Aydın Özarı

Born: March 22nd, 1939, Istanbul (Turkey)
Died: July 8th, 2022, Istanbul (Turkey)
Nationality: Turkish

Eurovision record
Jazz trumpet player and arranger Aydın Özarı conducted the song which represented Turkey in the 1992 Eurovision Song Contest, ‘Yaz bitti’ by Aylin Vatankoş. At the international festival in Malmö, this Turkish entry picked up seventeen votes, finishing eighteenth among twenty-three competing acts.

Aydın Özarı as a twenty-three-year old (1962)

Biography
Born in Istanbul in 1939, Aydın Özarı grew up in relatively humble circumstances in the metropolis on the banks of the Bosphorus. His father worked as an accountant. At six, when Aydın was circumcised – an initiation ceremony for Mahometan boys comparable to the First Communion in the Roman Catholic tradition – he was given two presents: a tricycle and a mouth organ. It was obvious immediately which was his favourite. “From the start, I loved playing that small mouth organ,” Özarı recalls, “and it all came to me rather easily, but that seemed to be the end of it. My parents liked listening to Turkish folk music on the radio, but that’s as far as their interest went. In my family, nobody played a musical instrument. Having said that, owning a radio was quite something in those years. Sometimes, neighbours and relatives came to visit to listen to BBC news updates. These were the final stages of the world war!”

It was not until his years as a high school student that Aydın renewed his interest in music. Fascinated by the sound of the saxophone, he saved some money to buy one at a music shop. “Unfortunately, the price of the saxophone on sale in that shop far exceeded my budget! Noticing my disappointment, the shopkeeper showed me a second-hand trumpet. He recommended it to me, as it was in an excellent condition and fairly priced. It didn’t take too long to convince me. Thereupon, he gave me the address of a trumpet teacher – and I went there straightaway. This man turned out to be the leader of a local military band. He offered to teach me for seven-and-a-half Turkish liras per hour… an ridiculously low fee by today’s standards, of course, but these were the 1950s! I visited this teacher every week for an hour’s lesson. He also taught me sight-reading. After half a year, I bought myself a method for trumpet playing and continued studying by myself, without his assistance.”

In 1955, sadly, Aydın’s father succumbed to cancer. All of a sudden, the sixteen-year-old – his parents’ only child – had to look after himself and his mother: “So I had to make some money. That’s why I took up playing at wedding ceremonies. I also joined a mariachi band. They performed in a dance hall in downtown Istanbul. The pianist, who had done conservatory and later joined the Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra, taught me some additional music theory. Soon, I became a member of several other dance orchestras as well. In Istanbul, there were plenty of nightclubs where live music was required. In one of them, the servant girls were mostly from Hungary – women who had escaped their country following the Russian invasion in 1956. The band leader there, Fehmi Ege, had a classical background. He wanted to cheer up these Hungarian girls a bit by playing some European music. For his orchestra, he rearranged a whole lot of classical overtures. In the first hour after midnight, we always played these classical pieces… the William Tell Overture, the Poet and Peasant Overture, some of Kálmán’s works, etcetera. Thanks to Ege, I was given a thorough introduction to classical music. I was extremely lucky to meet musicians from all kinds of different backgrounds. They all contributed to my learning curve, while I was able to earn quite a decent income for my mother and myself. Ironically, if my father had lived, he would certainly not have given me permission to play in those dance orchestras – let alone consider becoming a professional musician. As I was quite a bright student, he wanted me to go to university to become a doctor or an engineer. He wasn’t against music as such, as long as it was a hobby beside school. He couldn’t imagine how anyone could make a living from music in a poor country like Turkey.”

Aydın (standing, second from right) with his colleagues of the Burhan Sakarca Navy Dance Orchestra (1963)

Between 1959 and 1961, Özarı not only played in Fehmi Ege’s Tango Orchestra, but also in the big band of Kemal Gülesoğlu. With Gülesoğlu’s ensemble, which specialised in the various Latin-American genres, he regularly performed on Turkish radio. “We also played music in Madison style,” Özarı adds. “This was dance music originating in America which was very popular at the time. More importantly, it offered possibilities for improvisation. Though the other trumpet players in the orchestra were more experienced than I, they weren’t good improvisers. That’s why the bandleader turned to me – and I did it! Gülesoğlu also taught me how to write music scores. Gott sei Dank! This came in rather handy, as arrangements of popular songs from Western Europe and America were in short supply in Turkey. For that reason, I listened to the radio and wrote out foreign songs which were played. In those days, the San Remo Song Festival in Italy was very popular. I waited for a certain San Remo song to be played on the radio, writing down as much of the different parts as I could make out. I got about half of it done, so I had to wait until the same tune was played again – allowing me to pen the rest of the arrangement. Next, I rewrote the song for our orchestra. Most of these arrangements were really basic and simple, but remember I was an autodidact. I had to start learning from scratch!”

In 1961, Aydın Özarı was called up to perform his military service, which he fulfilled as a musician in the Kasımpaşa Navy Band in Istanbul and the Gölcük Navy Band in Izmit. Özarı: “Occasionally, I was also called up to play in the Burhan Sakarca Orchestra which performed at the Officers’ Casino. In those three years in the navy, I mostly played military marches, though. In its military music, the Turkish army was heavily influenced by the Italian and German traditions. Our repertoire consisted of marches from many different countries, ranging from ‘Alte Kameraden’ to American band music. We played five days a week. Sometimes, we gave open air concerts. These were interesting and important years for me. I could focus full time on improving my technique and style of playing. I was a hard worker. I even wrote a march melody myself. Mostly, though, I wrote arrangements. One of these scores of mine was a band version of the title song of the film ‘La Violetera’. Our conductor was delighted and asked me where I had studied music. When he learnt that I was self-made, he took me as an example for the other players: “Now, lads, look how far you can get by sheer determination!” After thirty-six months of military service, I was given the offer to stay with the army as a band musician, but I refused. Having worked on military music for three years, I felt it was time for change. In the following months, I played in several different dance orchestras in Istanbul.”

In 1964, one of the bandleaders in Istanbul whom he worked for, Ibrahim Solmaz took his band on an extended tour to West Germany. Travelling from dance hall to dance hall, the Solmaz Septett stayed in Germany for three years. “Ibrahim was keen to go to Germany. He was married to a girl who was originally from Nuremberg. At some point, he received an offer to play in a dance hall in Bielefeld, Tanzpalast ‘Am Trocadero’. Before he became famous, Udo Jürgens worked there as well! Bielefeld was no more than the first stop on a tour which took us all across West Germany and even into Switzerland. Our contracts always lasted one month only. From Bielefeld to Dortmund, from Dortmund to Frankfurt, then onto Sankt-Gallen and to the Tabaris nightclub in Zürich… we led a gypsy life! We played dance and light-entertainment music. We toured with a little French girl singer, who had a repertoire of chansons, whilst Ibra himself sang in English and German. These were the golden years of live music! We earned a pretty good living from our performances.”

Özarı (in the middle of the photo) playing the trumpet in Pete Cole’s Swing Faces (1977)

After the disbandment of the Ibrahim Solmaz Septett, Aydın Özarı stayed in Germany, working as a trumpet player in the Üstün Poyrazoğlu Set Orchestra and Pete Cole’s Swing Faces. “These were two completely different bands,” Özarı explains. “With Poyrazoğlu, we played straightforward entertainment and pop music. We mostly played in Hamburg, Travemünde, and West Berlin. One time, we were even invited to come over to Norway, where we performed in a dance hall in Kristiansand. Pete Cole’s group, on the other hand, was a real jazz band, which was invited to play at weekend concerts in jazz clubs. The formation was adapted regularly, as we were sometimes booked as a trio, sometimes as a larger setup. Our repertoire was mostly Dixieland, traditional jazz from the swing era. Pete Cole was the pseudonym of a German guy whom I became good friends with, Peter Köhler. He was an excellent musician who had graduated from the Cologne Conservatoire. His mother was an elementary school teacher who helped me learning the German language. When I came to Germany, I spoke some School English, but I soon found out Germans weren’t keen to communicate in English at all. I had a hard time learning German. Es war eine tüchtige Arbeit! Having taken these essential lessons with Peter’s mother, I went to a language school as well. By that time, I had rented an apartment in Wiesbaden. My plan was to stay in Germany for good.”

“Peter Köhler gave me some sound advice,” Özarı continues. “Once he had found out that I was interested in arranging, he suggested to me studying Russell Garcia’s textbook ‘The Professional Arranger Composer’. So I bought that book and started spending all my free hours on that. Studying material by myself has always been exactly up my alley. I have never been the kind of person to hang around in coffeehouses, doing nothing in particular. Once I had gone through Garcia’s book, my mother sent me a copy of Arnold Schoenberg’s ‘Theory of Harmony’ as a birthday present. Later on, I also devoured similar textbooks by Gordon Delamont and Don Sebesky. Most of these books contained assignments, which I dutifully filled out one after the other. Arranging was such a fascinating universe to plunge into! Around this time, I also decided to learn playing a little piano, because arrangements are most easily written with the piano as a starting point. Once I felt confident enough, I began writing big band arrangements. Pete Cole’s Swing Faces wasn’t a full big band, but I made it my duty to create a sound which was as rich as possible. One time, a regional newspaper published a review of one of our concerts, in which the journalist specifically praised my arrangements, which managed to give a small jazz group the sound of a full big band. That was the best compliment I had ever been given – and a huge stimulus to continue writing!”

Meanwhile, in 1972, Aydın had married – and five years later, the first of his two daughters was born. Although there was no lack of income in the live music scene, Özarı’s ‘gypsy life’ was more and more at odds with his new role as a dutiful family father: “While my wife lived in Wiesbaden, I was away in Hamburg or Travemünde on a summer tour with Poyrazoğlu. Or God knows with Pete Cole somewhere in the Ruhr area. In the weekends, I jumped into the car to stay with my wife for a day or two, but I was mostly very tired after playing music night after night. Once, I had a horrible car accident which nearly cost me my life. At that point, I decided enough was enough. I went to an employment bureau to look for a regular job. After passing language and math tests, I was employed at a data processing company in Wiesbaden. In the weekends, I played with the Lex Leicht Sextet, a dance band. Our singer was a girl from Czechoslovakia. We rehearsed once a week and performed in various expensive hotels in the area. In retrospect, I took the correct decision. While I was able to continue playing music beside my regular work, I could now also play my part in educating our two daughters.”

When Aydın Özarı left West Germany to return to Turkey in 1986, he was given an honorary certificate by the Mainzer Altstadtbauern brass band in recognition of his work for them as an arranger and music teacher

Between 1979 and 1986, exactly the years during which he worked as a data processor, Aydın Özarı also was the music teacher and arranger of the so-called Mainzer Altstadbauern, an amateur brass band. “My role was to prepare the repertoire with the individual players,” Özarı explains. “They were amateurs, but certainly amongst the best show bands in Germany. In 1983, our band was invited to come to the United States to participate in the celebrations surrounding the two-hundredth anniversary of the demobilisation of George Washington’s liberation army by General von Steuben (a Prussian officer who had enlisted in the rebel army – BT). Though I didn’t play in the band myself, the band’s board offered me the trip to America by way of remuneration for all my work for them. We did a two-week-tour of Florida, a great experience! In those years, I also sold my arrangements to other brass bands in Germany and even in Holland.”

Meanwhile, in Istanbul, Turkish Radio had commissioned bandleader Süheyl Denizci to form a big band – in fact, this newly formed TRT Jazz Orchestra was the only full-size big band in Turkey. It saw the daylight in 1983. Three years later, Denizci invited Özarı to take part in an audition, an opportunity he grabbed with both hands: “As it turned out, they were looking for a new trumpet player. After twenty-two years in Germany, I wasn’t familiar with the Turkish scene, but I knew Denizci. He was an excellent tenor saxophonist, who had worked in Germany as well. Wondering if I was interested to join his big band, he wrote me a letter. I thought it was an opportunity that was too good to pass up, even more so because one of the saxophonists was an old pal of mine from our mutual days in the Navy Band. In the audition, I played one piece picked by the jury and one composition of my own choice. Everything went very well and I was offered the job! We packed our bags, said goodbye to Wiesbaden, and moved into a house in Istanbul. I never regretted my choice. The TRT Jazz Orchestra included Turkey’s best jazz musicians and the level of play was of an international standard. I was happy to be back!”

Between 1986 and 2003, Aydın Özarı worked at Turkish public broadcasting service – not only as an instrumentalist in the TRT Jazz Orchestra, but as a composer and staff arranger as well. During his seventeen-year spell at TRT, he penned 172 arrangements as well as twenty original compositions commissioned by the broadcaster.

“Writing arrangements was what I liked doing most. As so many of my colleagues, I was most productive during the early hours of the morning. One time, after Denizci had commissioned me to write an arrangement to a Count Basie piece, I started working on it in the evening hours, continuing all night – and early in the morning, when the sun rose over Istanbul, it was finished! Sometimes, our band was extended with string players from the Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra… one memorable occasion was a performance with jazz singer Nükhet Ruacan, a wonderful concert. I had taken care of the arrangements. Before joining the TRT, I had never written for strings, but I didn’t find that particularly complicated. Following the example of Franz Liszt and other classical composers, who simply asked advice from others when writing for a music instrument they hadn’t previously written for, I asked string players about their opinion and their experiences – and, as always, I learnt by doing… and by taking a second glance in my old arranging textbooks now and again!”

The TRT Jazz Orchestra led by conductor Süheyl Denizci (front row, in the middle) – with Özarı in the back row, third from left (± 1990)

Commissioned by the TRT, Özarı also wrote twenty original compositions, including a piece played in honour of the eighty-fifth anniversary of the Turkish Republic, performed by the big band and the TRT Radio Choir. Asked about his best memory of working with the broadcasting service, however, he picks the international jazz concerts, organised annually by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). “Essentially, it was an exchange programme between radio orchestras across Europe. Each band sent their best solo players abroad, which gave us the opportunity to work with top-notch jazz musicians from England, Slovenia, Hungary, the Netherlands… they all came to Istanbul to play the works of Turkish composers and arrangers. Playing in the big band with these soloists was an honour in itself, but I was even more proud when two of my compositions were performed at one of these EBU Jazz Concerts! Generally speaking, though, I think of myself rather as an arranger than as a composer, simply because I feel I’m more talented as an arranger. My compositions are few and far between – and, with some exceptions, I was never really satisfied with them.”

With three rehearsal days and one concert per week, Özarı’s work at the TRT Big Band allowed him enough time to accept freelance commissions as well. Amongst other things, he wrote the arrangements for a concert of the Antalya State Symphony Orchestra with jazz vocalist Jülide Özcelik as well as for a project with the Somer Soyata Vocal Quartet. Away from orchestral arrangements, he also penned the music to two theatrical pieces as well as composing several advertising jingles. In 1998, with a friend, he opened a recording studio in Istanbul, Stüdyo Taxi.

“Beginning this studio was a bit on the edge, because, as a state employee, one wasn’t allowed to own a private firm simultaneously. Therefore, on paper, this friend was the sole owner. Most of the recordings done in our studio were Turkish folk music. After four years, I left the studio to my business partner, who later sold it. It still exists to this day. All of this freelance work which I did meant I had a wonderfully varied existence. Thank God, TRT allowed its employees some freedom here and there. For musicians, this is important. I was always keen to try new things, write for other orchestras – and there were more than enough possibilities to find let-outs for my creativity.”

Playing a trumpet solo in a concert with the TRT Jazz Orchestra

In 2003, having reached the pensionable age, Aydın Özarı left the TRT Jazz Orchestra. For some years, however, he continued writing arrangements for the big band on a regular basis. Moreover, he founded a quartet called Los Albatros, with which he recorded two albums. More prominently, he led a sextet of musicians in the talk show ‘Müzik yelpazesi’ for one season. “In each broadcast, two singers well-known to Turkish audiences were invited,” Özarı explains, “and both performed two or three of their songs. For this programme, I didn’t play the trumpet, but keyboards. I’m not a professional piano player, but for these pop tunes my knowledge was just about enough. Fortunately, I wrote all arrangements myself, allowing me to keep the piano parts as simple as possible! Pop music was never really my world, but it was a nice programme and an opportunity to continue writing arrangements.”

In 2012, Aydın Özarı arranged the album ‘Ottoman jazz’ by saxophonist Çınar Apay, for which he wrote the lion’s share of the compositions as well. One year later, he performed on stage for the last time as a band member of a one-off ensemble called Swing Unlimited, which performed at a private concert in the gardens of the Netherlands’ consulate in Istanbul. Since, several illnesses have prevented him from performing on stage.

“I’ve lost count how many operations I’ve had to undergo in the last ten years,” he comments with a wry smile. “It’s a miracle in itself that I’m still alive. I’m more than happy with the career I’ve had. Being an autodidact became my way of life. Think of it this way: if I had done conservatoire, I would have had a classical education. Nowadays, conservatories offer jazz courses, but this wasn’t the case in the 1950s and 1960s. Though I love listening to classical music, I don’t know if I would have liked being an instrumentalist in a symphony orchestra. Look, Beethoven’s concerts are perfect… among the best music ever written, no doubt, but I wouldn’t find satisfaction in playing the same symphonies over and over. On the other hand, to my taste, pop music is a bit too one-dimensional, though I loved working on it now and again. Jazz music offered me the opportunity to immerse myself in interesting music while also allowing me the freedom I was craving for: the freedom to express new ideas, the freedom to create something original and new. It doesn’t matter that jazz doesn’t draw big audiences. The main thing is that, like classical music, it’s a genre which, provided it’s played well, can touch the human soul… and I consider myself blessed to have worked on such music!”

Aydın in 2014 with his two daughters, Meltem (left) and Irem

Aydın Özarı in the Eurovision Song Contest
In the 1980s and 1990s, most Turkish Eurovision selection shows were backed up by the TRT Big Band, which was extended with the string section of the Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra. As such, Aydın Özarı accompanied many of these pre-selections as a trumpet player. In the early 1990s, however, he arranged and conducted a total of three entries in the competition himself: ‘Gel’ by Cemil Sağyaşar in 1991; and ‘ Ölüm’ by Ibo and ‘Yaz bitti’ by Aylin Vatankoş, both in 1992. How did he become involved in writing Eurovision arrangements?

“Since returning to Turkey from West Germany in 1986,” Özarı explains, “I had been one of the big band’s regular arrangers. Now, in Eurovision, television producers were always keen to improve Turkish results in the international competition. Usually, Turkey scored rather disappointingly in the Eurovision Song Contest. So they must have thought that this man who had lived and worked in Western Europe for over twenty years had a better sense for international music tastes than others. They asked me if I was interested to write the arrangements to one or two of these Eurovision songs. I was somewhat surprised, because, as a rule, the Eurovision Song Contest was taken care of by the Ankara branch of TRT, where I knew few people. Apparently, someone dropped my name there. When I received their phone call, I saw no reason to turn down doing Eurovision. By that time, I was an experienced arranger, but as a conductor… less so! The experience I had was in rehearsals with the TRT Jazz Orchestra. Usually, I conducted the pieces I had arranged for the band myself in rehearsal, upon which Süheyl Denizci, who was the regular conductor, took over for the final recording or concert.”

The 1992 Turkish Eurovision selection was won by ‘Yaz bitti’, a song composed by Aldoğan Şimşekyay with lyrics by Aylin Üçanlar. Özarı wrote the arrangement, but how did he become involved with these songwriters and this particular song? “Funnily, the commission came my way via TRT Ankara, even though Aldoğan Şimşekyay was my fellow-trumpet player in the TRT Jazz Orchestra in Istanbul! Once his composition had been picked for the Turkish final, he was looking for an arranger – and TRT Ankara suggested my name to him. Beside his work in the big band, Aldoğan had a vocal group with his two sons. Their main point of attraction was Aldoğan’s soprano voice. He sounds exactly like a castrato, though he isn’t one himself. With his sons, he imitated the Bee Gees and enjoyed some popularity in Turkey at the time. At some point, he wanted to try his luck in Eurovision and wrote a ballad specifically for his own group and submitted it to TRT’s Eurovision committee. That song was ‘Yaz bitti’.”

Aylin Vatankoş backed up by songwriter Aldoğan Şimşekyay (standing, middle) and his two sons Kemal (left) and Uğur

“When I got together with Aldoğan to discuss the arrangement, I suggested finding a female lead vocalist. To my mind, a pretty young girl enhanced the chances of success… and I thought it would be wiser if Aldoğan and his sons did the backing vocals. He agreed with me, provided there would be an opportunity to sport his soprano voice. In the end, they found Aylin Vatankoş, a girl who was friends with one of Aldoğan’s sons. They were fellow-students at the Istanbul Conservatory. The girl had a good voice. I wrote an orchestration which allowed her as well as Aldoğan to sport their vocal abilities. The result was all right… I didn’t think it was a particularly strong song, but it wasn’t bad either. Honestly speaking, it’s hard to judge popular music. ‘Yaz bitti’ was chosen as the winner in the national final by a committee of TRT programme makers and producers. As they weren’t professional musicians, they weren’t looking for interesting harmonies or a striking composition. They picked an entry based on their own musical taste – and nothing can be more subjective than that.”

Having written the winning arrangement in the Turkish final, Aydın Özarı knew he got to conduct it in the international Eurovision final as well. The 1992 Eurovision Song Contest was held in Malmö, Sweden. “For the Eurovision Song Contest, I didn’t change the arrangement – I just extended it, as the orchestra in Sweden was larger than the one we had had at our disposal in the Turkish pre-selection. I considered adding a harp part, which would have been suitable for a ballad like ‘Yaz bitti’, but harp is the one instrument I find the hardest to write an arrangement for – and I decided to leave it alone. The TRT paid for a studio recording, which was done in Melih Kibar’s studio in Istanbul. Melih’s studio was big enough to accommodate a full orchestra – and we wanted to make a recording of the exact arrangement that would be played in Sweden as well. The session was done with the string section of the Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra and the brass players from the TRT Big Band. When I say ‘session’, I should actually say ‘sessions’, because, first, we extensively rehearsed the orchestration in the studio, which I took home to study closely. I made notes about some last details which needed attention. Then, finally, we did the recording, which was sent to Malmö along with the music score. We were hoping the Swedish orchestra players would get an even better impression of the sound we were looking for when listening to our recording.”

Having arrived in Malmö, the Turkish delegation enjoyed Swedish hospitality to the utmost. “We had lots of fun in the hotel lobby,” Özarı recalls. And then, laughing loudly: “To be honest with you, we went drunk every evening, me and the boys of the backing group! Many nightclubs in Malmö offered discounts if you showed your Eurovision accreditation card. Our favourite drink was vodka mixed with beer, which was sold against a ridiculously low price. Apart from the alcohol, Aldoğan’s sons were taking a keen interest in Swedish girls. As I was the oldest of the bunch, TRT’s Head of Delegation urged me to look after the boys, not allowing them to go on partying until the early hours of the morning. They had to show up on time at the rehearsals! I was some sort of father figure who had to get them all out of bed on time. All the while, Aylin (Vatankoş – BT) was keeping a low profile. She was a quiet, well-behaved girl, in the best Turkish tradition! Generally speaking, the Swedes went out of their way to keep us happy and entertained all week. One day, when there were no rehearsals, we were offered a trip on a hovercraft across the Sound, to Copenhagen. It was some sort of an adventure, as I’d never been on a hovercraft before. Moreover, Copenhagen’s old town proved a beautiful destination. I’ve got excellent memories of that day.”

Aydın Özarı conducting ‘Yaz bitti’ during rehearsals at the 1992 Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö

What are Aydın Özarı’s memories of the rehearsal with Anders Berglund’s Eurovision orchestra? “As I had hoped when sending a tape of our Istanbul recording to Sweden, the orchestra there was well prepared. The rehearsals were flawless. I had a short discussion with the pianist about suspended chords, but that was it. All groups of the orchestra were excellent. The players were disciplined – when I gave them an instruction, all of them listened attentively. The sound engineers did a great job as well. Quite different from what we were used to in Turkey, all of them were able to read the scores without any trouble. In a conversation with them, I made known my wishes for the sound mix. With a red marker, they annotated the score, making notes for the different parts of the orchestra. On the night, the mix was perfect. The orchestra didn’t drown out the vocals, and the different sections could all be heard exactly as I had indicated. It was a pleasure working with such professionals.”

Due to an administrative mistake on the part of the EBU, at the press conference of the Turkish delegation, Aydın Özarı was erroneously introduced by the name of Turhan Yükseler, who had conducted the Turkish entry the year before. It wasn’t the only hiccup during the press meeting. Özarı: “There were a couple of Greek journalist present who didn’t have the slightest intention to ask us anything about the song. Instead, they put the question to me why the Turkish jury never voted for Cyprus and Greece. My answer was that they probably knew the answer themselves – so why ask the conductor? They were really hostile. It was a provocation on their part. I was disappointed that politics turned out to play a part in Eurovision (as a matter of fact, in the 1992 Eurovision voting, Greece gave no votes to Turkey, while Turkey awarded eight points to the Greek entry – BT). I was hoping to compete with other nations in a spirit of cordiality. Having said that, the other delegations were much more agreeable. Backstage, we always seemed to meet the Israelis. The rehearsals for their song were scheduled right before ours. They were a friendly bunch and we fraternised with them. I’ve always found the Israeli music culture very interesting. It’s not a coincidence that Jewish music is known the world over.”

What does Özarı remember about the performance of ‘Yaz bitti’ in the Eurovision broadcast? “I was concentrating on getting my job right. Our song lasted exactly three minutes, haargenau! – and we would be disqualified if we went over that limit, so I had to get the tempo right. That’s why I asked the drummer in the orchestra, who was sitting right in front of my face, to turn his music stand toward me. He had a metronome on his headphone and we didn’t lose sight of each other for the full three minutes. If I was feeling tense on the night of the concert, it was because of this – but since the orchestra had been prepared so thoroughly, I was quietly confident… and the musicians didn’t disappoint me! I’m sure Aylin and the guys were much more nervous than I was. In rehearsals, they had been drilled by a choreographer who had taught them a set of dance steps. None of the four had any experience with singing and dancing simultaneously, so they could be forgiven for feeling a bit apprehensive.”

Aylin Vatankoş and her backing group rehearsing on stage at the 1992 Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö

In spite of the attractive mix of string and brass in Aydın Özarı’s arrangement of ‘Yaz bitti’, the Turkish entry scored a disappointing nineteenth place among twenty-three competing songs, picking up seventeen points: three from Ireland, six from Yugoslavia, and eight from Malta. Özarı: “Shortly before the voting procedure began, the leader of the Maltese delegation (Gaetano Abela – BT) whispered in my ear: “Don’t you worry, Mr Özarı, we’ll give you eight votes!” That’s literally what he said to me… I couldn’t believe it! I asked our own Head of Delegation what this was supposed to mean, but he told me it was a socio-political manipulation which we did best to ignore. For some reason, the Maltese had pre-arranged their vote. Why? Only God knows, but I didn’t like it one bit. Their behaviour wasn’t in keeping with the spirit of the competition.”

“Of course, I knew beforehand that our song wasn’t strong enough to win the Eurovision Song Contest, but we deserved better than nineteenth place. Especially the German-speaking countries often came up with songs which were rather primitive, and yet they usually got more points than Turkey. Our problem was that jurors in other countries were better used to listening to German, French, Italian, or English songs than to a melody with Turkish lyrics. Moreover, I’m afraid that Turkey didn’t have enough friends in Europe to stand a chance. Still, I keep saying, ‘Yaz bitti’ was too mediocre. Perhaps this one soprano note by Aldoğan Şimşekyay half way through the song was a bit too much. Aldoğan was keen to be in the foreground himself, but he knew little about musical taste in the rest of Europe. He had hardly been abroad in his life. In Turkey, his vocal range was unique – and people liked his imitations of Bee Gees songs. In the Eurovision format, however, castrato vocals were unusual; and people must have wondered what the additional value of this one high note was.”

After his participation in the 1992 Eurovision Song Contest, Aydın Özarı never took part again in the competition – not even in the Turkish pre-selection as an arranger. “The next year, I was called upon again to arrange one or two entries in the selection programme, but I refused. I was disgusted by all these political machinations taking place at a Eurovision Song Contest. No craftsmanship of any arranger could undo the wheeling and dealing going on behind the scenes. I didn’t want to be involved in any of that again. Even after I retired from the TRT in 2003, songwriters kept sending me tapes with their material. Most of it was so amateurish – really disgraceful sometimes how people dared submitting utter crap… but it didn’t make a difference, as I would have turned them down anyway. Still, Malmö was a special highlight in my career as a musician. I’m not proud to have taken part in the Eurovision Song Contest, no – not at all. My contributions to the international jazz concerts organised by the EBU mean much more to me. Still, I was happy that I turned up at an international music festival in Sweden with an orchestration which didn’t contain any mistakes. I’m not saying it was the best arrangement ever written, by no means, but still: it had been done professionally. It proves that, at least as an arranger, I knew what I was doing!”

At a reception organised by the Malmö town council, all delegates present received a doll in traditional Scanian dress from the hands of the city’s mayor – this copy was taken back to Istanbul by Aydın Özarı

Other artists on Aydın Özarı
So far, we have not gathered comments of other artists who worked with Aydın Özarı.

Links & sources
  • Bas Tukker did an interview with Aydın Özarı, spread over two different days, June 2020.
  • Photos courtesy of Aydın Özarı & Ferry van der Zant.
  • Thanks due to Edwin van Gorp for proofreading the manuscript and putting it online.

  

Songs conducted
1992: Yaz bitti