Turkey’s jazz lovers have come to expect great things from the İstanbul Jazz Festival and this year it seems that once again they will not be disappointed.
Now in its 19th edition, the annual jazz celebration is set to present the world premiere of Marcus Miller’s “The İstanbul Project.” One of the jazz world’s living legends, Miller has teamed up with a group of hand-picked Turkish talents ranging from no-frills, 73-year-old creative mastermind Okay Temiz to fresh-faced guitar whizz Bilal Karaman. Following a series of rehearsals the team will take to the stage under the stars at the Harbiye-based Cemil Topuzlu Open-Air Theater on July 5, in a performance Miller is confident will spark healthy cross-Atlantic conversations and forge new friendships.
“Fun is going to be the primary word for this project,” Miller said, speaking at a press conference at The Marmara Taksim hotel on Monday evening. “The great thing about music is that it helps us communicate. I have played in many countries across the world and even if you don’t speak the same language, music allows audiences and musicians to communicate. I am a great believer in the power of music to do what words can’t,” Miller told the press conference.
Alongside Temiz and Karaman, “The İstanbul Project” will present clarinet virtuoso Hüsnü Şenlendirici, percussion maestro Burhan Öcal and prominent jazz trumpeter İmer Demirer. Drummer Louis Cato, saxophonist Alex Han and keyboardist Federico Gonzalez Pena complete a glittering cast to make what on paper looks to be a formidable jazz lineup.
Having received a long list of Turkish musicians to assess as potential collaborators for the project, Miller said that while he was overwhelmed by the talent of what he listened to, he had no doubts about his final decision. “These guys touched me, I felt a depth to their music,” Miller said, adding that the fact that the artists all come from different worlds within the Turkish music scene introduces an interesting dimension to the project.
Having first performed in İstanbul in the ‘90s, Miller has become a familiar face in Turkey of recent years. Last summer, the multi-award winning artist, along with jazz buddies Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, chose İstanbul as the starting point for a world tour paying homage to the 20th anniversary of the death of the great jazz musician Miles Davis. So why İstanbul?
“İstanbul is one of my favorite places to play,” Miller mused, continuing: “Last year we chose İstanbul as the starting point of our tour because we felt it was the right place to get the right spirit. In the end the tour was a great success and I think getting off to a good start in İstanbul played a large part in that.”
Music in Turkey, Miller reflected, appeals to him because of the history in it. “You can hear the history in Turkish music, there are stories and links to fathers and grandfathers and ancestors before. This, to me, is a very special thing,” he said.
Percussionist Temiz, present at Monday evening’s press conference in his trademark checked black and white glasses, said he has high hopes that the cultural diversity in the project will produce rich and colorful results. With an extraordinary career spanning five decades, Temiz was last year’s recipient of the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award of the İstanbul International Jazz Festival and a figure festival director Pelin Opcin describes as being “close to the very heart and spirit” of the annual event.
Karaman, the baby of the group at 28 years old, said that as a lesser-known artist he is thrilled to be taking part in the project. “Not only is it a first for me to work with an artist of the caliber of Marcus Miller, but also it is the first time that this group of Turkish musicians have gotten together, which is very exciting,” he said.
As preparations for what looks to be a musical collaboration of the highest order get under way, Miller told the press on Monday that he finds himself in a period of his artistic life where he is trying to channel his music down different avenues. “For the past five years I have been working to do different things with my music. The economic crisis has made people reassess what is important in their lives and their priorities, and I have been trying to do that, too. I believe that music holds spiritual power and that it can bring joy,” he said.