Jazz interview with jazz guitarist Bilal Karaman. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Bilal Karaman: – My parents were living in Istanbul and my older brother was born in Istanbul but right after the 1980 army coup my mother had to give me a birthin Kars and afterwards we lived in İzmir for a while. When I was 8 years old we moved back to Istanbul and have been living here sincethen. Guitar was a gift from our aunt’s fiancé when I was 11. After a short while my brother discovered metal music and put a band together and that is how I got into guitar and music.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the your musical instrument? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the your musical instrument?
BK: – When I started learning and playing guitar with my brother I really enjoyed it and didn’t think of playing another instrument. Of course my brother was the first influence on me but after 4 years he switched to bass guitar. AndI switched from electric to classical guitar. It was more like a toy for me, mostly I was discovering guitar and improving on my own, so I was a self-taught musician until I met Doğan Canku in 1995 who is a flamenco guitarist and famous singer. He was my first teacher and he thought me for 6 months. Later I had more teachers when I studied in Bilgi University Jazz Performance Program. It was similar to Berklee. I had achance to study with guitarist Donovan Mixon for 2 years. He awaken me about theimportance of time, and how to sound unique & smart.I had other teachers too, like legendary Butch Morris, amazing Aydın Esen, Ricky Ford, Erkan Oğur and many more. We were lucky back in those days,unfortunately the Jazz department no longer exists and there is no other music school like Bilgi.There were so many visiting artists coming, I had the chance to meet with lots of great Jazz musicians. I attended a one week jazz workshop series of Wolfgang Muthspiel in 2003 I think that must have been a touchstone for me.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
BK: – All my childhood, I had been interestedin metal music, rock, classical, flamenco, pop, latin, turkish music etc until 1998.Than I got an interest in Jazz because of my brother. I started to listen John Patitucci, Chick Corea, George Benson, and really enjoyed it. As I couldn’t find so many musicians who play Flamenco, I re-started to play with the pick again but this time not rock, I was trying to Swing. I have always been interested in different expressions. So over the years I have been influenced by many different genres and musicians. When I was a teenagertheygave me so much inspiration. Now I am just listening to what I play and try to be as much as in the moment with a balanced sound.I like to be able to sound differently such as wild, mellow, electric, acoustic, depending on the mood of the music.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
BK: – I think I see the points that I want to develop, focus on them and practice on it. Practicing with metronome, playing with radio, playing with other musicians, recording yourself and listening, transcribing whatever you like works a lot to improvethe sense of timeand musicality. Besides, musicians’s level of playing does not matter, we should not forget the fundamental studies.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
BK: – When I was in my 20’s I think I was over-thinking when writing music and playing it. So Iused to prefer more complicated harmonies and approaches. But recently, I get along withboth, however I prefer mostly simpler harmonies and simple patterns. But it is changing always depending on my mood. Melodies are guiding me, and I try to harmonise songs mostly with modal approaches.
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?
BK: – I most of the time listen todifferent radios to discover newmusic. But I might name a few names that I appreciate like Tigran Hamasyan – An Ancient Observer, Mike Moreno – 3 for 3, Avishai Cohen – 1970, Les Doigts de L’Homme – Le Coeur Des Vivants, Sarp Maden – Waning Moon, Christian Mcbride – Bringing’ It.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
BK: – I think everybody has their own unique balance. Once Charlie Parker said ‘learn and forget’. To be better story tellers with our instruments ,we should practice many aspects and get lots of information to have the level of better understanding. But when we play, we should play with the flow without over-thinking and loosing the spirit of the moment.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
BK: – When I played a concert with Marcus Miller in 2012, I had some time to jam and share with the master musician and band leader Marcus Miller. It was a great experience. I learned many things from him in rehearsals about being a great band leader and re-arranging the songs. We played one of my songs (Agustos Bocegi) in Trio format, he played amazing fretless bass and he let meto play for an intro, that night was unforgettable for me.
JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?
BK: – If you are really a good musician than you might not have time to think of business. I think we musicians mostly are thinking of music and dreaming of new inspirations more than selling it, like a chief cooking in a restaurant. But in our modern world we can cook & sell it onour own. So musicians will have less time to practice. They have to plan their schedule more carefully in order to balance the creative process with thecashier.
JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
BK: – If people are still making money out of Jazz than I guess it means there is a jazz business. Its not a big world and maybe never will be again like 30’s to 60’s but there will be always some people that are interested in recording jazz albums and make concerts only by changing the toolsaccording to the conjuncture.
JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
BK: – I have really amazing collaborations in my life as I mentioned before playing with Marcus Miller. And there are some more, but the most important concert, the highlight of my carrier was playing at Unesco World Jazz Day, 2013 together with Dianne Reeves, Zakir Hussain, Terri Lyne Carrington, James Genus and Husnu Senlendirici. Concert was in Hagia Irene. That was unbelievable!
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
BK: – We should not forget how we first got hooked by Jazz and realign it from the past to the present. There is contemporary Jazz but it doesn’t mean that there areonly strange sounds. New colours are always charming. With respect to anonymous and older songs we can create new sounds and combinations. Paco de Lucia was a great example, he was not a traditional jazz guitarist but he could improvise and that opened a door for many guitarists.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
BK: – After singers, I guess the musicians who best connect with the music are the ones who play wind instruments. When a musician blowsinto an instrument, his/her breath directly becomes a musical form that is exactly his/her spirit. So singers and saxophone players like great Coltranehave deeper feelings about the power of melodies that articulated by their own unique sounds. We should all realise when there is even just a sound, there is vibrations. With rhythm, melody, and harmony it becomes more powerful vibrations. We humans are always vibrating. We are music in a way! Imagine a chord with 7 billion notes in it. If we wanna be in peace than we should be harmonious. That is the meaning of life, the universal harmony.
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
BK: – Since we discovered digital technology, it has progressed a lot and we are living a highly digital life. Trends are changing quickly so my anxiety is feeling dizzy about what is going on! I am holding on my guitar and my music. I think this is the way I will make my living till I die.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
BK: – I wish all great master musicians around the world, especially the older ones, could get government allowance for living. Then, they could have focused more on teaching and training their apprentices.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
BK: – As a song composer I want to compose more original music. I like to write music. I learn so much just bywriting music and playing with good musicians. When I hear a music in my mind I like to go for it; sometimes it is re-arranging anonymous songs, and sometimes composing new ones. I am always looking for better ideas.
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
BK: – Yeah, there are some common scales, and similar rhythms. The 3rd degree in Rast maqam is similar to the blue notes of that old Blues players were playing. There is the African influence. Turkey and West Africa is far from each other but there are interesting similarities. As you know Swing rhythm is mostly coming from West African claves. It is the combination of 6 and 4 which is also the simplest and most common poly-rhythm. Swing rhythm is all about feeling 3 in 4. Spanish Flamenco form Buleria is based on the same African influence, you can count in many ways 6/8, 12/8 , 6/4, 4/4 or 3/4. This is the powerful combination of 3 and 4 in rhythm and we can hear it mostly in Swing but also in many different countries’ musical traditions; so there are similarities in rhythm.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
BK: – Glenn Gould-Bach, Brahms, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Parker, Robert Glasper, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Jason Lindner Now vs Now and many more. I listen and appreciate different genres, sometimes the classics that everybody knows but sometimes some artists that nobody knows. There are too many to list.
JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?
BK: – Peerless maestro, and some Turkish handmade guitars. It is changing according to my band. At home I use Roland JC. and Trace Elliot amps. Like many guitarists I have lots of pedals. I use them when I play concerts like our Hayyam Sessions recording. Mostly I prefer to play with only reverb.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
BK: – I didn’t think about that so much really. It is a difficult question but could be 60’s NewYork. To meet all those great musicians. Since it is not so further away, I think, I would have adopted easily.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
BK: – How did you discover my music and what do you think about my 4 albums on digital markets?Is there a common language among them or are they so different?
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. We learned about your music, when you were hanging up your new CD, but unfortunately, you did not want to cooperate with us and advertise your CD on our website.
BK: – Thank you for your kind interview.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan