A city between continents, Istanbul straddles the divide between Europe and Asia, a beautiful blend of different cultures and influences as it lies at a continental crosspoint. Naturally, the city’s music scene is incredibly diverse, with Turkey’s largest metropolis – Istanbul has a population of over thirteen million – playing host to the likes of dance act Faithless, 80’s fashion icon, singer and actress Grace Jones, and the Eurovision Song Contest in 2004, after Turkish superstar Sertab Erener won the contest the previous year. Istanbul also stages the Istanbul International Jazz Festival every July, and has been doing so for almost twenty years on an annual basis, since 1994.
In the past, the festival has seen artists such as Bjork, Miles Davis, Sting, Massive Attack and Suzanne Vega take to the stage, a true reflection of the festival’s reach and appeal on a global scale. With shows going on throughout the entire month of July, this year’s line-up features the likes of Grammy-award winning American soul artist, John Legend, as well as a collaboration between Bob James, a living jazz legend with a whopping eighty-five albums to his name, and David Sanborn , a saxophonist who is one of the best in the world and considered among the best of all time. Lisa Simpson would be in heaven. There’s also talent from the region too, as singer Lena Chamamyan, from neighbouring Syria, blends her style of jazz and classical Armenian music with a bevvy of Turkish musicians accompanying her powerful vocals.
The venues for the festival are dotted all over the city, so it was pretty easy pick and choose which events to go to, and slot them into a full-blown holiday. There are a few holiday providers offering cheap deals to Turkey at the moment, like First Choice for instance. It also means you might want to familiarize yourself with Istanbul’s public transport system with the IETT (local transport authority).
The festival also hosts an incentive called ‘Young Jazz’, which aims to promote emerging talent in the genre and bring jazz to a wider and younger audience. Likewise, the festival offers discount tickets for as little as forty lira – about thirteen pounds – as a further enticement for students and youth to attend concerts and discover the world of jazz music. In addition to the youth programme, the festival also puts on ‘Tunel Concerts’, which are completely free of charge and open for anybody to attend, although organisers do request that children under seven not be brought to any of the concerts that take place during the festival.
The Istanbul International Jazz Festival is widely regarded as having the best programme of any music festival that takes place in all of Turkey, with concerts taking place in open-air venues to ensure an unforgettable and relaxing atmosphere to counter the constant hustle and bustle of Istanbul and the tourist droves that descend upon the sightseeing hotspots of the Aya Sofia and Blue Mosque, and the shopper’s paradises of the Grand Bazaar, and Istiklal Caddesi.
A huge variety of jazz is promoted at the festival, from jazz tinged with Latin or Nordic influences, to classical jazz, and jazz that fuses with other genres such as reggae, folk and rock music. Diversity is important to the festival’s organisers, which can be seen in the wide array of artists from different musical backgrounds who appear in the festival’s lineup. The main goal of the festival is to encourage the production of jazz music in Turkey, and to promote Turkish jazz musicians on a global scale.
Around fifty thousand people attend the festival each year, with more than thirty concerts being held over the duration of the festival, and it has since blossomed into one of the world’s leading jazz festivals, also honouring jazz’s greatest musicians and bestowing Lifetime Achievement Awards upon the likes of Diana Krall and Herbie Hancock. Throughout July, Istanbul keeps on grooving, and the beat is jazz.