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Somewhat of a Puzzle: It Has Boundaries but They Are Faint – TURQUAZZ

Burak Bedikyan is the most studious jazz musician I know! I haven’t started any of my articles like this before, but after meeting Bedikyan and listening to his story, his musical journey; after following his work, it is hard to keep up with it, I realized starting out with this sentence makes sense.

Burak Bedikyan isn’t merely a jazz pianist. He also is someone who wants to learn what he is doing down to its atoms. He tries to understand how to play the piano, what jazz means and its philosophy and the meaning of everything he does. He describes the piano’s beautiful collection of sounds and what it means for him to do what he does with these words:

“We always have thoughts, some are controlled and some are not. But we are parts of a movement or we are in the middle of it. I am still a part of that movement, that flow, when I start playing the piano. However; those millions or thousands of thoughts or influences reflect on the sounds the moment I touch the keys. Therefore I become a facilitator with or without being conscious about it. This thing I facilitate can also be something independent from me. Or, maybe I have a particular story in my mind and I am trying to tell that. Or maybe I don’t know what I am doing, but my subconscious wants to scream something out and that brings something forth, or not. I don’t know about that. I cannot speculate what an effect it has on the spectator. But this is the natural way of expression for me.”

Burak Bedikyan, recorded his first album Circle of Life in New York and sent it to many places. He didn’t expect to receive contracts or offers from many recording labels he has admired and whose works he has collected for years. He picked SteepleChase among them. He played with Chris Potter, Bill Stewart and Peter Washington in this album. All the pieces, except for one, are his own compositions.

The next record to follow was Leap of Faith. It was recorded in New York, as well. Burak Bedikyan usually records his work overseas. He worked with the same recording label and recorded with Chris Cheek, Billy Drummond and Ron McClure.

And his latest album is called Awakening. It also consists entirely of his own compositions. He recorded with Loren Stillman on the alto saxophone, Donald Edwards on the drums and Ugonna Okegwo on the bass.

Burak Bedikyan was my guest during this session of NTV Radio’s ‘Bizim Cazcılar’ program. Bedikyan played Memory Of A Fading Dream, Unfair Blues, The All Seeing Eye and Mother Earth from his album Awakening. You can play one of these pieces to accompany this interview.

Now let’s embark on Burak Bedikyan’s jazz journey.

I Will Learn it Down to Its Atoms!

Music has been in my life since I was 7 years old. I started taking piano lessons with the encouragement of my family. I don’t know if my family saw my affinity and took me to lessons. Classical piano lessons lasted for 7-8 years during the winters (of course, it felt somewhat like a game back then). I didn’t have a particular interest in music when I entered middle school. I used to skip piano lessons and go play basketball and such…

Much Ado About Nothing

There was always music in the household. My father usually listened to American pop music. He had a rather expansive record and cassette collection. My mother would often listen to French songs. My father would play the guitar and my mother would sing. It was rather amateurish, but a musical atmosphere. I got used to polyphonic music when I was really young. My interest in music started when I was in high school. I remember that I had already given up on the piano lessons at that point. It wasn’t going too well because I wasn’t interested in it. My father would listen to jazz at home as well, he didn’t have a big archive of it though. He still is the first person I go to when I create something new. I trust his judgement. I remember hearing Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz and Miles Davis at home. But neither I nor my mother were open to this genre. We didn’t like it, it sounded rather like much ado about nothing.

For some reason, that music started to attract me during my high school years. It started to sound interesting. I was actually listening to Anglo-Saxon rock bands back then. Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, King Crimson etc…

How Do These Sounds Come Together?

My friends weren’t interested in music. I used to play my father’s guitar occasionally at home. I felt a bit foreign to it when I picked it up. I didn’t show much interest in other instruments either. You understand the depth of piano as an instrument when you get a little close to it. I didn’t have much time to get accustomed to other instruments because I was busy with the piano. I also never was a person who could spend extensive amounts of time in front of an instrument, it isn’t in my nature. I cannot sit and practice for hours, do this, do that. I was more interested in the content aspect. How do these sounds come together, how do they make a whole; such things.

Burak Bedikyan American Quartet (Photo: Burak Bedikyan Archive)

We Would Run to Other Rooms When Jazz Started Playing

I felt like going back to my classical music studies years later. I felt a hunger, an inadequacy. I spent a lot of time by myself starting over from zero on basic knowledge, I still do. But I most likely wouldn’t play or record it, or say ‘I play classical piano’. Because I am very sensitive when it comes to this. It is the same for my own music as well. But I have the utmost respect for classical music and its rich and old tradition. That is why it has an important place in my life when it comes to personal development and depth. Some things gain meaning when you become aware of them. Jazz is such a thing. I mean—my mother and I used to run to other rooms when my father started listening to jazz records.

I Will Learn Its Details Down to Its Particles

I met Doğan Kozpançalı when I was in high school. I was able to meet some musician elders thanks to him. I have always been very curious. I want to learn things down to their particles when I get interested. I worked hard by myself and learnt whatever I could from whomever I could. I laid the theoretic foundation of many things when I was 18-19 with my own efforts. Then I met Aydın Esen. I wanted to study music by the time I was a senior in high school.

Make Music but as a Hobby…

There were some tensions in the household when I took the decision to study music. It isn’t a safe profession, nothing is for sure. “Make music, but as a hobby” and such usual arguments… I was in my rebellious years and I insisted, and then we made a pact. It was 1995-1996 I think, we had recently heard that Aydın Esen would permanently return from New York. My parents told me “Study and get into university and we will introduce you to Aydın Esen because he will give workshops.” My father told me “Get into the university and I will take you to Aydın Esen’s workshop.” I thought, let me take a look at these textbooks then. I got into Marmara University’s Econometrics department. Of course, I failed in all the classes right from the start. I didn’t make it to finals, because of the Aydın Esen factor in my life.

Burak Bedikyan (Photo: Burak Bedikyan Archive)

Aydın Esen Factor Messes Up The Mind

Aydın Esen messed up my mind as a 18 years-old adolescent. Such an influx of knowledge, vision and talent; you are confronted with such a source. We worked with him for 2-3 weeks when he gave his workshop. We started out with 40-50 participants and was left with 3 in the end. Emir Işılay was one of those 3, he now lives in Los Angeles. He has a very prominent name in film and TV show soundtrack business. Then there was Tolga Tüzün, who is the head of the Music Department in Bilgi University, and lastly, I was one of those 3. That 2-3 week period is a turning point in my life. I learnt many things from Aydın Esen. We kept in touch and worked together again after that period as well.

No Support, Positive or Negative

When I wasn’t able to make my studies at Marmara University work, I got into Bilgi University in 2002. I initially considered going abroad, but some unfortunate events happens in that period; I had some disappointments about not finding any support. Even though I got scholarships from abroad, I couldn’t find the support from here. I entered the examinations of Berklee College of Music in Paris when I was 19-20 years old. I got a scholarship and got excited and motivated; I had some expectations. But the scholarship Berklee gave only covered the cost of the education. You need funds for accommodation, for a living, etc. I wrote to many places as a child of 19-20, and tried really hard to find support. But I didn’t receive any answers, neither negative nor positive, from any of those places. That made me really sad back then.

More Data, More Information

I started to play semi-professionally when I graduated from high school. But 2002 marks my decision to be a full-time professional musician. That is why I had a lot of expectations. I wanted more date, I wanted more information. However, when I wasn’t able to move at that pace, I got a little distant from the school as well. I found the solution with Aydın Esen once more. I worked with Aydın Esen for 2-3 years on and off. He had a music center at Kemer Country, I don’t know if he still is continuing with that. That was the second turning point in my life. Firstly, Aydın Esen did not ask me to pay any fees. I am so thankful about that as well. He really enjoyed playing with his own students. I remember Bilal Karaman, Selçuk Karaman and occasionally Ediz Hafızoğlu would participate in addition to myself. They are all my friends from school.

Burak Bedikyan European Quartet (Photo: Burak Bedikyan Archive)

7 Days 24 Hours Music

I got indifferent about music for a few years, I got distant. I got nauseous when I saw a piano. It was such a big trauma, because it had to do with my existence. I hear and think about music 7 days 24 hours in my head. That is how my life goes. Music is my way of thinking. I actually don’t think I am extremely talented, I think it all has to do with my focus. I actually think my talent is rather mediocre. But I really love it and it has been my way of living as long as I can remember.

Anyway, Let’s Not Talk Ill of Anyone

Therefore, they told me that the jazz department of Bilgi University had just opened, I should try that. I didn’t know this back then, but my teachers later on told me that I got in and got the scholarship with the highest grade of all the applicants. I got into Bilgi University, but I had different sorts of problems there as well. I shouldn’t speak ill of Bilgi University because it was an incredible place to meet people. I am not someone who does well in a classroom environment with teachers. Playing with them on the stage is more useful and deep for me. It helped me a lot to play with the masters such as İmer Demirer, Neşet Ruacan and in the following years, with Can Kozlu. We became great friends with the teachers later on. It was a great service; Bilgi University was a great meeting place.

Burak Bedikyan European Quartet (Photo: Burak Bedikyan Archive)

Jazz isn’t Barely about Playing Music

The playing field of jazz is expansive. It has boundaries, but they are faint and elastic. The initiative is mostly in your hands. There are some serious rules and a certain path to follow. It isn’t like 3-5 people get together and improvize in a completely free sense of the word. There is the need for serious discipline and serious rules of the game; a serious strategy or some criteria and principles. Everybody should know about these, or it would be pure chaos on the stage. But these boundaries are much more flexible and open to momentary changes. That is why it is very exciting and dynamic. Also, it is now much different than the traditional styles. The understandings of rhythm, melody and harmony are much, much expansive compared to the 1940s, 50s or 60s. Jazz isn’t barely about playing music for me. It isn’t playing the right notes, sounding good, achieving hard things or playing fast. It had such periods, but the point it has arrived at is no longer like this.

One Should Prove Their Worth to Themselves, Not to the Others

I don’t think playing the things I have worked and practiced for 30 years, or practice for 3-4 hours daily with my piano, I cannot call that music. I think it is such a material thing that has been prepared for. It is very ordinary and expected. It isn’t for me. I am not going to show off my talents or prove something to others. Therefore, music is more of a spiritual thing for me. I can list many names like Keith Jarrett, Aydın Esen, or Herbie Hancock. These people grasped this aspect of music and express that in extraordinary ways and live such a life suited to this perspective; that is why I always give them as examples or use them as my role models.

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