Istanbul Open Mic Adventure Consolidated:
A micro trailer from the film: From the Istanbul segment of “Out of a Jam.”
A podcast: with an open mic MC during my year of podcast making with MCs of open mics in 2012. This is Safak Velioglu of Kooperatif jam in Istanbul:
A link to a favorite blog item from the past: HITTING THE MOTHER LODE OF JAM SESSIONS IN ISTANBUL – TWO IN ONE NIGHT!
A favorite video: Playing “Unchained Melody” in the Kooperatif, Istanbul in an informal jam around the table in front of the bar:
An excerpt from the Book: from the Istanbul chapter of OUT OF A JAM: An Around-the-World Journey of Healing and Rebirth Through Music:
From the well known, comfortable home civilization of the south of France I headed to one of the most exotic of locations for a Formula One race, and for music. Istanbul was divided into both a European side and an Asian side, with the Bosphorus Strait running through it. Like its geographical location, this country of 72 million people – Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city, with 13 million – had always been divided between east and west.
We had preconceived ideas about Turkey in our modern Western world because of events reaching back to the Ottoman Empire and World War I, and with our prejudices against the predominant religion: Islam. But since Ataturk defined modern Turkey in 1923, it was a secular state. It was modern, not Islamic – although there were recent movements towards the latter. The CIA classified it as a developed country, not a developing or underdeveloped one.
For me, Turkey was a lot of things, not the least being the location of the ancient Troy of Homer, of Alexander the Great, who had conquered the land in the fourth century B.C.; then of the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as Byzantium; of the Ottoman Empire and then of the beautifully portrayed and conflicting world of today as drawn by Orhan Pamuk in novels like “Snow” and his memoir, “Istanbul.”
Musically, I knew very little about it, except that it was something I associated with the sounds of the Middle Eastern music I so loved after my time in Iran in the late 1970s during the Revolution. But it was also at the crossroads of European, Asian and Middle Eastern music. The main instrument in the Turkish folk tradition was the Bağlama, which looked a little like the Greek bouzouki (that I had become familiar with through the modern Irish folk revival, where bands like Planxty had used it for traditional Celtic music). The Bağlama usually had three strings, or seven or so strings split up into groups of three. It was a kind of lute, and was either plucked and strummed with the fingers or played with a big pick, as with a guitar.
The most prevalent music was Turkish folk music, which was often played by the Roma, a people also spread across other parts of Europe. There was also Turkish classical music, and even Beethoven had used Turkish instruments in his 9th Symphony.
But like everything else in the culture, after Ataturk had begun the westernization campaign, efforts were made – particularly in the 1930s – to westernize the music as well. And like almost everywhere in the world, the influence of popular Western music, rock ‘n’ roll, was also felt. The Turks came up with a mix of Turkish and Western rock, as well as cover songs in Turkish of Western hits.
The biggest connection between Turkey and music for me was that of the Ertegun brothers, a couple of Turkish Americans who founded and led Atlantic Records through its great period from the 1950s to the 1970s as producers and executives. They were peers of Jac Holzman the founder of Elektra Records, and of Jerry Wexler, who worked for them. Ahmet Ertegun has been described as “one of the most significant figures in the modern recording industry.” He had not only recorded people like Ray Charles and Ben E. King – “Stand By Me” – but he also discovered and signed Led Zeppelin and persuaded Crosby, Stills and Nash to let Neil Young join them.
Then there was Arif Marden, the renowned Turkish producer who also worked with the Ertegun brothers at Atlantic. He had recorded many of the top performers of the 60s and 70s, from jazz musicians like Ray Charles, to popular singers like Barbra Streisand, the Bee Gees and Queen. It was Marden who discovered what would become the next phase of the Bee Gees’ career in the 1970s when he persuaded one of the Gibb brothers to use his falsetto voice.
Still, that is more American history than Turkish history. I didn’t really know much of the local music history before I went to Turkey on my musical journey. But my immediate concern was not the history; it was what was available today. It was all about downtown Istanbul and how the music scene for amateurs, particularly how the open mic and jamming scene might work – or not.