Çağrı Sertel’s career in music started with the piano lessons he took when he was 12 years old, and he started writing his own music when he was in high school. He worked with Aydın Esen, Ricky Ford, Donovan Mixon, Cengiz Baysal, Can Kozlu and Selen Gülün while studying at Istanbul Bilgi University. Pianist, arranger, composer and producer Çağrı Sertel continues on performing locally and internationally.

Sertel, who took part in many different projects after his album Newborn, recently released his second album “Instant”, which embodies modern, progressive and ethnic elements, in April. The album is dedicated to all the losses, sadnesses, hopes and joys of 2016. It also aims to introduce jazz to Turkish people and make them enjoy it through the ethnic elements it embodies. Çağrı Sertel plays the piano, Fender Rhodes and the electronics; Sarp Maden plays the guitar; Çağ Erçağ plays the cello; Engin Recepoğulları plays the saxophone; Volkan Hürsever plays the double bass and Volkan Öktem plays the drums in this album.

Now let’s embark on this journey of music…

“Everything Started Out as a Game” 

I was 12 years old, there was a toy keyboard at home; I started playing music by messing with it by myself. I would play pieces I listened to at home by the ear, finding out their rhythms on my own. This improved my hearing comprehension a lot. This wasn’t something consciously done, music was my only joy. My cousin discovered this the first; he was staying in Istanbul for a year back then. He spoke to my parents and told them to take me to music lessons. That’s how the lessons started.

“Sezen Aksu, Levent Yüksel, Nükhet Duru…”

Back then, Turkish pop music would be listened to at home, such as Sezen Aksu, Levent Yüksel and Nükhet Duru. I used to like them a lot, I still do. I would listen to them nonstop and imitate their music.

Çağrı Sertel & Grandbrothers (Photo: Kabak-Lin Archive)

“Don’t Meddle in Such Things (!)”

I grew up in Tuzla until I was a middle schooler, and then I enrolled in Fine Arts High School. I had a group of friends there. People who speak the same language as me entered my life. Those were great years, that’s when I started writing music. There weren’t classes dedicated to this at school, I got some complaints not to meddle in such things… But just like the story of how I started my music career; I am glad I went ahead with it and didn’t listen to anyone. What I started with my own will became something irreplaceable, I can’t go on without it.

“There is No Escape Once You Take That Poison”

I started to listen to Bill Evans during my senior years. I liked it and I started to listen to pieces from that period, and then I listened to modern music. Once I took that poison, that poison of jazz, I thought, I will be happy if I make this music. And I started to write pieces with the influences from what I listened to. Influence is an important thing, blending it is even more important. You want to create something similar once you find a music that makes you happy. Then you form your own language.

“An Obsession or Something Like That”

I played ney (a traditional Turkish instrument) for a while in addition to the piano. I was very interested, I listened to ney music frequently as well. For example, I listened to “Yansımalar” and ney became an obsession for me. I took ney lessons for a while. I still play it sometimes, it is a favorite instrument of mine. I would have liked to play the drums as well though…

“A Jazz Musician who Plays at Telvin”

I mostly listen to rock as far as other genres are concerned, but I really like Folk Music as well. I even played with  Erkan Oğur at Telvin for a while. I like Classical Turkish Music as well. I had such an opportunity about that: I work with Derya and Dilek Türkan but we didn’t give a concert together for a while. We make slightly more modern arrangements of Classical Turkish Music pieces. It sounds more modern when we play them.

“The Most Suitable Place for This Music”

I decided that Bilgi University was the most suitable place for me to be after high school and I got in with a scholarship. Back then there was Selen Gülün, that was a great period. We are the last graduates. The performance department regretfully closed down after we graduated. We made music together, attended classes. Selen gave classes on harmonics projects, we all tried to write good music for the project… At the end of the day we would go to the studio and play those. It was really fun. For example, a couple of pieces in my first album are from those harmonics projects class.

Çağrı Sertel (Photo: Kabak-Lin Archive)

“Music with a Good Response”

I try not to discriminate between genres of music… That is why one might not hear a dominant jazz sound in my arrangements or pieces in my albums. One can hear rock, one can even hear allusions to classical music. I don’t limit myself with the concept of genres. You get stuck in a certain harmonics structure. When jazz is concerned one thinks of complicated harmonics that make you think “Oh this is a tough job”. There is no such thing, this all depends on you transparently internalize the music genres. Jazz really responds well to that.

“I will Pass on Jazz”

Jazz unfortunately was introduced as —I don’t want to use this term—being under the influence of the music of white collar executives. As the music of the rich people above a certain level of income… That’s why a lot of people became hesitant about it. It isn’t a genre that is always easy to listen to, because it embodies dense harmonic, melodic and rhythmic date. That is why it isn’t easy for everyone to get into, for them to understand and to love. Once it is branded as elite, people become hesitant. They think “I will pass on jazz”.

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