Turkey’s Pride Saxophone Virtuoso: İlhan Erşahin

Turkey’s Pride Saxophone Virtuoso: İlhan Erşahin

İlhan Erşahin, born as the child of a Swedish mother and a Turkish father, has always endeavored to develop jazz music in Turkey, although he was not grown in this land.

Playing the saxophone is his way of expressing himself. Performing this in his own way, the musician spends his life by giving concerts in America and Europe. Nublu, the club he opened in New York, is one of the most important jazz clubs in the city.

You’ve been playing the saxophone since the age of 16, what can you tell us about it?

I see myself as a saxophone player most of the time and I just want to play. I think, the more eclectic people I can share my art and music, the better. I have so many friends that I want to make music together…

How did your interest in music began?

My interest in music began in the house I grew up. I was enhanced by the pieces I listened to when I was traveling on a bus as a child or when I was doing a research. I have always liked doing a research. I have always thought of it as mind-opening. I have never listened to only one genre. I think, the result of all my researches is that I am playing and composing music for different projects today.

Can you tell us a musician who is significant for you?

I was 14 when I first listened to Miles Davis. There was a saxophone player in his group then named Steve Grossman. I liked him instantly. I felt the wildness in his style; it was different. I remember entering a record shop and asking for him. The owner of the store had not even heard of him but he ordered his first record from the USA for me. I still play those vinyls. One of them is “Some Shapes to Come” and the other is “Terra Firma”. I continued to collect records from the same record company after moving in New York.

What do you have about Turkey in your childhood memories?

We used to travel to Turkey from Sweden  to stay for three months for summer vacation every year. I remember the songs of Orhan Gencebay, Ajda Pekkan, and Zeki Müren that used to play on the radio. Wonderful hits of the time used to play in the background while our moms used to chat at my aunt’s houses in İzmir and Çeşme. It is strange to witness that popular music has changed for the worse in many countries over the years.

What would you say about the development of jazz music in Turkey?

I have been observing the rise of jazz music in Turkey. There are many successful musicians and groups. Turkey is having a productive period in terms of music.

After studying at the famous jazz school Berkeley in New York, how did you decide to stay there?

I began taking the stage at Sweet Brazil Jazz Club after the school. Later, I began playing with different groups and the things began to grow.

How was living in New York?

It is very nice but I travel a lot… I come often to İstanbul. I live in my own world here. I ride my bike, I eat healthy. East Village, where I live here, resembles Cihangir.

Your wife is from Brazil, where did you meet?

We met at a friends gathering. We have a 14-year old daughter. Having a child is a very special feeling.

You don’t show your age, what is your secret?

I do not hide any of my feelings. I always speak up my mind. I think this is it.

Many things have been changing since the digital world entered arts and music. Does this new world excite you?

It really does. Now, we have to live with technology, internet, smartphones and so on. It is a very exciting new world. You feel very close to this world for a moment but then everything in this world starts to look scary and fast.

There are many different albums such as Wax Poetic, Istanbul Sessions, Wonderland in your discography. If we are to ask for each, what are your starting points?

I honestly do not know. I think, it might be a reflection of my mood and reality while recording. Sometimes, I wish to play with only one group and go in one direction. It is not for me, sticking to only one style or form of composing. I am nourished by different genres of music.

How do you listen to music?

Definitely vinyl. I have a broad vinyl collection. I have vinyls that I have kept since my childhood.

You worked with the legendary musicians such as Eddie Henderson and Juini Booth in your new project Silver. Can you tell us a bit about Silver? It is different from your other projects…

“Silver” is actually the production of four close friends. Eddie, Kenny, Juini, and I. We have been friends for 25 years. They are kind of the people whom I have met right at the beginning, started playing together, and spent time with. Since all this time has been passed after our friendship began, I thought that it was time to do something together. So we created “Silver” together. We play from the heart since we are close to each other. It is like a little trip taken together.

You say that the right place for making music is New York, why?

This city is where you can find every kind of music and feel free.

What do you do at your jazz club Nublu?

I always meet very inspirational groups and that makes me very happy. I personally choose the groups that will play. This is an exciting thing for me. We called the first Nublu I opened Classic Nublu. The new one is called only Nublu. I founded the Stüdyo 151 on the top floor of the new Nublu. I am the curator of them all.