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Ismet Siral Creative Music Studio Istanbul 2006

Francesco Martinelli By

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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.


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