“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
J 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.
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.
JS 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 because people like Oktay are a dying breed – makers and players of musical instruments are being fast superseded by cheap, mass produced plastic and that should be worth a tear from any lover of artistry.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!