Discovering The Blues at the Edge of Europe and Asia

posted in: explore, Stories, Turkey | 0
Outside Guitar Store in Istanbul_BW
Stores filled with musical instruments lined the streets in Beyoglu, an area of Istanbul.

It was a bleak and cool morning in the neighborhood of Cihangar, Istanbul. Once upon a time, it was the seedy underbelly of the city. But now it is a hip area with coffee shops, bars, and art. But the old charm is still evident among its numerous antique shops dotting the sides of the cobblestoned streets.

They are the kind of shops that are in themselves treasures of old, chock-a-block full of eye-catching artifacts that overflow out of the shops and onto the sidewalks. And not the kind of stuff that’s the cookie cutter, plastic stuff, but the type of pieces that you look at and think,

I wonder if that was traded here in the days of the Silk Road?

The backstreets of Cihangir. Our Turkish host described this as the best neighborhood in Istanbul.

It was a Sunday and most of the shops were closed. Before we passed the women’s bath house, or hammam in Turkish, surrounded by a large stone wall, we saw the dim lights of an antique shop shining through the window onto the damp street.

We peered through the glass window, first looking at both the treasures and pseudo-treasures on display. Our focus soon shifted to the older couple inside. They spoke French to each other and were investigating something that was locked inside a standing glass cabinet. Intrigued, we entered to take a look.

For a brief moment, the five of us were in this tiny shop: the shop owner, the french couple, Anna and myself. And with a backpack on, I felt like a bull in a China shop, afraid to turn in any direction in case I bumped into someone, or worse, hit some priceless item off the shelf and see it smash into a million pieces on the floor.

The French couple soon departed and thankfully, it was just the three of us. Anna and I smiled at the shop owner and shared one of the few Turkish words we knew, merhaba, or ‘hello’. We were greeted with an English ‘hello’ and welcoming smile.

In the middle of the floor was a small table with the omnipresent cup of çay, or Turkish tea, and an ashtray half full of cigarettes. Behind the small table was a stool. I imagine it is where the shop owner sits, smokes, drinks tea, and watches the world go by out his antique shop window. Close to the stool was a large speaker that came up to my chest and a record player sitting motionless on top of an early 1990’s looking stereo system with all sorts of dials and shifters.

As we shuffled around the shop, peering at the the delicate Japaneses paintings, dynastic Chinese pottery, dusty French booze, and various trinkets from and an unknown time and place, the shop owner was bent over fiddling with the knobs on the stereo system. Then,


Jack Dupree
‘Champion’ Jack Dupree

The sound of a the needle being placed on a vinyl record crackled through the giant speaker. Smooth blues piano followed by a recognizable bass riff grew louder and accompanied the cigarette smoke filling the air.

The shop owner stood in the corner of the store tapping his foot to the beat. He was dressed smartly and looked more stereotypical French than Turkish. He grabbed some large aviator glasses with light yellow lenses from behind the desk and put them on. Anna and I exchanged glances before she exclaimed:

Oh Yeah! This is good!

He responded with a big smile and said:

You know, Jack Dupree?

A little embarrassed, we had no idea who this was, but we knew that we loved it.

It was there, in that tiny shop in Istanbul, standing among antiques from both the East and West, we were introduced to a great American Blues pianist who, we later learned, was not only an amazing musician, but was a champion boxer (he is sometimes referred to ‘Champion’ Jack Dupree), a POW in Japan during WWII, and eventually an American expat living in Europe. How is there not a movie about this guy yet? The world is a small and strange place sometimes, quietly reminding us that even in these brief moments, we should cherish every minute of it.

Keen on checking out this blues great? Check out this Youtube Mix of him in action.