A Brief Account on Nükhet Ruacan’s Life, Art and Legacy

It was spring time in 1989 when I first heard the fabulous Nükhet Ruacan live. Mostly I’m not good at remembering the exact dates or years but this time I had the chance to check it out with my mates from the university as we were assigned a hotel project at that time as a part of our architectural design course and we were visiting Istanbul to see some selected sites. I was in my spring time too, barely twenty and I was looking forward to any opportunity that would serve my fresh enthusiasm for jazz. After a long day of walking around the city our instructors gave us some free time before going back to the hotel, advising and requiring from us to stay in groups, we were some young and naive students from Ankara after all. Being girls in majority, it wasn’t difficult to convince a small group to come with me to Divan hotel to listen to some live jazz from Ruacan family at the Divan hotel. Nükhet Ruacan was singing while Neşet Ruacan was playing the guitar, Nilüfer (then was Ruacan now Verdi) was on the piano, Oğuz Durukan namely Charlie was on the bass and Deniz Dündar was on the drums. I was so shy then to introduce myself but that night always stayed in my memory as one of pure thrill and excitement.

From then on I listened to her whenever I could and had the honor and privilege to become acquainted more and more in the following years to come. She was the living legend of jazz singing in Turkey through all her career and definitely a role model for any youngster who was willing to follow her footsteps. First and foremost her elegance was spectacular, whether it would be through her performance or her outlook. I remember watching her with eyes and ears wide open not only because of her mastery in singing technique but also for the grace in her manners, in the way she used to dress, the delicacy of the very thin eye line she used to make and witnessing how red was becoming her, let it be a lipstick or a glamorous evening outfit. She took everything about singing seriously. After she passed away Nilüfer was expressing her frustration several times, that she was not able to comprehend why singers weren’t making warm-ups any more and told us how Nükhet was spending a fairly long time before any gig and how respectful she was to her profession in that manner. There’s no doubt that she’s been missing her immensely, maybe a bit more than the rest of us. I believe they were like genuine sisters, not only being the official sisters-in-law. I always admired and thought how supportive it would be to be surrounded by such amazing musicians as Nilüfer and Neşet Ruacan, her brother, who is the milestone of jazz guitar in Turkey. Now as I grow older I realize that the most difficult audience for anyone in performing arts is one’s own family and being surrounded by such a family while performing might have its own pros and cons

Looking at the old photos of the Ruacan family and their gang of friends from Moda from the 70’s -some of them I had the opportunity to get to know- one can not help but be nostalgic about the past. Apparently life in Istanbul was much more peaceful and beautiful then, so were the people and their relations in-between themselves and to their multi-faceted passions, including jazz. In the beginning of her career Nükhet Ruacan was singing popular tunes in this warm environment in Istanbul but later on her musical journey led her way to jazz. In 70’s she was in Europe, in Switzerland, then to Norway where she sang along with veteran musicians like Emin Fındıkoğlu and Tommy Dodd. In 1979 she studied in the New York Conservatory of Music. Later on she gave concerts in China and US that were organized by Ministry of Culture.

She was teaching in the Bilgi University Jazz Department in her final years and she was feeling grateful to be able to do so, not only as she loved her students and found mentoring them very meaningful but as well for the financial hardship of the treatments she’d have otherwise after the diagnosis of leukemia. It should have been quite the opposite, anyone should have been more than grateful to have her. I cannot figure out any numeric coherence for someone who enriched herself artistically, intellectually and spiritually against all odds all through her lifetime and is sharing her knowledge and wisdom unrequitedly and with compassion.

I’ve been teaching for some time myself and one day we were in a discussion with one of the students. She was studying graphics but actually wanted to quit and to go to Europe to study classical singing. I was surprised as I found myself advising her to complete her studies first. I just sounded like a responsible adult -in fact I never knew whatever that meant- and I was wondering where on earth the rebellious girl I once were, was gone. I came back home, disappointed by myself and by coincidence -I wonder if there is any- I noticed the cd of Nükhet Ruacan with TRT Big Band. I took out the leaflet and read her short biography in there. Honestly speaking I didn’t know that she quit her studies in graphic arts to continue her career as a singer until that moment. Shame on me! I gave that CD as a present to my student as an encouragement and apologized from her for my previous comments. I told her ‘’Here is the proof, if Nükhet could do it, you can do it too. The effort is up to you.’’ That was what she was to us, to all her followers who kept singing jazz with dignity in Turkey. Any loss is too soon, hers is irreplaceable as well. Her legacy will always be present with us and she will be remembered by all her students, listeners and her loved ones as long as we live: Nükhet lives.

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