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Jamming at the Ekin Turku Evi bar in Istanbul

May 6, 2011

Second day in Istanbul and I scored. Well, not really the way I was hoping, but it was an adventure, and it was playing my music in Istanbul, and it was with Turkish musicians. And most important of all, it was a learning experience.

Since I started this worldwide musical adventure in 2009 I have been saying that Istanbul was probably my favorite musical experience of the world. This is a crazy wild city so full of music that it has to take the record in my books for the most lively musical moment. And two years ago it seemed everywhere I stepped I was invited to play, including at a bar that had a jam session for musicians.

Last year I did not make as great an effort here, but nevertheless played in a restaurant. This year, though, my understanding of the jamming and open mic music scene in Istanbul is growing. But this goes along with a more complete idea of things happening everywhere – ie, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai had been quiet before, and on this trip they were the most active of just about anything I have experienced so far… so if Istanbul suddenly dries up from a jamming and open stage point of view….

Okay, I am getting wordy. To the point: Last night I was once again solicited into a bar that had a live band. As soon as the man outside the bar trying to get clients saw my guitar on my back, he gestured me in and indicated with his gestures that I could go and play some music with my guitar onstage. As this happened the night before with no stage experience subsequently being offered, I made gestures and asked in a way to ensure I had understood correctly. I had, I could play. (This had also happened in 2009, on one occasion I did not play, but on other occasions I did.)

In any case, I went in to this bar off Istiklal street and called Ekin Turku Evi, and ordered a beer. A biggggg beer. The moment I entered, a beautiful young woman at a table listening to the music also gestured to me to go up and play. I agreed with a nod, but pointed out that I would sit and have the beer first. Actually, I wanted to see what the band was all about. It seemed for a moment that I had walked into a karaoke. In fact, it was just the public making requests. Each table had pens and paper for you to request music from the band.

I drank, listened, recorded videos. The night went on. I began thinking I was NOT going to be asked to play. The band was good, lively, playing popular Turkish music, and the audience grew and many people got up to dance and sing along, and the atmosphere was fabulously festive and joyful. But I thought, where do I fit in?

But I kept on making eye contact with the band and beautiful singer woman – whom I would later say to her that she was “guzel” – and so I started thinking: Maybe I am being too shy. Maybe this city is an open mic or jam everywhere and it is normal to go up and play with the established house band. I am being too shy and destroying my own chances out of timidity. I thought about that for an hour, and then though, in any case, I will learn nothing at all if I do not make an approach, and I will lose my whole night.

So I approached the singer, and she put me on to the male singer, as his English was better. Basically what ensued was that he had no idea that I had been invited to play, he was not happy I had been invited to play, and neither he nor anyone else in the band wanted me to play. And I don’t blame them: It was not an open jam session, and they were doing a great job, and they had never heard me before.

They went back to playing, and then after nearly 2 hours, they took a break and retired to a back comfortable cubby hole. So I went over and tried to verify with the guy that he did not want me singing. After all, the mic was now free, I could do something.

My fear was confirmed. But we ended up talking and communicating as we could, and I went over and brought my guitar out and they wanted to see it. I handed it over to one of the musicians to play and I wanted to film him, but he didn’t want that. Then they asked me to play a song. So I played “Crazy Love,” as it was the only one that I could sing over the sound of the house recorded music and the voices of the other clients.

They sang along, clapped rhythm, and then applauded. They asked for another song. So I did “Mad World,” and the keyboard player began singing the chorus and drumming. He knew the song, despite them playing only Turkish music all night long. Then I went into the chords for “Just Like a Woman,” and the keyboard player started singing another song that he had thought I was doing….

Some of the clients at the nearby tables also listened and complimented me. I talked a little more with the band, then it was time for them to go back on stage. I listened to a couple more songs and then left – the guy who had offered me the time on stage asked me why I had not played, and I said the band didn’t want it…. In a way, this kind of chaos is a perfect reflection of the atmosphere of this crazy city itself. And however you look at it, I did manage to piss on my territory in Istanbul, and have an interesting musical experience at the same time. But I’m still keen to get on a stage again here.

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