far from ready to embrace his vision. His dream brutally crumbled away, and Ismet committed suicide in 1987. Since then, his memory has been kept up only by his friends, and his influence mainly unaknowledged outside the people who knew him, even if the pieces he brought to Woodstock keep popping up in unexpected places, like Cds by the Dutch punk band The Ex with cellist Tom Cora or neo-klezmer violin player Jenny Scheinman. But in a major occasion like the Jazz Made in Turkey event at Alice Tully Hall in 2004 his name wasn't mentioned, even if he pioneered the idiom, perpetuating a negative attitude of Turkey's establishment.

It took the passion of musician by calling and part-time restaurateur Kip Dost, son of Ali Kayral Kip, jazz musician and friend of Ismet, to make his memory alive again. First he created a movie and a website dedicated to Ismet, collecting video interviews of the musicians he met in the USA, and then he envisioned an updated version of his dream: a summer music school in Istanbul based on the Creative Music Studio project and on Siral's practice of blending jazz, improvisation, and traditional musics. Dost enrolled the help of the many musicians who on both sides of the Atlantic were touched by Siral, and the support of a small but dedicated group of friends centered around the Argos Culture and Art firm willing to invest time, energy and money into a rather quixotic program in the extremely competitive, expensive and difficult metropolis on the Bosphoros.


Finally in July the first real step toward the establishing of a regular event in Istanbul under the name of Ismet Siral Creative Music Studio (ISCMS for short) took place: three days of workshops and concerts hosted by the Bogazici University at the Albert Long Hall overlooking the Bosphoros, in front of a very interested audience of students and young musicians, and a final concert in the huge Open Air Theatre in Harbiye.

Limitations of budget, time constraints and previous committments prevented all the musicians to attend, but the program was highly exciting: Karl Berger came with a group of friends including Ingrid Sertso, Carlos Ward, Graham Haynes, Steve Gorn, John Lindberg and Tani Tabbal, with the latest doubling as drummer in Henry Grimes' trio with Marilyn Crispell. Trilok Gurtu was a very welcome guest with Berger's band. On the Turkish side, both Omer Faruk and Haci Ahmet Tekbilek joined the festivities, together with techno-sufi Mercan Dede, uncategorizable guitarist Erkan Ogur, and traditional masters Göksel Baktagir on kanun, Yurdal Tokcan on ud, Erol Parlak on saz, Misirli Ahmet on percussion. These musicians gave workshops, played with their groups and in impromptu concerts, and an intense exchange of ideas and feelings took place in countless informal discussions, talks, meetings and meals for the full duration.


I had the pleasure to witness Karl Berger talking in Siena to a huge audience of 200 music students, but still was amazed by his Istanbul workshop, centered on the interpretation of harmony in terms of music dynamics, helping to practice assonance and dissonance. He physically established a circulation of knowledge among the participants, whose understanding of music was changed forever, mine included. Hopefully Karl's teachings will be the pivot of next editions. John Linberg played contrabass and explained his point of view about improvisation starting from Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise while Steve Gorn demonstrated the basis and techniques of traditional Indian music on a various sizes of bansuri bamboo flutes, finally joined by Lindberg in an intense duo. The Turkish musicians workshops missed part of the intended audience, as the program was too intense and the stay too short to allow the American visitors to join in, but were welcomed with great interest by Turkish students, a very interesting fenomenon.

The living traditions are there, at arms' length one could say, but the youngest generations as a majority have difficulties reaching them, as they take them for granted and they think they know these old things anyway, because they vaguely realize them in their background. But having the twin neys of the Tekbilek brothers, the rich strings of the Baktagir/Yurdal kanun/ud duo or of Erol Parlak's unique saz quintet vibrate in the room and extract living, pulsating music from age-old instruments and compositions was an ear opening experience from many of them who eagerly asked questions and informations. While Omer Faruk Tekbilek who moved to the USA is more wellknown, his brother Haci Ahmet was the first one to make inroads in the European jazz scene with some memorable solos in Lps by Oriental Wind, the groundbreaking Okay Temiz group. He's a true master of ney, reed instruments and saz as well, and to have him back in Istanbul was a great joy.

Turkish-canadian Mercan Dede brilliantly exposed his way of working with found and composed sound, in an intringuing parallel with visual arts and film editing. The lone failure was the Grimes/Crispell workshop, a spontaneous affair which was hijacked by some young participants into an overlong jam of little or no interest/usefulness.


The opening evening saw the concert by Karl Berger's group featuring the leader on piano and vibes as well the uniquely pure voice of Ingrid Sertso; with a set of Berger and Cherry compositions, the group soared, propelled by Tabbal and Lindberg. Carlos Ward in fantastic form showed once again that he's his own man on alto saxophone with sharply etched lines, and Graham Haynes on trumpet might be the heir to the sorely missed Lester Bowie, plump notes buildind a majestic structure. Darbuka player Misirli Ahmet, who developed an impressive array of extended techniques on the instrument, and Trilok Gurtu joined in, enriching the sound palette and engaging in exciting dialogues. DJ and ney player Mercan Dede is receiving a lot of attention lately and rightly so, since his music is a fresh take on the idea of merging the old and the new trances, the breathy lament of ney with the electronic grooves he grew up with. I especially like the way he always uses real acoustic sounds and samples in his pieces, never more so as in his lates Cd on Doublemoon, Nefes. With him, the already mentioned Göksel Baktagir on kanun, Yurdal Tokcan on ud, and the amazing new talent of 14 year old Aykut Sütoglu on both G clarinet and trumpet!

The second concert opened with Erkan Ogur Telvin's trio—I am pleased to quote John Lindberg's reaction: "One of the most exciting sets I witnessed in a long time . Ogur plays his own mutant guitar with one fretless neck, developing extended improvisations based on materials derived from Anatolian folk and powered by the interplay with Ilkin Deniz on bass and Turgut Alp Bekoglu on drums. A true spring of music, his Cds on Kalan both as a performer of traditional songs and as an improvisor in a more jazz-related context are an excellent entrance point into Turkish music. Henry Grimes' playing has been getting steadily better since his miraculous return on the scenes, and the trio with Marilyn Crispell on piano and Tani Tabbal on drums delivered the goods: the sonic storm suscitated by the tiny pianist met by Grimes' huge sound and inventiveness, the qualities that made him a bass players sought after both the avant-garde and the mainstream musicians—not that these distinctions make any difference for such a deep musician.

The third concert was a big gamble: a huge open-air theatre, and competition with much more commercial music all around. The result was amazingly good, considering the limited amount of publicity that the festival could afford; a huge crowd almost filled the arena for the Woodstock to Istanbul/Istanbul to Woodstock concert. The program presented two ensembles, one deftly coordinated by Mercan Dede and the other based on Karl Berger's band with Turkish guests. The music lived up to the rest of the festival, even if the sheer size of the arena, the needed amplification and the distance between stage and performers did not make things easier. But the quality of the performances more than made up for any shortcomings: the exciting percussive dialogues between a brilliant Tani Tabbal and darbuka master Misirli Ahmet, the intertwining neys of the Tekbilek brothers, the range of colors and techniques in Ingrid Sertso's voice, Don Cherry's lilting melodies arranged by Karl for his band are among the many memories of that night.

But the defining moment of the festival and the truest tribute to Ismet's vision was when the two groups joined on stage for the finale. The enthusiastic crowd requested an encore, and after the group started playing there was a second of silence while the audience with bated breath realized that the international ensemble was playing a beautiful arrangement of Zeynebim, My Zeynep, one of the most loved Turkish folk-songs, one that Ismet taught everybody in Woodstock and that nobody forgot. This time Zeynep was not only the beauty of five Turkish villages around Sivas, but of five continents, a song of universal love carried through a world in dire need of it.

Despite several shortcomings on the organisational plan, perhaps inevitable for the first edition of a complex event of this kind in Istanbul, the 2006 inaugural edition of ISCMS was a major success as it demonstrated that now there are the people and the resources to make Ismet Siral's dream finally happen. I hope that more people and institutions will wake up to this idea, and that in 2007 the festival will not only happen again, but will expand according to plan with more courses, workshop and international visitors to the most fascinating of cities, Istanbul.

A deep thank you to the people at Argos who supported Dost's idea and to the angels that stepped in at the last minute to make things possible smoothing almost all angles: Göksin Ilicali, Nihan Altinok, Serap Cakil, Sumru Agiryürüyen, Onok Bozkurt, Ebru and all the others that gave their time and commitment. To my Turkish readers I ask forgiveness because HTML is not happy with Turkish letters and I had to sacrifice ortography to readability.

Post a comment



All About Jazz needs your support

All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, shelter in place and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary effort that will help musicians now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the bottom right video ad). Thank you.

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.