Jülide Özçelik actually got involved with music at a very early age, but wasn’t supported by her family. Because there were no musicians in her family and she had a rough time proving herself and explaining that she really wanted to do this. She got admitted into “Light Western Music” department of Müjdat Gezen Sanat Merkezi (Müjdat Gezen Arts Centre) through a friend and thus got hands on with music. She got a full scholarship for the Music department at Istanbul Bilgi University the year she graduated. The fact that she got this scholarship impressed her family, and they have been supporting her ever since.

Jülide Özçelik, one of the most prominent jazz vocalists in Turkey, gives concerts both locally and abroad, in addition to recording albums. She has many of her own compositions in these albums. However, she thinks being a composer is a very special talent and doesn’t think it is right for everyone to call themselves as such.

Jülide Özçelik played many pieces from Jazz Istanbul Volume 1 and 2 for my ‘Bizim Cazcılar’ program on NTV Radio. If you wish, you can play a piece of your own choice from this albums to accompany this interview.

Now let’s embark on Jülide Özçelik’s musical journey…

Other Windows Open!

I was a kid who would always sing. I obviously lived through what every singer goes through in their past, meaning; I would sing walking up the stairs, I wouldn’t leave the shower, I would constantly sing. I think I expressed myself this way as a child. There was nobody in my family involved with music, and I didn’t get their support because of this. I wasn’t able to do anything after high school no matter how hard I tried to express myself. This really bothered me when it came to spending my energy. One day I found myself at Müjdat Gezen Arts Centre. One of my friends was entering the examinations there, so I did as well. There were two departments: Classical Turkish Music and Light Western Music. I got into both, and chose Light Western Music. We had very esteemed and valuable teachers such as Melih Kibar and Hakan Şensoy. We worked with many different genres. When we were seniors, a friend told me at Jazz Vocal Performance department has just opened at Bilgi University. He said that he got into the guitar department with scholarship himself. My eyes started to shine. I got excited thinking what if and entered the exams. Thankfully they decided I deserved to be admitted after the first exam. There were Nükhet Ruacan, Randy Esen, Neşet Ruacan, Can Kozlu and Ali Perret there. I think they are the most valuable musicians in Turkey… I worked with Nükhet Ruacan on vocal techniques. I worked with Randy Esen frequently. Unfortunately we lost Nükhet Ruacan at an early age. I will never forget her support, her beautiful energy and humanity. She opened many windows and doors of opportunity in my life.

There Are Two Types of Music; Good and Bad

I used to listen to all genres and not only jazz at those ages. But I tried to choose good music which sounds great, ones that I could feed off of. I think there are only two types of music; good music and bad music. There is good and bad examples of pop, rock. I have always been interested in jazz. I used to see it on the TV, like it and would listen to it. I was interested in film music as well. TRT Jazz Orchestra attracted my attention. I wasn’t really active back then but I tried to follow as a listener. I liked bossa nova, I still do. I focused on jazz after I got into the school even more so, we started giving concerts. We gave concerts as duos, and orchestra concerts. İmer Demirer’s classes were a lot of fun, I would get excited and look forward to them. I have always been excited about music. I don’t really like categorizing music. Pop, jazz, folk, Turkish Music… I am always excited when good music is concerned. We studied Indian Music at school as well; we worked on Classical Turkish Music with Timur Selçuk. At the same time, I got into Classical Turkish Music choirs. Because you learn different things from different people, you see new things in every single situation. Life consists of experiences. So does music. There is things to take and things not to take in every single genre of music.

Justifiable Worries, Hesitations

I was supported both by my friend circles and at the school. However, my family didn’t want me to, maybe because we had no musicians in the family. They were hesitant because they didn’t know the path I would take. They had justifiable worries. However, they were convinced when they saw how adamant I am and how much effort I put into getting good. The fact that I got into Bilgi University was a proof that I was decided to walk this path. They have been supporting me ever since. Then came the albums…

Jülide Özçelik (Photo: Tuncay Gülcü)

We Should Know Our Place!

I like being alone. People usually don’t like solitude. Mandatory solitude is really a tough situation. However, being alone by choice nourishes me and allows me to create. I noticed that I can usually compose when I feel depressed. People ask me why I don’t only have my own compositions in my albums. I think it is impossible to compose well, write well and interpret well all at the same time. I think we should all know our place when it comes to that. Because writing lyrics is a different field, composing is another and so is arranging. Playing an instrument is an entirely different thing just like singing is. It is such a rare thing to do all of these perfectly at the same time. Of course, there are examples to this: Neşet Ertaş, Âşık Veysel! Therefore I am very doubtful about “I did it, there it is” kind of mentality. Yes I did this composition, I wrote the lyrics, it worked out like this, let’s use this. There are many compositions like this, but I filter them diligently. I ask many friends for their opinions. I especially ask my arranger Cem Tuncer for his opinion.

Open Minded People, Open Minded Music

Jazz is a genre harder to listen to when compared to other genres. One has to have a good foundation; they have to listen to good music. You might not perceive it the first time you listen to it. Then, the more you listen, the more you get to like it. I think it is a more complex and harder genre when it comes to musicality and harmony. It isn’t that way for me, but still a little harder to listen to. Therefore, if you usually listen to bad or simple music, you might not be able to listen to jazz. It could tire you out at some point. You might not nourish yourself with it, or take something from it. It is more complex when it comes to its harmony, and it is a freer genre with more improvization. Its expression isn’t limited; it doesn’t have any corners. In this sense, I rebel against many things and speak out as a woman. At least when it comes to my life. Maybe I am not around that often, or take part in social responsibility projects but I currently have big troubles about my own life. I somehow express myself with music and still think I went to the right school. Our teachers there opened our vision. They were influential in the way we view life. They were instrumental in showing us the path to walk on. They never limited us. I sang Classical Turkish Music pieces, from Hacı Arif, I sang Indian songs as well… So it is an open minded genre of music.

People Do Not Like This, No Sir!

Your taste in music gets polluted the more you listen to bad music. This sounds so simple, but it isn’t. If you listen to good music, you stop being able to tolerate mediocre music.We are exposed to music, like harassment, while we are riding the bus, the ferry or a taxi. Without even noticing, some melodies and lyrics start boiling in my head when I get back home. They got me to memorize them without noticing. Because our ears constantly record things. We are exposed to these without us noticing. Then we are told “People like this”. No, people don’t like this. You keep feeding them with such music, you tie their hands. We never force our own music on others. Those who want to listen, and those who don’t won’t, I respect that.

Jülide Özçelik (Photo: Tuncay Gülcü)

Is There Such a Thing as an Album Left? This Won’t Succeed!

My first album was released in 2008, and my second was released in 2012. I got together with Cem Tuncer, Ediz Hafızoğlu and Kağan Yıldız when we started recording. We said, these are the pieces. Cem worked on them. We walked in and recorded it. I actually had no intention of making an album. My late husband was very supportive: “You will get nowhere singing by yourself like this. Don’t only sing while cooking in the kitchen, you should do this professionally. The way to do this is to make an album.” I don’t like being in the limelight by myself. Because it is a collective work. I have always felt like it was unfair that only one person gets to be in the front. It actually ends up being that way.

I Would Sing in French if I Spoke It (!)

We finally got to recording the album. What a huge excitement! You don’t know what will happen, where it will take you. You hear some people saying; album won’t succeed, it won’t sell, there is no such thing as an album anymore, nobody buys them, etc… I wasn’t worried about whether it would succeed or not. I wanted to do it and so I did. There were folk music pieces in the album, but we wouldn’t be able to put it in the folk music aisle, to prevent people who think they are buying a folk album to be greeted by something entirely different. We called it Jazz Istanbul Volume 1 because I was born and raised in Istanbul. That’s how it got released. The second album came 4 years after that. They are more or less in the same format. I really wanted to have the acoustic piano sound in this album. We got in and recoded it live. The album is in Turkish because that is the the language I speak and I can express myself best in. I would sing in French if I spoke it.

Hayat Devam Ediyor Diyorlardı, Kızardım…

Third album will be released soon. We were actually planning to do it in the summer of 2014, but I lost many close people during that time and got shattered. I still am not fully healed, I am in the progress. Sometimes people scold me and tell me that too much time has passed and that they are waiting on the new album. This is solely due to the bad surprises life threw at me. Otherwise, why wouldn’t I? It is a great joy for us to make an album, recording it, giving concerts. I would like everyone to know the reason for the delay isn’t something superficial. It was due to two deaths, only 8 months apart… Especially when one is my husband’s and the other my father’s… We have children, we have to survive. They said life goes on and I would get mad at that sentence, but it actually was true. One day we will be gone as well. If only we could leave a pleasant sound behind, how great. Maybe those who like it will listen to it, maybe we will be remembered by a single song, maybe we will eventually be forgotten as well…

Jülide Özçelik (Photo: Tuncay Gülcü)

It Was a New Year’s Eve. I Met Faruk…

I met Faruk during an event, he came to the organization by necessity. The person who was supposed to be there was detained by the police, so they sent Faruk instead. It was a New Year’s Eve event at a hotel. That’s how we met, we got stuck in the road as well due to heavy snowfall. We finally made it to Istanbul and he proposed after a couple of meetings. I didn’t stop to think, because he was such an elegant, proper and a good person. It always works out that way, people like that never survive long in life. We had two daughters. I made two albums. I think of it as if we have four children together. He was very supportive about me releasing an album. He was always behind me when it came to my music. As I said, I wouldn’t have released an album if it wasn’t for him. He is the reason why they exist.

Be an Exemplary Person! Doesn’t Matter What You Look Like

There is a comment on a social media site about me: “She looked like a folk singer instead of a jazz musician during the concert.” These mentalities feel very fascist to me. Such a comparison; looking down upon people, seeing yourself as superior… I don’t accept such a mentality. I don’t accept it for anyone or any genre. Every genre is unique and valuable in itself. If we are categorizing things like that, maybe a jazz musician wouldn’t be able to do what a folk musician does. Or maybe Classical Music is an entirely different thing. But I can say that they look down upon arabesque music. All genres come to life through human feelings. All genres are a way of expression. Some are more protesting by nature, some have more of an aggressive expression. They all express something somehow. I respect them all. There is only good music and bad music for me. Musician should be humble. They should be human. They should never look down upon others and belittle them.

Touching People’s Hearts

I get messages like “I am currently walking on a beach in Africa and listening to your voice. You are walking by my side.” You can touch and connect with other peoples’ hearts, minds and souls; even if you might not know who they are, or even if you will never get to meet them in person. You feel that you aren’t alone. This is a great feeling. Because humankind is alone by nature. Its struggles have always been about loneliness. Everybody feels lonely somehow. You can feel alone even with somebody by your side. However, I am happy that I can tolerate this situation with the help of music. And I think what we do is very serious. You touch peoples’ hearts, this is such an important thing. Maybe they find consolidation in our music when they are at the rock bottom, or when they feel desperate. Maybe they find some hope for the future. Because we are at a very hopeless period when the future is concerned. Unfortunately we hear news on lives lost and bombs every single day… Sometimes we say “Why are we even alive? What meaning does it have if we will die by a bomb someday?” but we shouldn’t lose all hope. We all have pain, losses, sicknesses in our lives. We unfortunately cannot change or fight these. But we should give some hope through what we do…

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