Yunus Belgin – The Pursuit of Jazz Perfection
Yunus Belgin has given his life to jazz drumming. It’s as simple as that. What started as a passion for listening to jazz greats as a child quickly became a dedicated pursuit of becoming a drummer himself, sinking himself into practice and steady perfection of the craft.
Like many jazz artists, Mr. Belgin keeps himself incredibly busy, and as a result has also become very prolific. He’s performed with the Dim Schlicter Trio (headed by seminal contemporary jazz figure, Mr. Dim Schlicter), the Metin Ersoy Band, the German group the MIS Jazz Band, as well as forming his own group, the Yunus Belgin Trio. Not to mention, he’s in the process of planning out a European tour.
Luckily for us, he was kind enough to speak with Vents about the importance of drums in jazz tradition and his philosophical approach to rhythm and playing style.
How does the drummer like yourself dictate the mood and feeling of a song during a live performance, as well as influence the other musicians playing with you?
Belgin: I believe that drums are a necessity to life. Just like a clock, which has a tempo that synchronizes the whole world, a beat acts in exactly the same way in bringing things and people together. Ultimately as a drummer all that really matters is the groove of a song and if you can make that feel good then you have accomplished the very essence of music, which is making people dance and making them feel a certain way about the song. For me, I can get lost in the drums sometimes playing for hours without thinking about anything else, as the music is a medium through which I can express myself personally, which can dictate the mood of a song in a profound way. Especially when I’m in an inspiring environment like on stage with talented musicians, once the groove gets strong the whole experience can be very spiritual which will in turn deeply impact the feeling of the music. Another way a drummer can dictate the mood and feeling of a song is through dynamics, as it is fair to say that the drum set is the loudest instrument on the bandstand and can also be the quietest, hence dynamic range is fully under the drummers’ control. Providing the correct atmosphere for the music and supporting the musicians that I am playing with through groove and dynamic range is key in ultimately serving the music as a unit and not for selfish reasons.
Can you tell us a little bit behind the inspiration for your group, the Yunus Belgin Trio?
Belgin: The inspiration behind my trio comes from my personal experiences so far in my musical journey and in life. I was fortunate enough to be exposed to a variety of different cultures and music at a very young age, which served as a springboard in creating my trio and also using it as a medium for reflecting my current viewpoint for the times we are living in.
What are some of the more difficult aspects of getting a tour ready, like the one you are scheduled for next summer across Europe and Asia? Do you have any specific cities or venues planned as of now?
Belgin: Istanbul, my hometown, is one of the main stops. I know people from the music scene but also I am very lucky to personally know the directors of the two main jazz festivals of Istanbul. Certainly the most difficult aspect of getting a tour ready is not to arrange venues or take part in festivals themselves, but the prerequisites of these. Meaning we need to bring ourselves, and the band as a unit to a better place, where our musical expression is pure and belongs to us. We are not quite there yet but diligent and disciplined practice with an open mindset to the themes and tunes around us is the only way to achieve that state. And we are striving for that.
Other than Istanbul, Bodrum and Cesme are also some of the stops in Turkey. In Europe we are finalizing trips to Berlin, Germany and Amsterdam, The Netherlands and also would like to reach further East (India and Japan).
Some people in the general public may have the misconception that a drummer’s role is only to be the timekeeper of a band. What would you say to this, and what talents or characteristics do you feel help to distinguish yourself from other drummers?
Belgin: Well, I wouldn’t really call it a misconception because it is true that as a drummer being the timekeeper of a band is a very important role, however it is of course much deeper than that. Musicality is vital to drumming in particular. There is a whole lot more to drumming than just rhythm and technique, and sure you should study the rudiments, different vocabulary and drum coordination, but if you only stick to that then you are limiting yourself to a very narrow approach to the music in general. I believe it is very important to know the song you are playing inside and out. Internalizing the melody and to be able to play it on the drums is a great way to portray your understanding of the song which in turn enhances the overall experience of the music. Drumming is more than about beats and groove; it’s about knowing the music and hearing past the instrument itself, which I’m always trying to get better at.
Which shows and performances stand out to you as being the most notable or vivid? How do you approach playing a show in regard to getting mentally prepared, calming your nerves, etc?
Belgin: I treat all shows and performances to the same degree of importance and like to get into the habit of thinking about playing a gig as if there was no tomorrow. At the same time I like to dive deep into the thrilling adventure of the music and everything that is a part of it, so I believe a healthy balance between the two mindsets is key. Ultimately, it is about serving the audience with music through human authentic expression, and for that you need to be physically strong and psychologically balanced. Being very tired or worried about a private issue certainly affects your ability to be in the present moment, which overall affects the band’s sound tremendously.
You mentioned before the interview that you studied under jazz drumming legend Ralph Peterson. Did he have a large influence on you when learning how to play, and how did learning under him affect your understanding of what it takes to be a great drummer?
Belgin: Ralph has had a huge influence on my playing and I feel very lucky to know him and study with him. He is a mentor that challenges me and pushes me out of my comfort zone all the time allowing me to grow musically and as a person. Being the last true drummer to play in the Jazz Messenger Band, created by Art Blakey himself, studying with Ralph has not only taught me how to be a musician, but also how to be a great leader in a band.
What advice would you give to a young drummer who aspires to become a professional and ‘make it’ within the music industry?
Belgin: First and foremost I would say that you should have zest for the instrument and the music. Taking it casually is alright but it will only get you so far, whereas if you live, breathe and embody the drums you will be on the road to mastery. I would also advise you to play all kinds of music and not limit yourself to one style. Be Open! Listen to all the great innovators on the drums and play along with them; try to imitate what you hear and then take it a step further by recreating it and making it your own. Music is constantly evolving so taking it someplace else is the idea. The more versatile you are, the more chance you will have in succeeding to be a professional musician in the music industry. Also be as socially active as you can, networking and interacting with musicians whenever the opportunity arises is key!
Personally, I am nowhere close to where I want to be musically and believe that it will take a lifetime for me to achieve the things that I would like to accomplish.
Do you find that as a drummer, you have been able to positively transcend cultural boundaries given that you have performed in vastly different countries like Turkey, Belgium, and the US, just to name a few?
Belgin: To assume this would be very optimistic. I still have a long ways to go for sure. However, I am very fortunate enough to travel the world and play in different venues and experience different cultures firsthand. This makes me believe that I am in the right direction and that only time will tell if there will be any acknowledgements in this aspect.
Are there any countries or cities you haven’t toured in that are on your radar?
Belgin: Certainly a lot more cities in USA like Los Angeles, New Orleans, Chicago, Nashville and Florida. Touring in Canada, Denmark and Greece are also on my radar because of their prestigious music festivals.
by Giorgio Chang