One of the most important jazz doyens in Turkey, Neşet Ruacan, was born in 1948 in Kadıköy, Istanbul. The jazz guitarist, who grew up and still lives in Moda, started playing the harmonica at a very early age. Then he got curious about their neighbour’s guitar and started taking guitar lessons when he was 10 years old. Ruacan didn’t like reading notes, but his interest in jazz started through these first guitar lessons. So his love for jazz and guitar grew hand in hand. He worked with the most important jazz musicians of his period after this genre became a big part of his life, and he still continues to do so. He presented many TV and radio programs; he played the guitar and then became the conductor of TRT Jazz Orchestra. He taught many jazz musicians.

Thankful for everything you have done Neşet Ruacan…

Let’s embark on this master’s jazz journey…

Childhood Surrounded With Music

I don’t remember how music entered my life because I was very young. My sister would play the mandolin at home. That means there as always been the sound of music in the house since my birth. So that makes it harder to pinpoint how exactly I got involved with music. My family would listen to the radio a lot, naturally. And I grew up in Moda, and this district has always had music. There were classical and jazz musicians. So the environment factor has been very decisive for me. My childhood was surrounded with music.

First Harmonica, Then Guitar And Jazz

I couldn’t play the guitar when I was very young of course, but I played the harmonica really well. Then I suddenly took up the guitar when I was 10 years old. It was our neighbour’s guitar and I really liked it. I started taking guitar lessons after that. Jazz lessons followed that. So I was playing jazz with my guitar. Always improvizations. I was practicing both at the same time. My classical guitar teacher was Rıza Başikoğlu and my jazz guitar teacher was Dr. Metin Bulut. They spent a lot of effort and my music life started with them. Then I put down the classical guitar and decided not to continue on with that. I started playing electric guitar, and then I was back at jazz guitar again—jazz triumphed over all other options.

Those Who Know Jazz Play Better

We started making music with friends when I grew a little older, into an adolescent. I realized that those who knew jazz played all other genres better than the rest. I thought there must be a secret. So you had to either know classical music or jazz really well to make good music, or both. I decided to learn jazz to its fullest because of this reason. I started like that but then understood the depth of this genre. I liked it more as I delved deeper into it; jazz surrounded me.

Vahşi Kediler @ Erdek Golf Kulübü - 1964 (Photo: internet/unknown)

Vahşi Kediler @ Erdek Golf Kulübü – 1964 (Photo: internet/unknown)

Jazz Belongs To This Moment!

I will put it simply and clearly: The only musician who can claim to make his own music today is the jazz musician. The rest cannot claim this. Even those who play a piece they have composed yesterday are playing themselves from yesterday. Though this only applies if he is playing the piece exactly as he composed it. If he is playing it like jazz then this means he is making his own music. Thus jazz belongs to today, to this moment, and to us as we are right now. This suits me well. I wouldn’t be happy writing something at home and playing that for a week or a month repeatedly, it wouldn’t suit my character.

Just Any Person 

Those involved with jazz are just any other person out there. You shouldn’t be able to read into what his interests are from his style or face. Because jazz has no need for an accessory or anything else. There is no such thing as dressing up like a jazz musician, no such things as putting on jazzy make-up or choosing cars according to this. Jazz musician should be just like any other human being. Jazz musicians are in real communication with everything that surrounds them constantly. This nourishes them. A person who is well nourished in communication and attention aspects is happy and relaxed. It is easy to see this in a jazz musician.

I Am Not In The Mood, The Inspiration Won’t Come (!)

There are some nonsensical elements in playing playing some other genres, like stressing out before going onto the stage, a difference tone in their relationship with the media, “I am not in the mood” or “Inspiration won’t come” etc. Actually, these are not nonsensical, because they are in the wrong profession, playing somebody else’s music. It is natural for them to have a tough time with that. However, there are classical music soloists who approach music with the mentality of a jazz musician, they are relaxed. Those are incredible soloists. They make their own music to an extent even if they play someone else’s pieces. Because their interpretation of the piece makes the music personal.

Neşet Ruacan & Ferit Odman (Photo: Zuhal Focan)

Neşet Ruacan & Ferit Odman (Photo: Zuhal Focan)

Jazz Came From Over The Mountains

It is a known fact that jazz came from over the mountains. So it doesn’t belong to our culture but what’s the harm in that? What could be wrong with trying it out? This is because of the misleading vision of us wearing robe de chambres and Turkish people being loyal to their village backgrounds—and the belief that they will lose some of their national identity if they step outside this zone. this is wrong. Turkish people can be city people, too. We have seen such people. Did they lose their Anatolian backgrounds? No. That doesn’t happen. That is a matter of the spirit. One shouldn’t look down upon these city people. The beauty of the village life is in the village. We all come from our villages and we won’t compromise from our lives. This wouldn’t be genuine. There are many great families in the cities like Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, etc. There are men of letters, poets, musicians, lawyers, doctors, clerks… These all belong in the cities, there is no need for a clerk in the village. This is the heart of the problem, there is no need for a clerk or fancy attires. What I am trying to say is that no matter where the roots of this music lie, it should be at least tried out!

No Art Form Can Be Understood Without An Understanding Of Its Form

People socialize and go to tango classes and such in their free times; they can get to know more about music as well. Those who will start listening to jazz can start with the contemporary musicians. This works, but no art form can be understood without an understanding of its form. You have to understand its form. It is easy to do so, especially when jazz is concerned. It is easy to understand jazz. If you watch or listen to it without understanding, you never get to realize what you are looking at. It is hard to follow jazz in that case. They even said “Jazz now belongs only to the musicians, it no longer relates to the general public.” Therefore, one has to do a preparation to understand jazz forms, its protocols, and then for the solos. This can only be done by going to concerts and asking about such information.

Years With Masters

I have worked with Tuna Ötenel for many years. Tuna is one of our masters, he is incredible. He has been one of the most important names in jazz in Turkey. He still is. I have too many memories about Tuna to tell. It is hard to pick one from so many memories. I worked with Emin Fındıkoğlu for many years as well. I worked with Tuna, Erol Pekcan, Süheyl Denizci and Yalçın Ateş. Our radio programs lasted for years. I worked for 26 years here. Those programs are really good. I worked as the conductor of the TRT Jazz Orchestra for 15 years. I played the guitar there before that. We had some incredible guests and friends there. There are so many memories about the previous generation before us. So many of our elders like Süheyl Denizci, Erol Pekcan and Ayhan Yünkuş passed away. Their memories were surely more striking than ours because before them, before İlham Gencer, Ayten Alpman, nobody knew anything about jazz in this country. Some people bought jazz recordings and listened to them, of course. But their memories were surely more interesting. Our memories are more contemporary. I should sit and write these down. Some of my stories are lessons, some are exciting because there are simply too many memories.

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