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Jazz on the Bosphorus: Troubled Waters

Jazz on the Bosphorus: Troubled Waters
Francesco Martinelli By

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For seven years now the rather laboriously named Istanbul Jazz Center (confusingly the logo includes the letters "JC's," I don't know why) has been one of the major clubs of the Turkish city. Situated in the posh neighborhood of Ortakoy, in the shadow of the first Bosphorus Bridge, its schedule has featured major international jazz stars besides local talent; resolutely mainstream-oriented, it provided local audiences the chance to listen to high caliber musicians, from guitarist Mike Stern to pianist Kenny Barron, but also saxophonist Greg Osby and pianist Joachim Kuhn, with a prevalence of vocals including Mark Murphy and Flora Purim, as well as the occasional sprinkling of rock and Latin groups. It presented well-established Turkish singers with more or less tenuous connections to jazz, from Fatih Erkoç to Sertab Erener, but also gave a much welcome chance to perform to young and unknown Turkish musicians, either with their groups or accompanying visiting, soloists. In short, the function of many established, center-field jazz clubs in the world's capitals.

In the beginning it was directed by well-known Turkish pianist Kerem Gorsev, who two years later retired from the operation citing the need to concentrate on his artistic career; original plans to include a jazz radio, seminars and other activities—hence the name—were dropped to concentrate on regular club programming. The place provided also food, but with a limited choice and rather high prices; the best advice—one that I gave myself many times—was to grab some of the excellent traditional fast food nearby, like kofte or pide, and then head to the club for the second set, when the diners, often noisy and casual visitors, had left.

After Görsev's exit, the profile of the club and the program slowly deteriorated, with fewer concerts and no collaborations with the local jazz festivals, usually one of the high points of the year, and I started to feel weird vibrations through the grapevine, with musicians complaining about rough treatment, aggressive attitudes, problem with payments, etcetera. Since I travel regularly to Turkey I was consulted by a few musicians and managers, and I advised the utmost caution about all financial and logistic sides, especially when I heard that some weird ideas were being floated about advancing the money for travels and hotels and being reimbursed later—always a risky proposition.

Then, on March 22, 2012, the bubble exploded when legendary bassist Buster Williams widely posted a public declaration warning other musicians:
"To the jazz community, (from the desk of Buster Williams): High Alert!!!!!!!

I thought those days when jazz musicians gave their heart and soul to enrich cultures and yet did not get paid were over. We play all over the world and have for decades!!

But last week in Istanbul at the Jazz Center, a club run by Aytek Şermet, disrespect, dishonor and unprofessionalism prevailed. My group, which includes Patrice Rushen, Lenny White and Mark Gross, played four shows to a capacity house for each show. Our agreement was nothing unordinary. We play, they pay. The amount had been agreed to per signed contract. We showed up, we did what we do, the people enjoyed it, and the club made money. Why then, in these times, when those who claim a dedication to giving us a platform, would someone not show up, not pay us, and not leave his staff the ability to meet our agreement? This is 2012. The world is a much smaller place and I can tell everyone that we were disrespected in the most blatant way. We did not get paid!!!!

So I would suggest that if your plan is to visit Istanbul to work for Mr. Aytek Şermet at the Istanbul Jazz Center, you reconsider.

Yours, Buster Williams"

The social networks started buzzing with statements of musicians variously unhappy about the current situations at the IJC.

Reggie Washington wrote:

"I know him! He's what makes our job so difficult! He reaps the benefits and talks shit the first three days, and on the fourth he's nowhere to be found!."

Some of previous collaborators also chimed in, like Süha Kurultay:

"Buster is not the first. I was the one who hired his band in Jazz Center first time, six years ago, but those things happened all the time because of Aytek. that is why I left the business.."

Some of the usual hate-mongers tried to attach political, national, racial and religious meaning to the issue, but Mr. Washington again cut short the b-s:


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