2.   Power: Art and Art Critics Who Shape Gazino Aesthetics

Aesthetician-critics also exist as an indispensable part of the gazino, as in any other art institution or “art world.” "Most participants in art worlds make aesthetic judgments frequently," Becker notes (1982: 131), but some critics obviously have more power than others in shaping the music at the gazino.

[A]estheticians (or whoever does the job) provide the rationale by which art works justify their existence and distinctiveness, and thus their claim to support.  Art and artists can exist without such a rationale, but have more trouble when others dispute their right to do so.  Art worlds, as they develop, therefore usually produce that rationale, whose most specialized form is aesthetics and whose most specialized producer, the philosopher (Becker 1982: 164).

In the gazino world, no one takes on the role of pure aesthetician; nevertheless, there are many who make critical aesthetic judgements which in the end affect the show.  The most powerful aesthetician-critics are (1) musicians, (2) the audience, (3) and the owner of the gazino.  The other administrators of the gazino may also have some influence.  Other art worlds, such as the recording industry, the movie industry, or the Classical music world usually have an indirect influence over the gazino show as well.  Art works from the other art worlds are constantly filtered by the aesthetician-critics of the gazino world.

The Musicians

The most privileged aestheticians within the musical community are experienced musicians from the older generation, who construct an aesthetic rationale through story telling, theoretical discussions, and direct or indirect criticisms.  There are, for example, often hidden messages in the anecdotes told by older musicians directing young musicians to the proper way (dogru).  The anecdotes are usually drawn from the lives of prominent gazino musicians like Hakki Derman, Serif Içli, Ahmet Yatman, Sükrü Tunar or Selahattin Pinar.  One can also learn about their practice habits, musical attitudes, and so forth, with specific examples which may even contain musical details, such as the seyir (melodic progression) of a makam.  Thus it is not uncommon to find a vivid description of a taksim and the audience reaction it may have received.

Figure 2 depicts the senior bowed tanbur player Özcan Korkut and bashanende Seyfi Kuyucakli in the backyard of the Caddebostan Maksim enjoying their tea, music and sohbet (conversation).

Figure 2: Özcan Korkut and Seyfi Kuyucakli at sohbet

Occasionally theoretical discussions also take place in the gazino kulis. Following an anecdote or the performance of a masterpiece, musicians may verbally reconstruct the melodic progression (seyir) of a melodic mode (makam) with admiration.  This process provides a theoretical and practical background for the performers and enables them to perceive the music in a richer way.  Where young gazino musicians gather, discussions may range from Egyptian orchestration, or the technical achievements of a Western music virtuoso (batici) to the ways that makams may be realized in such improvised forms as taksim or gazel. In similar fashion, the musicians of the house band for Turkish Pop Music may discuss a particular chord progression.

Direct verbal criticism is very rare among gazino musicians, although their reactions to the performances often carry emotionally charged words, such as, "ah!,” “Allah!," etc.  Some 78 rpm records from the early part of this century also included these reactions to the performers by anonymous listeners. 

Example 3:

From the Ussak Gazel “Simsir-i Nigahin” by Hafiz Kemal  (mp3 file, 292 kb, 0,24 min)

Example 4:

From the Ussak Taksim by Yorgo Bacanos  (mp3 file, 149 kb, 0,12 min)

Earning these kinds of reactions from the audience is an important accomplishment for a musician.  Changing facial expressions, eye contact with another musician, and gestures may also be a way of conveying one’s aesthetic judgment.

There is, however, a conceptual vocabulary for artistic criticism among the musicians, in which negative terms are often used ironically in the form of a joke.  When an art work is criticized by the musicians they speak in terms of “cold” and “warm.” They use the verb “to warm up the makam” (makami isindirmak) for introducing a makam properly with all of its gazino characteristics.  They also use “to cook the piece [art work]” (eseri pisirmek) for refining a recently learned piece.  If a performance ignores the gazino aesthetic code, however, musicians think of the act as being “cold,” but they use the word “warm” sarcastically.  Partial departure from the gazino code, however, does not receive any comment at all from the musicians; thus only two extremes induce an artistic criticism:

Cold (comment inciting area)<-----(no comment area)----->Warm (comment inciting area)

Musicians who operate successfully within the aesthetic domain of the gazino are rewarded in different ways.  Musicians acknowledge an artistic value in their criticisms discussed above.  The aspiration of a gazino musician is to take a positive role in the stories circulated in the gazino kulis, but punishment may also come in the form of a joke, or gossip.  Artistic achievements may influence a performer’s position on the stage, respect or disrespect, participation in extra-business interactions, etc.  Paying the bill for the tea, coffee or neskafe (instant coffee) consumed in the kulis somehow correlates with one’s high status in the gazino, in that usually the tatocu (subcontractor) tends to pay the bill (at least when I was present).  Nonetheless, the gazino musicians work out the problems that may occur due to these artistic differences.  For example, during the gazino performances in the Tepebasi Belediye Gazinosu, a well-respected Greek ud virtuoso Yorgo Bacanos would give up his seat to another respected ud player Serif Içli (8).

Of course, the ultimate test of an art work takes place on stage in front of the audience.  Whether commercial or not, the artistic value of a gazino art work is determined by the gazino audience; this value is then reflected upon the artist through the gazino owner or manager by hiring and positioning the artist in the hierachy of the gazino show.

The Owner Or Manager As Art Director

There is no such position as “art director” in the gazino.  Instead, artistic decisions are made by the owner.  The gazino owner’s artistic decisions concerning the show are based on his observations of the audience reaction and, more importantly, the sheer number of customers. The owner also follows the audience aesthetics and the reputation of an artist in the Turkish media and the other art worlds.  Therefore, the taste of the audience determines in large part the selection of the artist, and the art, in a gazino.  The other workers at the gazino, a circle of friends and the agents of the live music market (piyasa) influence his artistic decisions as well (9).  Throughout the years, the gazino owner forms an opinion about who the “best” gazino artists are.  The gazino owner actively participates in making decisions and negotiating for the selection of gazino soloists.  For example, he regularly visits private Turkish music clubs (cemiyet) in order to find new soloists for his gazino-s

I visit the music associations (cemiyet).  Nowadays, I see a girl at the Samsun Music Association.  I will make her assolist.  I bring forth the one who I feel is ready for the stage without giving any explanation to anybody (Fahrettin Aslan Interview in Akman 1995).

Although he may say “yes” or “no” to a performer, the manager often does not deal with individual instrumentalists.  However, during the Tepebasi Gazinosu era, the owner Muhiddin Öztuna would bargain and even make deals himself with ordinary musicians.

The economic power held by the gazino owner confers upon him the sense of being an aesthetician-critic.  Thus, it is not uncommon for the owner to make artistic criticisms even though he is not necessarily qualified to do so.  During my field work, several informants tried to convince me of the owner’s critical ability.  His criticism, however, had to do with a demonstration of power rather than an expression of artistic sensibility, much like the authorities described in Becker:

We need only observe who members of the art world treat as capable of doing that, who they allow to do it in the sense that once those people have decided something is art others act as though it is.  (Becker 1982: 151)

According to musician-informants, Fahrettin Aslan listens to the show every night and these regular inspections keep the  musicians on their toes. Fahrettin Aslan confirmed this in an interview:

I go to listen [to the gazino show] every day.  If I notice an error in her singing or they could not accomplish the fasil, [or] the hanende-s could not play well, I tell them the next day (Fahrettin Aslan Interview in Akman 1995).

The comments following these inspections do not, however, contain any specific details of the performances.  They are always general indications that the show was not a success, although he may point out the obvious mistakes, like not starting the instrumental interlude on time. Musicians usually do not receive artistic compliments from the owner.  Nevertheless, the gazino owner’s artistic comments and actions carry value in terms of economics and cannot be dismissed.  His focus of attention is not necessarily the same as the artist’s.  His view of art in the gazino is measured by his experiences of the audience interaction observed on a large number of soloists and, of course, the audience attendance gauged in numbers and Turkish lira. 

Visual Aesthetics of the Gazino

The visual aspects of a gazino such as the exterior and interior design of the building and artwork, is often the owner’s prerogative.  Owners hire professionals for such tasks, but in the end, their personal taste determines the final outcome.  In the same way, even though soloists choose their gazino wardrobe, their choice is subject to owner’s approval.

The Caddebostan Maksim Gazinosu (CMG) was situated in a modern building with a parking lot.  Its modern exterior architectural design was similar enough to a Western fine art gallery or institution that it could be characterized as an Alafranga space.  The cream-colored columns, moldings, niches, cornices, and other architectural ornaments were reminiscent of classical Western architecture, although the use of geometrical shapes in the exterior was closer to Art Deco.  There were also a few windows, some of which had stained glass with modern-looking Art Deco designs.  Further evidence of Western influence could be found in the CMG’s interior, with its Art Nouveau-style wooden picture and mirror frames, the bronze sculptures, light fixtures, vases, stained glass, paintings, classical Greco-Roman style columns, moldings, cornices, and white-colored sculptures in illuminated niches.

During my field work, the set design, which changed with the seasons, seemed to be an extension of the general style of the interior.  Pink and white colors dominated the hall, and the stage had red carpets.  An elevated stage extended into the middle of the hall, providing more tables near the stage and more interaction between soloist and the audience.  According to most informants and sources this so-called “T”-shaped stage design first appeared in gazino-s on the suggestion of Zeki Müren, who was himself a graphic designer. 

I asked business owners to build a podium in the gazino-s.  In order to be close to my loving listeners who want to see me up close, who are very curious about me, I asked [them] to build the podium that we call the “T.”  Thanks to them, they did not break my heart and the first podium in the gazino-s was built for me (Gür 1996: 51-52).

Besides his legendary costumes, Müren also introduced a variety of other innovations to the presentation of the gazino show.  His dramatic entrance on a swing, and his effects like snow flakes falling from the ceiling were reminiscent of the famous American pianist Liberace (1919-1987), well known for his Las Vegas shows and television programs around the same time (10).

One conspicuous phenomenon of the gazino is the stage lighting.  Thick curtains block any daylight from the windows into the gazino hall.  There is some lighting in the hall where customers sit.  The dark curtains on the back of the stage contrast with the performers who are illuminated by spotlights.  Soloists get a stronger, mobile light which follows their movements on the stage. This light is operated by a light operator (isikçi) from the kule (Sound-light control room: see Chapter Three); it also has the capability of projecting different colors, another innovation attributed to Zeki Müren. There are both practical and artistic considerations in the design of the gazino building.  While a number of visual artists work to create a particular aesthetic environment for the audience, the artistic direction always has to be confirmed by the owner. Owners may not design the space themselves, but they are the ones who end up saying “yes” or “no” to specific artistic decisions.  Owners sustain their knowledge of the business by examining other places constantly.  Some owners have been to other entertainment halls in Europe and the United States and they referred to them frequently during my interviews.  Most designers are graduates of the Fine Arts Academy and some of them are trained in Europe. As an exotic space, the gazino transports the audience not only from their daily occupations to another domain of nostalgic existence, but also to a high status.  The Western cultural codes conveyed through the visual arts contribute to this illusion created for them.

The newspaper advertisements, and neon lights in front of the gazino help foster this illusion.  The audience’s preferred clothing, make-up and other behavioral changes reflect their efforts to adapt themselves to this atmosphere.  However, the parts invisible to the audience, e.g., the kule or kitchen, do not necessarily go along with the other sections of the gazino.  During my field work, the Caddebostan Maksim Gazinosu somehow tolerated a fisherman’s gecekondu (an illegal cottage) attached to the building.

Dress Code

In the earliest gazino-s, male gazino instrumentalists and hanende-s used to wear their choice of a “nice and clean” dark-colored suit and necktie.  According to Yilmaz Öztuna, his father Muhiddin made the instrumentalists wear a uniform for the first time around 1940.  Although Muhiddin Öztuna did not pay for soloists’ costumes, he personally ordered a set of custom-made suits and neckties at the Tepebasi Gazinosu (Öztuna, personal interview, 1997).

Zeki Müren, however, claims that he was in fact the first person who introduced the idea of wearing uniforms among the musicians during his first gazino appearance in 1955:

At the end of the first rehearsal, I took them [the instrumentalists] to a corner told them this: Please, my masters, let us take a look at your costumes.  As you know, I will wear three different costumes.  A black tuxedo does not happen in summer concerts, but you could wear something like a blue jacket, gray pants and a gray bow tie, and accompany me like that.  This has never been done in Turkey.  I could bring this innovation with your assistance.  Bless them, they listened to me patiently (Gür 1996: 48).

Müren’s description of the costumes before his innovation is quite dramatic: “...all of them [instrumentalists] appear on the stage with their everyday clothes.  Shoes with patches, dirty shirts, jackets in different styles and colors, and pants” (Gür 1996: 48). After Müren’s innovation, most soloists and gazino-s asked instrumentalists to wear a uniform (forma).  Later these uniforms became special costumes used exclusively in gazino-s:

Selahattin Pinar, Hakki Derman, Sadi Isilay and Fevzi Aslangil were going home after leaving these so-called forma costumes in their rooms behind the stage.  But some of my instrumentalist friends also started to wear these suits in the musicians’ coffeehouse on Bursa street.  Their [outfits] wore out and the collars frayed.  I thought of a change for the winter concerts.  To keep the instrumentalist friends from wearing those costumes during the day, I made them put sequins from [a] shawl design on the collars. When I put the bordeaux colored bright shawl collars on their costumes, none of them could go to the musicians’ coffeehouse in Beyoglu in that attire.  Therefore, they appeared onstage with absolutely clean costumes (Gür 1996: 49).

When I visited the Fasil musicians during my field work, I remember that they wanted me to join them for an evening's performance in the gazino and play a Fasil-taksimi (solo instrumental improvisation) on ud.  But at that time, I was not wearing the proper attire, which was simply a black suit, white shirt and a black bow tie, so I could not play.  While I was conducting my field-work, the bashanende (head-singer) Seyfi Kuyucakli often came to the gazino in his black suit, but instead of a bow tie, he wore a regular neck tie.  He would put on his bow tie for the show.  Some other musicians came to the gazino in their street clothes and changed in the kulis just before the performance.

The soloists always paid for their costumes and tuvalet-s (woman’s evening gown) themselves.  Most informants report that during the early years of the gazino, female soloists dressed conservatively.  Wearing numerous and expensive costumes, some of which were considered “obscene” (dekolte, Fr. décolleté), started with the legendary soloist Hamiyet Yüceses at the beginning of the 1950s: 

[I]t became a subject of criticism for Hamiyet Yüceses, who was our assolist for a while, shaking her shoulder like that and for wearing an open dress; in that open costume I mentioned, perhaps towards her shoulder there is a little décolleté [dekolte].  It [can not be] compared with the open dresses of today.  . . .  It was said that “if it can be like this over there..., the seriousness of this business is gone..." (Öztuna, personal interview, 1997)

According to Öztuna, Hamiyet Yüceses had such a large collection of dresses that she could go a month without wearing the same gown twice (Öztuna, personal interview, 1997).  Other soloists, however, were known to be stingy in spending money for their costumes.  The owner of the Tepebasi Gazinosu, Muhiddin Öztuna, for example, “would normally like soloists to have seven or eight tuvalet-s” (Öztuna, personal interview, 1997).  This, of course, changed with Zeki Müren after the 1950s.

Zeki Müren’s costume changes can be associated with different sections of his gazino program.  Müren frequently started his program in a black tuxedo in which he performed pieces from the classical repertoire.  He sang pieces from Turkish Art Music in the middle part, for which he wore a white tuxedo or a frak (tail coat, frock coat).  For the last part he would change into three or four “embroidered” (islemeli), “glaringly ornamented” (cicili bicili), “sparkling” (isil isil) costumes (11) in variety of colors, in order to perform the “beloved songs of today.”  His jewelry, starting with a single pearl attached to his bow-tie, later became numerous rings, necklaces, ear rings, bracelets, etc., with heavy make-up completing his appearance.  Müren regarded the visual aspects of the show as an essential part of his presentation.  His extremely polite manners on the stage and his interaction with the audience in a very embellished Turkish created the illusion that the audience were the guests of this charming noble person, perhaps an Ottoman aristocrat, and they were being entertained by him. 

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