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At the Wednesday Night Jam at the Kooperatif in Istanbul

April 26, 2012

I discovered the Kooperatif room in Istanbul last year, when I had a fabulous jam session with a few people sitting near the bar, including Şafak Velioğlu, the enthusiastic and cool owner and manager of this performance space/bar near Taksim Square in central Istanbul. But I had found the place a few days too late to take part in the official Wednesday night jam session. Last night, I not only got a taste of that jam, but thanks to Şafak’s encouragement, I got to take part despite being ready to leave without performing.

I had misgivings suddenly not because I did not like the jam or the vibe. On the contrary, I loved it so much and felt it was so different to the kind of music or role I could play in it that there was no place for me. I was telling this to Şafak after listening to at least an hour of the jam, when he insisted I take part.

The problem for me was that there were at some points six guitars or more, plus various wind instruments and brass, plus drumming, and vocals, and the feel was almost free form jazz at times, and some very oriental, mid-east kind of stuff at other times. And some sort of almost progressive instrumental rock. What place would there be for a song but not dance man like me? I just usually sing my songs and the other musicians fill them out – whatever.

“Just go and play, break apart the jam and they will follow you,” said Şafak.

I said, “Give me another beer,” and I returned to sit and think about how futile it would be.

Then suddenly on Şafak’s suggestion, certainly, one of the musicians got off the stage and approached me and beckoned me to go up and play.

“Okay,” I said immediately and without hesitation.

So I went up and plugged in and played my usual songs, and like Şafak said, the others joined in. I ended up with a drummer – two or three actually, who exchanged roles – and two lead guitar players and a bass player. I did four songs, including one of my own. I managed to record them. And I had the audience singing along with me, even on my own song, “Except Her Heart,” the lyrics of which they did not know. I received strong and enthusiastic applause and got off the stage walking on air and thanking Şafak for insisting and encouraging and telling me to break apart the jam with new stuff.

It was key to the mindset of this place and its owner. The Kooperatif is a young, cool vibe place designed for all different kinds of music and as a bar and meeting place. It has a beatnik feel to it, and it is open to new sounds and people. Oh, and what a small world, I ran into the sax player who had played with Leander Lyons and his band here at the Kooperatif, and in Paris at the Baroc a few months ago, as I mentioned on the blog.

World music you say????

I will try to do one of my podcasts with Şafak over the next day or two of my remaining time in Istanbul before I return to Paris. But for the moment, Istanbul, and especially the Kooperatif, once again did not let me down musically….


  1. sounds we’ve missed big!

  2. Love the site…looking to take a musical trip to Istanbul with banjo, would you say it’s easy to find people to jam with? open to all style of music. Also, did you try and line up any gigs while there…& did you do any busking?

    • Definitely a great place to jam and play. You should start at Kooperatif, which still exists. I did do busking once, yes. I did not try to find any gigs, though…. Banjo in Istanbul is pretty intriguing!

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