Meritorious Artist of Turkish Jazz and Pop Music: İlham Gencer

Once upon a time, a unique artist combined the magical rhythms of jazz and the spirit of pop music, accompanied by an excellent piano. Of course, the creator of this magnificent combination is İlham Gencer, a brilliant artist in Turkish music history. The genius artist, who has devoted himself to the magic keys of the piano over the years, has produced countless works as one of the leading names in both jazz and pop music. Let’s dive deep into İlham Gencer’s life, be enchanted by his music and witness the magical memories this legendary musician had created at Pera Palace Hotel!

He Is a Musician Who Grew Up with Republic

İlham Gencer born on August 30, 1922, is one of the first pianist singers in Turkey and has made significant contributions to the establishment of the jazz music culture all around the country. Gencer, who started music at the age of 5 by playing the console piano at home, studied at Beyoğlu Anatolian High School. He gave concerts with Atilla Dorsay, who was his high school friend in those years. Musician İlham Gencer, who brought Turkish lyrics to pop music in our lives, has worked with many artists from Fikret Kızılok to Berkant.

He Established Turkey’s First Local Jazz Group

Gencer, who made his first concert and composition at age 5, founded Turkey’s first local jazz band in 1944 when he was just 20 years old. He continued to work with Badi Kemal on trumpet, Mehmet Akter on clarinet and Türkân Pasiner on vocals. Between 1949 and 1963, he made various programs on the radio. In those years, when television broadcasts were sporadic, artists who made a name for themselves with radio broadcasts mostly sang songs in foreign languages.

He Started His Singing Career with The Everly Brothers by Teaching Turkish Songs to Eartha Kitt

Gencer, who sang The Early Brothers’ songs during the years he took the stage with Atilla Dorsay, was accompanied by his best friend piano brand called Steinway. İlham Gencer bought this piano for a price of 30.000 TL at that time in an auction attended by the Sabancı and Koç families. His piano must have brought him luck, as in 1953 he had the world-famous singer Eartha Kitt sing Kâtibim, one of the anonymous folk songs with English-Turkish mixed lyrics and in accordance with the jazz style.


He Opened His Own Conservatory at Şişli Çatı Club

In 1960, Gencer established the Çatı Club in Şişli, in the building where the Site Sinema is located and opened Turkey’s first “private conservatory”. In this club, Gencer changed the musical careers of huge names such as his ex-wife, the queen of jazz Ayten Alpman, as well as Barış Manço, Ajda Pekkan, Emel Sayın, Cem Karaca and Füsun Önal. The club, which previously served the listeners in pop and jazz styles, has also allowed artists to make music in their own style over time. Ajda Pekkan was the soloist of the band called Los Çatikos at the Çatı Club which is founded by Gencer where they experimented with various styles of music.


Performed The First Turkish Pop Song: Bak Bir Varmış Bir Yokmuş

In 1961, İlham Gencer sang the first Turkish pop song, Bak Bir Varmış Bir Yokmuş with the words written by Fecri Ebcioğlu for the song C’est écrit dans le Ciel, which rocked the world by Lebanese singer Bob Azzam. This was also the event that started the arrangement trend in Turkish pop music.


Received a Rank in the Traditional Golden Microphone Contest

He managed to enter the top 10 with his song Zamane Kızları in the Golden Microphone competition, which was started by Hürriyet newspaper in 1965 and became a tradition in the following years.


In 1997 His 50th Art Jubilee Was Held

İlham Gencer, who had hundreds of songs, compositions, and artists in his music career, made his jubilee in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of his artistic life. In 2009, Sami Coşkun’s biography titled “Art and Politics at the same time with Bozkurt İlhami Gencer” was written. Known for his nationalist personality, Gencer is also the founder of the Association for the Protection and Sustenance of the Beauties of Istanbul.


An Istanbul Gentleman That Visited Pera Palace Hotel

Pera Palace Hotel, the venue for the first teatime events in Istanbul, offers its guests memorable moments for any day of the week between 15.00 and 18.00 with the concept of afternoon tea. Undoubtedly, the greatest creator of these unforgettable moments was the brilliant master İlham Gencer, who created unmatched melodies with the piano. Gencer, who performed a musical feast to his audience at the Pera Palace Hotel till he passed away and was a true Istanbul gentleman with his tuxedo and stance, had visited Pera as well and we are so glad he did!


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