Jazz Music in Turkey: Dancing Notes for Free Souls

In the 1840s, Americans, mainly classical music lovers, were introduced to brand new music coming from the Mississippi coast: jazz music of the period known as “Dixieland.” Not long after, the fame of jazz, which is the favorite of many music lovers in America, spread to Europe by surpassing America. Jazz music, very popular in Scandinavian countries, spread to Turkey nearly a century after its emergence in America. At that time,  jazz was in its golden age, Swing Era, in America. Erdem Buri, starting a program in 1949 on Istanbul Radio, began to share this culture with young people through his jazz music sets.  In 1950 and after, jazz became one of the most popular music genres played on Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir radios. Jazz was slowly starting to settle in the heart of our country.

A Story Beginning in Istanbul in the 1940s


The adventure of jazz, which started in Mississippi, reached our country nearly a hundred years later. In the late 1940s, Cüneyt Sermet played jazz records in his house in Istanbul Sarıyer. Sermet, who studied double bass at the conservatory for three years, founded a large orchestra in 1951 with Arto Haçaturyan and Arif Mardin. This orchestra was playing arrangements from Mardin and Stan Kenton. Sermet also supported the young saxophonist İsmet Sıral’s inclination towards modern jazz in the same years. In 1951 and 1952, he formed a sextet with Sıral. In this quartet, Turkey’s first Turkish jazz singer, Sevinç Tevs, also made a name for himself. Continuing to work as an instructor and consultant in the following years, Sermet supported many young people to turn to jazz music in the 1950s and, as a result, to go to Boston Berklee Music School.

1950s Turkey Begins to Dance to Jazz Music


Kemal Sural appears as another musician who played jazz in the 50s. Sural, who plays the trumpet, is also known as Badi Kemal. Discovered while making music in Üsküdar Community Center, Sural joined the Hulki Saner Orchestra in 1940. Another important name of the 50s is Röne Koen. The artist, who signed a record with Erden Buri and Arif Mardin, continued his love of jazz music throughout the years. As a result, jazz melodies began to be heard in Iskenderun as well as in Istanbul. Drummer Andre Çoğal is one of the influential names of jazz music in the 50s.

World Famous Jazz Musicians in Turkey


The following years also marked the beginning of the world-famous jazz musicians’ visits to Turkey. Dizzy Gilespie Orchestra, which came to our country in 1956, was welcomed by famous Turkish jazz musicians at the airport. In addition, Dave Brubeck Quartet and Louis Armstrong were worthwhile names that visited our country.

First Jazz Club Opens in Bebek


The adventure of jazz, which started with the colonial colonies in Africa wanting to express their pain, sadness, dreams, and disappointments, gained many admirers in our country more than a century later. Jazz music has gained a unique fan base in Turkey, as it is the type of music in which passion is felt the most. As a result, the opening of the country’s first jazz club was not delayed. “306,” opened in Bebek, was the work of mouth harmonica musician Hasan Kocamaz. Muvaffak Falay and İsmet Sıral Altılısı delivered the magic of jazz to dozens of music lovers every night with their concerts.

Jazz Love Continues in Contemporary Turkey


Today, adoration for jazz shows itself through annual festivals in Istanbul. The festivals host jazz artists and groups from all over the world and successful and talented musicians of our country. In addition, Turkish musicians and their achievements abroad are also impressive, especially in the last ten years. Jehan Barbur, Fatih Erkoç, Elif Çağlar Muslu, İlhan Erşahin, Kerem Görsev, Birsen Tezer and many other successful names continue to make Turkey enjoy to jazz music melodies.

A Very Special Event at Pera Palace


Accompanying first local jazz band pianist İlham Gencer in first tea hours at Pera Hotel, pleasant concerts of the past and the soul of jazz keeps living. When the breathtaking melodies of İlham Gencer accompany the magnificent dome of the hall, time travel becomes a reality rather than a myth. Every day of the week, between 15.00-18.00, Traditional Tea Time with İlham Gencer opens its doors to all its guests to witness the golden age of Istanbul.


These articles may also be of interest to you:

15 Iconic Pieces That Are Written About Istanbul and The Story Behind It

Open-air spots to listen to music in Istanbul!

Meritorious Artist of Turkish Jazz and Pop Music: İlham Gencer

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