He’s a Grammy-nominated, Turkish American composer, singer, multi-instrumentalist and professor. Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol has blazed a wholly original path for himself, creating and performing works that range from jazz to classical to traditional Turkish music. He's been very busy with a new book coming out at the end of this month, a new extended composition recording coming out in April and then a jazz orchestra album releasing in July. He's managed all that while serving as a professor at the New England Conservatory, where he serves as the director of the Conservatory's Intercultural Institute.

Sanlıkol spoke about his upcoming projects to GBH's All Things Considered host Arun Rath. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

Arun Rath: You can probably tell I'm so enthusiastic about everything that you do, it's incredible. To start off, I want to talk about the Intercultural Institute at the New England Conservatory. We just had a couple of great musicians, Rez Abbasi and Josh Feinberg on, because they gave a concert that was marking the 30th anniversary of the institute. Working across cultures kind of marks your career, so maybe you could start off by telling us about your musical background — because you grew up in a culture of mixed musics, right?

Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol: Of course, yes. I grew up in Turkey, and so my mother actually is a classical pianist. And so while I was growing up, I first got started with Western classical piano repertoire. As someone who had interest beyond piano repertoire, I quickly started digging into the symphonic orchestral repertoire as a young kid. But of course, at the same time, I was taking interest in popular musics, and before too long I started playing in progressive rock bands.

And that, within a year or two, led me to jazz. I had this fascination with more complex music. Within a few years I started studying jazz. And at the time — this is early 90s — I heard about a school called Berklee College of Music. I don't remember how I found the address of Berklee, but I somehow did. Then I wrote a handwritten letter and I remember recording a cassette tape for the admissions and, to my surprise, I got admitted and I made it out to Berklee.

Seven years after my arrival in Boston, Massachusetts, I somehow connected with a variety of Turkish and related musics. I took about 10 years off of my career as a composer and did nothing but devoted myself to study and perform Turkish music in its traditional forms.

Rath: Wow, that's such an amazing trajectory. It explains a bit because I see a silent gap in your discography.

Sanlıkol: Yeah, from a career perspective, it was like shooting myself in the leg, to take off suddenly all these years and disappear from the scene. But then, when I felt like a lot of identity-related issues inside me were resolved, I returned and I thought that I had a much stronger and unique voice as a composer-performer.

Rath: This gets us naturally to talking about the album that's going to be coming out in April. You worked on this with the string group A Far Cry, and it's actually called A Gentleman of Istanbul. Hearing you talk about about the musics that you hear in Turkey, is that reflected in this music?

Sanlıkol: Well, of course. I mean, pretty much everything I've been doing since the year 2012 or so, one way or the other reflects who I am. But this piece, "A Gentleman of Istanbul," was heavily inspired by the kind of stereotyping that I was observing shortly after when Donald Trump called for banning Muslims in the United States. The funny thing is, though, it was not so much a response to what Trump said at the time, but what was more surprising to me was that even respected newspapers would publish stories and the pictures they would put would be only of women who would be covered, or men standing over prayer rugs. I thought that, “Well, that's a 600-year-old stereotype.” The culture of Islam is really diverse, including Islamic mysticism, that is Sufism, and including secular Muslims, millions of them. They still stick us by the mosque. I thought that was really strange.

And I thought, “You know what? I’m going to respond with a composition to this — which will be inspired by by this 17th-century Ottoman Muslim traveler Evliya Çelebi.” Because this man is, in my opinion, more cosmopolitan than anyone you can pick from the 21st-century world. On the one hand, he is the most informed scholar of his day. On the other hand, he is the most fun entertainer — when you keep reading this travel log he wrote about his yearslong travels. So, I thought, "You want to know about cosmopolitanism in Islam? Well, here you go. Check this out."

Rath: I love it. That gets us naturally to your other work that's going to be coming out at the end of this month, your book called "Reform, Notation and Ottoman Music in Early 19th Century Istanbul." The way you've just been describing Istanbul in the 17th century as cosmopolitan as it was then, it sounds like you're probably covering some interesting territory in this book.

Sanlıkol: Right. This book is a project that I've been working on for over 10 years, and it involves myself digging into Byzantine notation, which is basically the kind of musical notation that cantors still use at the Greek Orthodox Christian churches all over this planet. I took interest in it because, I don't know if people know this, but the Greek Orthodox patriarch — to this day — resides in Istanbul. So, it wasn't long after I started studying these traditional music that I was introduced to Byzantine notation.

Then, several years after that, I discovered that, as early as 1830, there were collections printed mostly in Istanbul that would be featuring classical Ottoman Turkish music compositions, but written in Byzantine notation. No one transcribed these into the kind of notation, staff notation, that Turkish music uses. So, there was a huge gap in literature and I started transcribing these.

Along the way, I went and did a post-doctorate study at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University in order to understand the historical events surrounding this publication, the one in 1830. So, there's a lot of subjects and territory that I had to cover aside from notation and music, such as nationalism, musical information and transmission of music and so on and so forth.

Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol's book, "Reform, Notation and Ottoman Music in Early 19th Century Istanbul," comes out on March 31. The album, A Gentleman of Istanbul, comes out on April 7.