“Music or any other form of art is born when many parameters come together. If I were to speak for myself, playing an instrument well doesn’t mean you can make good jazz or classical music.”

Volkan Hürsever is a prominent Turkish double bass player. He used to sing when he was younger, and his friends would like his voice. He took piano lessons when he was three. Volkan Hürsever wasn’t really interested in music despite the fact that his father was a musician. He says that he wasn’t a very studious student in the conservatory, but that he played somehow, saying “I could play something everybody else practiced for three months in a single month.” He adds “But to be a good musician, those who worked for the two extra months became really well versed.” He lived with the mentality that the sooner you finish something, the more free time you have. That is, until jazz entered is life…

Hürsever finished his undergraduate studies at Mimar Sinan University Istanbul State Conservatory’s Double Bass Department, and his graduate studies on tambour at Haliç University Turkish Music Conservatory. He joined “İncesaz” band. He played in countless jazz, Turkish music and ethnic music albums, and released his first album called “Hediye”.

Before embarking on Volkan Hürsever’s musical journey, you can play one of the pieces he has picked for you.

French Horn, Trombone, Double Bass… What Are These?

I got involved with music when I was 15 years old. It is a process that normally starts at earlier ages, but I started late due to certain reasons. Normally, conservatory started after elementary school. We skipped that even though my father is a musician. I wasn’t even in the music club in middle school. I was in travel and observation club, meaning that I liked travelling. My father took me to the conservatory by pure coincidence and I passed the examinations. There were three choices; French horn, trombone or double bass… Let alone knowing what these instruments were, I haven’t even heard their names before. Mimar Sinan University State Conservatory gave an education solely based on classical music. Not even mentioning playing another genre; it was forbidden even to show interest in other genres. So there wasn’t anything relating to jazz in the school. I entered in 1984, I did nothing for 7-8 years. I wasn’t aware of anything. Then thankfully jazz came along. I took my first theory lesson from Neşet Ruacan. Then I started playing and here I am today.

I Get Upset! What If Jazz Had Never Entered My Life?!

It isn’t only about getting on the stage and playing the instrument. The ‘kitchen’ stage is tough. Not only the kitchen… One has to understand the ingredients, merely preparing them while cooking is not enough, to know where to get it from; cooking well is a long process. When you look at how much experience is required, it takes years. Just like music. A lot of different things should come together and time has to pass. Mimar Sinan University, as its name implies, is a State Conservatory, it gives classical music education. I graduated in 1995. I don’t know what changed in the school since then, but when I was there there was only classical music. No other genres were introduced. I wanted to write a thesis on this while doing my graduate studies. I was going to write the thesis on branching out in a conservatory that gives a 10-year education, they didn’t let me. Because I was there for the full 10 years. I have double bass player friends who started with me. One of them plays in Istanbul State Symphonic Orchestra, another is a teacher in Eskişehir, another plays in the opera, and I play jazz. But we all took the same education during these 10 years. Okay, leaving opening new branches aside, we could have been guided as “this kid can play jazz, that other one can become a teacher, this one will go play for the opera.” There could have been such a system in place. At least there could be electives. Because I might have never known about jazz. Jazz entered my life as a coincidence and at a very late age… Kent Mete was in the school with me, he is a very prominent musician. His father was also a jazz musician. Everything happened with the help of Neşet Ruacan and Kent. I played at a hotel lobby with Kent for two years. That was an incredible learning opportunity, a school for me. These things happened with their help, many thanks to them for this; to Kent, to Neşet Ruacan…

How Can One Not Like Turkish Music?

When people change, so do their interests. Something happened to me. After I played with an important jazz band in Istanbul, their double bass player came here. We went on tour, and while we were talking they said “Come on, play Turkish music for us.” I replied “I don’t know how to play Turkish music.” They couldn’t understand my reply, that as a Turkish person I couldn’t play Turkish music. Because there is no such thing. They thought that I didn’t want to play. When I returned I thought “Why don’t I know how to play it?” I asked my prominent musician friend Güç Başar Gülle “I want to learn about Turkish music, what should I do?” He told me to go to Mutlu Torun. He said “While you are there maybe you will decide to focus your graduate studies on this, go to that school.” I went, I met Mutlu Torun, and we liked each other a lot. Then a special situation arose at Haliç University, I had to take a longer prep class. Because my field was so fundamentally different. Classical music and then Turkish Music… I started playing the tambour during this period. They included tambour education in my special prep process, that’s how it started. Really glad it did. Turkish Music is something else. I understood how deep it goes. It was born in our geography after all, how can one not like it? There is no good or bad in such things; it is our history, our culture. We have to try to understand it. I don’t aim to emotionally praise or to vilify it. It is to tell it as it is! We have our own music in this geography, there is court music, there is folk music… We cannot ignore them.

Volkan Hürsever (b), Ediz Hafızoğlu (d) (Photo: Teoman Cimit)

If I am a Composer, Then What Exactly Were Mozart and Beethoven?!

Jazz is a genre in which the composition part is really short. In a 5-minute piece, that takes 1 minute in average. The rest depends on the interpretation of the musicians, and its soul. I am not a composer. We should separate that entirely. I can write short pieces. I cannot call myself a composer just because I have 3 compositions of my own in my album. I think this concept got translated wrong into Turkish. If I am a composer, then what was Mozart or Beethoven? We need to look at them. I can write short pieces. Therefore I don’t need big inspirations. I need to record my ideas somehow when I get them, in order to develop them later. Because the biggest part of creativity is this development process. Ultimately Mozart wrote the 40th Symphony. It is the genius of knowledge to write an incredible symphony on a small glimpse of inspiration. Mozart was a man of music, he was a composer.

This Life Given Is a “Gift”

I wasn’t even in the music club when I was in middle school, I had no interest. I was in travel and observation club. I used to climb mountains and hike back then. Then I got interested in diving. After I got in that circle, ‘Nautical Research Society’ was founded in Ankara. I became a member, I was very active. Then I became a founding member of ‘Mediterranean Conservation Society’. I spent a considerable amount of my time there. I know how hard that is. If you don’t have an institution or a sponsor behind you, these kind of things are tough. I thought I should help out and get involved as well. My album ‘Hediye’ was released in 2009. There are compositions by Burçin Büke and Volkan Öktem in that album… We played together. Then I donated the earnings from this album to the ‘Mediterranean Conservation Society’. Of course, I don’t know how much money goes to them, or how well the CDs sell, but I tried to help out financially. I think being happy and loving what you do are different things. Because we don’t necessarily love what makes us happy. Or what we love can make us unhappy. And I told myself “What a great present this life given to me is!” Presents are such things. What we are given, good or bad, is a present. Being alive, living is not a right. What do we do to deserve this long or short period in our hands? Life is a pact that we know will be taken away from us while signing it. We don’t know its duration. Therefore, I thought we should enjoy everything, and see everything as presents—that’s why I named the album ‘Hediye’ (meaning ‘Gift’).

Would Jazz Still Be This Valuable if Everybody Could Do It?

Would jazz be as valuable as it is now if everybody could do it? Our society doesn’t have a good relationship with jazz. Because people think listening to jazz is hard and requires background knowledge. I always hear “I don’t listen to jazz because I don’t understand it.” But one has to want to understand in order to do so. However, let me tell you this; when you go to a jazz club anywhere in the world—most of them being in the States, in New York—and I mean jazz clubs in which only jazz is played, there are 30 or so of these. You go to Blue Note in New York, no matter who is performing that evening, the American members of the audience only add up to 10% of the listeners. And this is a very optimistic number. 70% are Japanese, Chinese tourists. Unless there is a very important project involved, you won’t be able to see many Americans there. I don’t think they are too involved either. But it is in their culture. It’s not in ours.

Volkan Hürsever (Photo: Teoman Cimit)

How Much Do You Own Up to Your Music!

I have seen them do what belongs to them. It is in their blood, they play jazz. Ours is Turkish music. So, how many Turkish music performance venues are there? Let’s take a look at that, shall we? How many concert halls are there? How many orchestras? How many venues allow Turkish music performances just like jazz clubs? None. I think this should be our first question. How involved are we with our own music, how much we value it so that we could value another genre? I think this is where the problem starts. All occupations have their own life styles. If we take a look at the birth of jazz; it was born when racism was at its peak after the war in the States, when African-American people lives without much substance, materially or spiritually. It is a tough life. Most of them play wind instruments. Brass bands are disbanded after the war. Poeple don’t have trumpets or saxophones back then. They start playing them in their own venues. There isn’t any interest in classical music or concert halls back then in the States. Classical Music culture moves from Europe to America, but jazz culture moves from there to Europe. But how is it moved? In a state which separated the concept from its nature. African-American musicians have fun among themselves, create music with one another. Then this concept develops and becomes the jazz music we know today. Jazz wasn’t born in elite concert halls. What is performed today is not its natural state. I think this is because it became formalized after exported to Europe.

I don’t Like Carrying the Double Bass

Jazz isn’t listened like classical music. But a jazz profile forms depending on how you present it to people. Jazz musicians, music venues and society are all at fault. Interest in jazz comes close to last. People everywhere are so confused, we don’t even know what to take interest in. They could listen to jazz differently if they knew how much effort goes into it, how hard it is to create an album or even a style. And it could become more interesting then. A lot of people like the mountains. Everybody likes pictures with green mountains and think “Ah, to be there right now!” But only a few who think like this actually travel to those mountains, even less goes to their foothills. Even a lesser amount of people try to climb to the summit. The value of something is directly related to the effort that goes into it. This means the more effort you put into listening to jazz, the more you enjoy it. For example, I like playing instruments, and to be involved with that. But there are some that I don’t like among them. For example, I don’t like carrying the double bass. I became unable to get involved with something passionately after I have lost my mother. A state of living where you don’t depend on anything, anyone or any belief. Because you struggle when it is gone. Therefore, if somebody came up to me and told me that I won’t be able to jazz from now on; I wouldn’t die of unhappiness. Instead, I will try to find something else that will make me happy.

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