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Being Onstage: Being in Heaven – TURQUAZZ

Jazz pianist Kaan Bıyıkoğlu answered İrem Gökbudak’s questions for NTV Radio’s “Bizim Cazcılar” program.

Kaan Bıyıkoğlu, one of the most important jazz pianists in Turkey, told his story during “Bizim Cazcılar”. Being onstage is like being in heaven according to him. You can listen to the pieces we played during the program from the link below while reading this interview. How did music enter Kaan Bıyıkoğlu’s life, how he became a jazz musician, what are his suggestions for young musicians…

How did music enter your life, shall we listen about how it all started? 

The first thing I remember about music is my toy organ when I was about three or four years old. My father was very interested in music; he had LPs and guitars. I can say I grew up with music when there were so many of its elements at the house. I was about to enrol in the corservatoire after middle school but I won the entrance exam to Ankara Science High School. Then I wanted to go to the conservatoire during college but I ended up studying at METU instead. But music didn’t stop pursing me. Semra Kartal, the head of the piano department at Hacettepe University, taught at METU back then. I was one of her students. Yıldız İbrahimova taught jazz vocal at METU during the same period, under the name of ‘applied jazz’. I would accompany her students. I started to play jazz like this when I was 18 years old. I started to take an interest in it during my high school years.

How did that happen, it isn’t usual for young people at such ages to find jazz interesting? 

It was like a lightening strike for me. I had a few friends who were into jazz. But I played classical piano; Mozart, Beethoven and such… I took an interest in the guitar when I was 13-14. We had bands that played 1960s rock such as Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. I thought i would become a guitarist. I played the piano as a side instrument. The a friend took me to Chick Corea’s concert in Ankara. I sold my guitar two weeks after that concert. I said, I want to play this music, I want to play the piano… I was infected the virus then. I had two jazz cassettes before that, afterwards it was always jazz…

Kaan Bıyıkoğlu (Photo: Berk Özler)

Do you play any other instruments? 

i actually play various instruments. I play the flute a little bit. Because I want to feel how a wind instrument works. I also play the double bass a little as well. My house mate in Holland was a double bass player. I try to get to know different instruments. It is important to know the capacities of the instruments while making music, especially if you write compositions.

What is the most magical instrument?

I think what is the most magical is the way the expression of an instrument flows from the hands of a person… Instrument is a machine after all. But you see that machine disappear while listening to some musicians. It isn’t like listening to the trumpet when it is Miles Davis playing. The instrument is no longer the middle man in such cases. You are listening to Miles Davis, not just a trumpet playing. I think this is the magic rather than specific instruments…

Do you remember your first concert, how did you feel; who did you play with? 

We constantly gave concerts when I was in high school. I played the piano or the guitar. My first professional concert, meaning I received a payment, was with Yahya Dai in Ankara. I met Tuna Ötenel in Ankara, he is such a valuable person. I had the opportunity to play with him.

Kaan Bıyıkoğlu (Photo: Berk Özler)

Could you make a generalization about jazz musicians like “They are such and such people”? 

Jazz music is the culture of black America’s love for their freedom. It is a genre where individualism is emphasized within the harmony of the band while dance and physicality are in the forefront. Other than that, jazz musicians mostly are nocturnal.

What would you suggest to young musicians? 

People can learn some things through imitation. If you want to learn something, imitate it. I suggest they learn as much about the music as they can. By learning about music, I don’t only mean to listen to it but to try to fully copy it. I can say that jazz is the best it has been in a while in Turkey when it comes to playing quality. That doesn’t mean we play better than Tuna Ötenel, of course. But there are many more esteemed musicians who can play this music at a certain level today. We can talk about a community. The young people are great these days. It is easier to find resources and reach other people today. I suggest them to go abroad if they can.

So, what do you like the most in this life? 

I like playing the piano the most. I feel lucky for being able to do this and having spent my life as such. I love playing onstage and playing improv music. If I can do this with musicians who listen to each other, then I am in heaven. I don’t need anything else.

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