YOUNG TALENT OF JAZZ: KARSU DÖNMEZ

DRAWING ATTENTION TO HER BEAUTYAS WELL AS HER TALENT, KARSU DÖNMEZ’S CAREER HAS BEGUN AT THE AGE OF SIXTEEN WHEN SHE WAS WAITING ON CUSTUMORS, SINGING, AND PLAYING PIANO FOR THEM AT THEIR FAMILY RESTAURANT.

It seems like we are going to hear Karsu Dönmez’s name often in the years to come. The young Dutch talent who is originally from Turkey is a pianist, composer, and arranger as well as being a singer. Karsu Dönmez is a woman of many talents. Her interest in music has begun at a young age. She had seen a pianist with long hair on TV, when she was a little girl. She was so impressed by the pianist and the melody that was played on TV that she had a piano when she was eight. We had a chat with the rising star Karsu Dönmez for Raillife readers.

Would you like to tell us your story of music?
My mother and my father wanted me and my sister meet with sports and music for our cultural development, alongside our school education. We began taking music and sports classes when we were 4-5. I remember that I wanted to take piano lessons when I was 6-7. It sounded out of ordinary to my mother and father, they said, “play saz, play flute” (saz: a traditional stringed instrument.) They even said, “Take lessons for a year, if you still want it afterwards, we will get you a piano.” After one year, I was still asking for a piano. They had rented it for a year, and they had to make a decision once they realized that I still wanted a piano at the end of one year: they were either going to get me a piano or they would continue to rent the one we had. They decided to use a part of their car savings to buy me a piano. I was 8 then.

When did they get a car?
After 3-4 years. I won a competition called ‘Open Podium Performance’ in Amsterdam when I was 15 and going to middle school. Later, I returned with an award as the Amsterdam’s first place winner from the Holland finals. I began to write my first lyrics behind my piano when I was 15-16. I went to Rhode Island and enrolled to a crammer. I had the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall after winning the Young Talent of Holland award at the age of 17.

Then, I guess you began to appear on Dutch media?
Dutch media noticed that. I began to appear on TV-shows. They made a documentary on me. My first studio album was released in 2012. Later, I had concerts in Indonesia, Brazil, the United States of America, Surinam, Germany, Belgium, Monaco, Morocco, and Croatia. I became the ambassador or a peacetime establishment named as Master Peace. I wrote a peace song for this establishment.

Which jazz festivals did you perform in Turkey?
İstanbul Jazz Festival was the first one. It was in 2009. 2012 Alanya Jazz Festival, 2012-2014 Ankara Jazz Festival, and 2014 Akbank Jazz Festival followed. I participated in North Sea Jazz Festival in 2010 and 2013, taking place twice in a festival that hosts the world’s greatest artists. My room and Quincy Jones’ were next to each other. This was an unbelievable experience to me as a young person who was 19 or 20.

Would you talk about the documentary film that was on you?
It was in 2007; I was 17 and working at my father’s restaurant. I used to begin singing behind the piano sometimes. There, I was trying out the songs that I wrote home. One day, I continued waiting on the tables following a performance at the restaurant. A woman who was eating her dinner her back turned to me liked my performance very much. When I was waiting on her she asked me, “The CD that was playing was so nice, who is the singer?” I said, “No, it was not a CD, I was the one who was singing.” She said, “I am a director (Mercedes Stalenhoef) and I would like to make a documentary film about you.” I was going to high school and I was not dreaming of any career, then.

What are your new projects?
I have many; my last album was released on September 2015. Before that, a single was released. Now, we are working on a clip. I had concerts in many cities of Turkey in January.

How did you come up with the idea of combining Turkish tunes with jazz?
We used to listen to different kinds of music at home when I was a child: classical, reggae, traditional folk music, Azeri songs… When I began to make my own music, I realized that I was inspired by Turkish tunes. When I make music, I don’t think about how it is going to be. What comes out is up to my feelings and psychology at the time. I am open to any kind of music. It just might change from time to time.

 What kind of reaction you get about the traditional Turkish folk songs that you perform abroad?
Very nice. Some come to me after a concert and say, “We don’t understand your Turkish songs but they affect us deeper than others.” Even, when I am on the stage, they ask, “Karsu, could you give us information on that song?” Recently, I have been performing Barış Manço’s “Tomato, pepper, eggplant” -may God have his soul rest in peace- and my audiences accompany me. For instance, there were 100 thousand audiences in one of my concerts and they all accompanied me when I was singing it. Most wanted songs are Gesi Bağları, Çok Uzaklarda, Gelevera Deresi. These affect people deeply.

You have received a scholarship to study in the USA, how did it go?
I was 16, then. The Embassy of the USA to Holland had asked someone to represent Holland. I played piano at a meeting and I must have made a good impression on them, that they called later and said, “We suggest an expedited private education in the USA for Karsu.” It was a scholarship for three weeks in Rhode Island. It was made possible by the Bill Clinton Foundation. I went there alone. The impression it left on me at that age was huge. We were up at 7am every day and getting busy with singing and chorus lessons until 10pm. The speakers were impressive. There were many other young people just like me, from 180 countries.

How did you feel when you were at Carnegie Hall for your first concert?
I went to New York from Holland along with 6 others with the support from the Trust Foundation. We got ready in a few days and gave a concert. It was unbelievably impressive. We didn’t know that the stage was that huge before we went there. I was invited there again in 2009 within the frame of 400th anniversary events of Amsterdam-New York relations to represent Holland in a concert that was also participated by Liza Minelli, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and New York Pop’s.

What are your future targets?
We have plans to give concerts in a few countries this year. The new album is going to be released. There will be promotional concerts for the album. I keep writing new songs, too.

Do you have a new album project?
I am so happy because I am going to release my second studio album this year. I wrote Turkish lyrics for the first time for this album. I write lyrics and compose the music. Until now, I have only written lyrics in English. During my album works, my producers said, “Karsu, try it once, you can do it” and I did it. I hope you’ll like it.”