Selen Gulun – Interview

1. Where are you from and how did you get started in music?

I am from Istanbul, Turkey. As lots of other musician friends I showed my interest in music at a very early age. My family especially my mother was a great listener and music was a very big part of our daily life. They realized my interest and talent and put me in Conservatory exams. So, my music education officially started when I was 7 years old by going to the Istanbul University State Conservatory part time student program. Thereby, all through education until College times, I studied two schools. I was piano performance student at the Conservatory and my early music education was focused on Western Classical Music. Even though my first college education was on Business, I was always serious about music. Frankly, that degree was mainly about convincing my family that I will not starve to death by being musician ☺ I was a bit rusher on education. When I started my first college degree I was only 16. After graduating from Business, I went back to full time music education double majoring on Composition and Piano at Mimar Sinan University Conservatory, Istanbul. Back then I was already playing, singing in Jazz and Rock clubs professionally. I was in love with improvising. After a while I got a bit tired of Classical Music and decided to apply for Berklee College of Music. I got accepted to Jazz Composition major at 1996 in half scholarship, which turned to be a full scholarship in a half year, and I graduated in one and a half year from Berklee in summa cum laude. Then, I had my master’s degree on Contemporary Music Composition in Istanbul, which helped me later a lot on creating my own kind of language in music writing. So it was a long journey of music education.

2. What is the jazz (and over all music scene) like in Turkey?

Jazz has a very old history in Turkey so it has its own tradition. The first examples were from 1940’s but it got more serious after 1950’s with the uprising of bourgeois society. Istanbul Music Festival was an important source for so many of us to be interested and serious about Jazz in Turkey. There I saw Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, John Abercrombie, Charles Lloyd, Mahavishnu Orchestra, James Brown, and so many other great artists live that impossible for me to count their names all together. I saw Oscar Peterson playing solo and then I had decided to be like him, having a lot of fun playing on the stage! Later that festival separate its way with Classical Music and now it is called Istanbul Jazz Festival, which will celebrate its 25th year this summer. Also, Akbank Jazz Festival is another great festival that I should mention. At the starting point was of this festival Sun-Ra Arkestra played a street concert, which was unforgettable for me. It is more of a progressive festival. Other than these some of other major cities have their own jazz and other music festivals. Istanbul was and still is an attention center of the live music. There is a new, promising jazz festival started last year called Zorlu PSM Jazz festival. We played there our new album, KAPI with my Italian musician friends. Everything was very professional. Until 2011, there were more clubs and many more jazz concerts were happening in Istanbul but due to the political situation the seen has been changed. Like lots of other things… Some good clubs are important to mention in Istanbul like Kaset Mitanni, Nardis, Badau, BoVa and bigger places like Salon IKSV, Babylon are still serving for good and original music everyday. Lots of things to talk about music scene in Turkey but I will try to leave it here. Turkey has a very young population and many of them studies in big cities. People love to hang out, drink and eat outside. They love to go to the clubs too but mainly for dancing these days. Like I have said, things are in transition. Lets hope for the good one.

3. How did you first come to Japan and what are your impressions of the music world here?

Before me, my piano trio album Answers came to Japan. Disc Union at 2014 asked that if they can sell Answers in Japan and I connected them with the record company. I didn’t follow what happened after that, and I have no idea why they wanted that specific album which was released at 2010. I have recorded that album with my old time friends, Patrick Zambonin (electric bass, Switzerland) and Jörg Mikula (drums, Austria) at 2006 in Istanbul. After couple of months that my cds arrived in Japan a fan of mine from Turkey shared a photo at instagram showing that my album is on the best selling list, number six in Tokyo disc union! I was surprised and later we got connected with disc union again, I came for couple concerts related to that album, Answers at June 2015. I immediately loved Tokyo. Music world is unique here. Life is around music. There are many clubs with many different music and many different styles of musicians. Though I had many great Japanese musician friends in Berkley, I wasn’t expecting this much of a variety. I am impressed. Especially while even the major jazz clubs around the world is closing one by one. Here I started playing with very different kind of musicians and that makes me incredibly happy. I am interested to play lots of different music including contemporary music, free jazz, free improvisation, written music, and etc… Here I play quartet, trio, duo jazz with trumpet player Issei Igarashi, duo free improvisation with violinist Keisuke Ohta, improvised concert with Keiji Haino… Lots of crazy performances are happening. As a curious musician, to be able to play in this kind of variety I travel around the world since 2003. Finding all this movement in one city is breathtaking!

4. Current projects?

I released two albums last year. One is an electronic/ electro-acoustic/improvisation/ambient album published in Rome, Italy with great Italian musicians Marcello Allulli (tenor sax) and Emanuele de Raymondi (laptop & electric guitar), named KAPI. The other one is a women composers project that I have been leading since 2011, called Women’s matinee (Kadinlar Matinesi), which is released in Turkey. I will be going back and forth between Italy, Turkey and Japan for playing the concerts of these albums. Also, I recently started recording a duo album that includes great Japanese musicians I play together. I am very exited about that album. I have another project called Blue Band, 6 horns + rhythm section jazz combo band. I write music for this combination since 1997. We had a concert last year in Tokyo. I want to keep that band alive and hopefully record with them, too. Just today I had a new offer from a record company for recording a solo album I might have consider. I will go to play Ankara Jazz Festival on May 8, Istanbul Jazz Festival in June 29, another summer festival in Rome July 20. On May also I will go to New York for a recording session and play couple concerts while I am there. Mean while I will continue performing in Japan too.

5. 3 favorite albums?

Hard to say! But maybe if I limit myself as, “life time albums that I can listen forever”:

Bill Evans at the Montreaux Jazz festival (1968) (piano player’s dream)
Marc Johnson’s Bass Desires – Second Sight (changed my perspective in music at the first listening)
Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil (every tune is hit and oh, that album cover!)

You can see Selen at Bar Rhodes in Shibuya on March 8th.

Previous articleOK Jazz Episode #66
Next articleHailu Mergia
Mr. OK Jazz is a 20+ year resident of Japan and spends all his free time wandering the Kanto area looking for jazz cafes, bars, clubs and record stores. For two years he hosted the OK Jazz radio show on InterFM Radio, currently the OK Jazz podcast. You can reach him at *protected email*