Encounters and Coincidence

“A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish – but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.”
― Vladimir Nabokov, Laughter in the Dark

Jazz-musician-John-SurmanJ and I wandered off to İstanbul last Friday. We were going to meet up with saxophonist John Surman who was doing a solo gig at the İstanbul Jazz Festival – JS is family and we don’t get to meet up as often as we’d like. This time around his schedule was more relaxed than is usual with these things and we were able to go for some essential shopping around the musical instrument makers’ places of business at the top of Tünel for odds and sods and, perhaps, a new ‘toy’ or bit of serious gear.

First stop was for a zurna, that quintessential Middle Eastern horn, with its most distinctive sound. We’d stopped by a particular shop three or four years earlier with Jack Dejohnette‘s ‘Ripple Effect’ group and Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Marlui Miranda who had been delighted to get her hands on her very own zurna.

JackDeJohnette_TheRippleEffect_Roma_01‘Ripple Effect’ Jack on drums, JS in reflection (2nd/3rd from r) Marlui extreme right (JazzItalia photo)

Moving on, we were looking for a particular type of reed for some obscure horn JS had acquired some years earlier – we found some in the atelier/atelye/workshop of a saz and kemençe maker Oktay Üst. Turns out that Oktay is not just a master craftsman in wood, he is also a maestro of the kemençe with an international reputation.

Kemence, zurna, meyJS acquired a mey, Oktay launched into a mini-concert and there was hardly a dry eye in the house. Why? because people like Oktay are a dying breed – makers and players of musical instruments are being fast superseded by cheap, mass produced plastic and that should be worth a tear from any lover of artistry.

As an aside, it is amazing what happens when the craftsmen/sellers/shopkeepers realise that they are dealing with someone who can really play these things – rather than someone who wants a wall or table decoration. 30-40% discounts are given and extra reeds thrown in without being asked for. Before you get any ideas, you’ll need to know which end to blow into and demonstrate a bit more than the equivalent of ‘chopsticks’! Above left you can see a zurna, two meys, a kemençe and a cd all by Oktay.

JS and Oktay Üst – two Maestros

So, moving on. We had just left Oktay’s place when we were accosted by three young people who appeared to be trying to flog us a cd of some sort.

We could not have been more wrong – JS suddenly spotted that the cd they were ‘offering’ was one of his and an encounter and a coincidence came together. It turned out that these folks had come from Tehran, Iran for a visit to friends and specifically because their jazz idol John Surman was performing at the festival. They had bought their cd locally as they are not available back home and they just happened to be walking down this particular street as JS came out of Oktay’s place – a Close Encounter of the Coincidental Kind and a perfect chance to get an autograph!

We were able to enjoy a little time with them and then meet up later at the concert which, I have to say, was yet another virtuoso performance that ended with JS playing an encore of jazzed-up folk tunes whilst wandering around the auditorium. To those who don’t know John’s stuff I’d say ‘You really don’t know what you are missing’. His output over the years has been prolific and varied – from jazz to choral to brass to . . well, you name it. (his website is here) J and I are lucky enough to have several class musicians in the family, it means we get to be at some of the best gigs around, not only that, I can’t remember the last time we had to pay! How cool is that?

To finish off here are a few photos:



sound check with the mighty baritone sax


JS, J, sound engineer Paul (in red) and the Tehran Fan Club

Finally, here’s maestro-usta Oktay Üst performing:

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps thank you, to the two nice people who enquired about the lack of posting this past week – there is also the challenge of lack of bandwidth – it has taken three and a half hours so far to add the photos!

28 thoughts on “Encounters and Coincidence

  1. That’s truly astonishing – what were the chances of that happening. I thought for a minute they may have been following JS! Musicians in the family with free concerts, well jel, as “they” say, lucky you x 2. I love SAX! Gonna go Youtube now for a listen and a gander. Glad you had an interesting time

    1. Hi Chris – you couldn’t make it up, could you? By the way, JS got album of the year for his ‘Saltash Bells’.

      1. Oh well done that man! – had a listen – nice talent – interesting compositions – but in this one the bells themselves didn’t sit well on my hearing apparatus! I’m more your smooth jazz sax listener. I can see however he has a big following

        1. . . then, Elven One. I suggest you dig around 30 years back to something like the ‘Upon Reflection’ album – very lyrical and melodic. It’s either that or I suggest you start eating the mushrooms instead of sitting on them!

  2. Love that area of old Istanbul. It’s where Liam picked up his beloved Roland (or more correctly Rōrando Kabushiki Kaisha). Made in Japan by robots, rather than by hand, unfortunately.

    1. My God, Alan, you are one lucky man!! I would move heaven and earth to listen JS live!!:) Looks spectacular, and what a wonderful surprise it must be for the folks from Tehran, lovely when coincidences like this happen – memory of a lifetime. Loved also Oktay Ust’s performance, thanks for sharing : )

    2. . . don’t get on some guilt trip, Jack – J’s electronic Yamaha piano came from the same area – marvellous bit of gear.

  3. Amazing! Finding the sounds on you tube now and I…. Well 20 years ago, or maybe, more like 35 years ago, I used to be very into that kind of music and I don’t understand why this man’s name (or music) is not more familiar. I seem to recall most of the people his bio says he played with…

    So a new find for me. And better than a diamond cuff-link.

    Agree that having musicians in the family is fun. I used to be married to a rock guitarist.

    1. . . John’s stuff is recognised in Europe and globally but coverage of jazz in the UK has always been sparse or non-existent. His dad always thought he should have got a real job until he was awarded an Hon. Doc. by Plymouth Uni his home town.
      Check out the other part of the family, Jack Dejohnette – JS and son Ben have done a lot of stuff together.

  4. Alan, When I heard this story the first time, it brought tears to my eyes! Really, what a wonderful, rich experience. Your ‘still life with instruments’ was a lovely photo. It is amazing how many varied traditional instruments there are – a tribute to the natural creativity of humanity which is disappearing along with craftsmen like Oktay Üst, may he live a long and healthy life. We really loved the clip you posted of the master at work. Up until now, we haven’t been acquainted with JS’s music but it sounds like it’s about time!

    1. . . it was pretty amazing! As for getting acquainted with JS’s stuff – you have a lot of exploring to do from jazz to choral to brass etc. His album ‘saltash Bells won Jazz Album of the Year.

  5. What a wonderful story! Meanwhile, here in Antalya I’m struggling to find a pianist to record an audition. Maybe I should just go to Istanbul!

    1. Hi Ellen, the price of living in the cultural ‘sticks’ – the big city is where everything happens. Good luck with the search.

  6. You lucky b! Can you solve a long term puzzle? What’s the difference between a mey and a ney.

  7. . . aren’t I just! The ney is a flute, it has no reed and sound is produced by blowing across the ceramic (in the old days, ivory) ‘blow-hole’ in much the same way as a conventional flute. The mey is an ancient instrument also known as the duduk with variations all over the Middle East. It has a double reed (like the zurna) that has a little ‘tensioner’ fitted to allow the player to adjust it to suit their embouchure.

  8. Sounds like a blast! And it looks I just missed meeting up with you in Istanbul too! Darn! 🙂

    Coincidentally, I was just by this music store about a week ago as Molly’s Cafe is right next door. Great lil cafe that’s owned by a Canadian gal that’s lived in Istanbul for 10+ years! Loved hearing all the music in streets here.

  9. Hello Joy! Molly came out and launched right in to find out who the celeb musician was – soon as she knew she offered him a gig – no money but I think the coffee is good! We’re back in Istanbul in November at IKSV Şişhane (more family gigs and no entrance fee), we might well give Molly a fright by turning up!

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