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Switching To Bassguitar….

But it was my fascination for Deep Purple that got me going. As soon as I learned a few chords I’d record music on my cassette player while I told my friends to play drums on chairs and window boards simulating snaredrum and high-hat. Smoke On The Water was probably the first riff I learned to play and Woman From Tokio the second.  I worked my way through Ilja Kroon’s Guitar method book 1 and 2 and when I had learned the barre chords I was ready to try everything on my own. I must have been about 13 years old when I played with my friends Ad Ghering -a hockey-playing-drummer whose father was an (upright)  jazz bass player where I first saw a real huge impressive double bass- and Rene Samuels the guitarist that I met when I had my first guitar lessons with Peter van de Par who’d become a successful antique trader later. My first electric guitar was an Eco semi acoustic that I bought from Peter. It had a huge feedback and was a nice easy to play guitar.  But It was my Rokkoman Les Paul copy that I would play on for some time. It didn’t take long before I’d switch to bass guitar and bought myself a Hondo Precision Bass and an Ibanez Cube Amp. In our local music shop “Bill Coolen” I’d spend hours and hours just looking at the most fabulous basses and guitars that were way out of my league. Especially real Fender Precisions or Rickenbackers like the one my hero Roger Glover in Deep Purple used to play like a wet dream. In fact they still are: an old ’62 Precision or a good old Rickenbacker are still worth a fortune.

I started to write songs for my band. Of course they didn’t sound like anything serious but I loved the process of coming up with melodies and chords to make something slightly new, at least according to me….. Another thing that works with me is stamina; I’m not a quitter… I kept looking for my voice both in songs and playing. I’d record ideas with my cassette-recorder and then rehearse them with the band. We got of playing as a school band at the bar and meeting room under the school. We played covers like “Somekind Of Wonderfull” from Grand Funk Railroad and “All Right Now from Free”…that stuff beside some originals.  One of the first songs I wrote was “Never Coming Home”, on which I played harmonica as well, slightly based on “Heroin” by Lou Reed from “Rock ‘N Roll Animal”.  “Babi Yar”was another original song inspired by “Hard Lovin’ Man” from Deep Purple about a massacre of the Jews in WW2.
As time passed I started to find different musicians to play with and I became -in retrospect- overly serious: I wanted it to be a success and drove my fellow musicians to elevating levels to the moment they’d quit. Ronald Voskens started to be the drummer of the band; he was probably the loudest drummer around and exactly what I liked. He was, and is still a very good drummer though he never worked as a professional musician, as far as I know. My friend Rene Wouters played the guitar and we were a real band for about 5 years. We started of rehearsing on Friday afternoon at our former primary school. Later on we rehearsed in the attic of a barn of Ronald’s farm. We build a room of  blocks of hay to isolate both for sound but also for temperature. Of course all in vain…. In summer it would be extremely hot and in winter there was no way to heat anything up but coffee and booze, but at least we wouldn’t have to carry our gear in and out the room every time.  I remember we’d go to some ponds at night after rehearsal and have a great time. I taught a good friend Ben Doomen how to play functional organ in an old chapel- de Hasseltse Kapel-  in Tilburg,  opposite his home. We had a vocalist Robert Sauvé, who had a lot of nerve, not such a great voice though, and had an excellent sense of humor.  They came and went. We eventually added a guitarist Ashna Vishnudat who was a real virtuoso to our standards. He loved Al DiMeola and that jazz rock stuff that was extremely popular with musicians in the late 70’s, and could play like that too.  My eclectic spirit didn’t help to find a musical course though…. We tried several musical styles; Deep Purple and Rainbow like hard rock (Axe) , U2 and Joy Division type new wave (Transmitted Tears)  etc. to get even a bit of success but it wasn’t really happening in the end. We played some loud and nice gigs but never enough to get a working band ethic that I longed for so much. To this day I regret that we didn’t play more gigs back then to really get the hang of touring in a Rock And Roll Band. I’m always looking for a working band atmosphere; I still do. My efforts to enroll Conservatory put an abrupt end to my band efforts in contemporary pop music. I had the idea that I couldn’t continue in the same way and had to start to go my own way though I had no clue in what I was doing. Instead of focusing on a band effort I took a shot at diving in a new music genre that soon would completely change my musical environment.
My fellow band members were starting to study in different cities and the former close friendship fell more or less apart. I kept in touch, on an of an on basis, with both Ronald Voskens – who got into Solar Energy- and Rene Wouters-who has become a successful photographer and film maker: he produced a portrait of mine called “Tales Of A Traveller” in 2016- they are both still playing music; I still meet up with Ad Ghering every now and then and who started to play double bass too; just like his dad.

 

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Sezen Aksu: The Conquest Of Carnegie Hall, New York USA 2010

We started to work our way through the concerts in Europe scheduled before the trip to the USA. It was a real treat: I’ve always carried around my own flight case with the huge 7/8 scale Père Pillement Bass from the early 1800’s -Père died in 1830- build to last centuries. And believe me a bass weighing over 30 kgs and a flight case of the same weight is not something to travel light. Many times my bass wouldn’t fit the airplane and would be send later. Often taxis wouldn’t take me because it simply didn’t fit and they wouldn’t bother to call for a van  or anything. But now we had a crew that took care of everything…….my bass stood, in its case, ready behind my place on stage. All I had to do was to take him out of the case and play. Very luxurious for a jazzman used to make ends meet and twist every penny.
We had a stopover in Istanbul before we flew to the US. We landed in New York and were guided through customs by our US hosts; a lawyer firm that sponsored and organised the tour. The bus stopped in Manhattan after a scenic route that tok us across the Brooklyn Bridge  and we were booked in a new 5* hotel across the world famous Waldorf Hotel. Everything was funky, flashy and very hip. Electronic control on the minibar meant you couldn’t even open the drawer without paying for it. Welcome to New York! I had been in New York before and the city is exciting but after my stints in Johannesburg and Istanbul New York was a reasonably quiet, decent city; a far cry from the Soprano’s, Taxi Driver and Hill Street Blues image that I’d kept in my mind. We had a few days off and I got a free chance to go check out the vibe of the inner city. I went looking for traces my ancestors had left when they colonized the first inhabitants in the early 1600’s. I’m very interested in history and my imagination takes over when I look for traces of events and happenings that occurred generations before me, in a different world with different attitudes. I’ve always had a weak spot for the indigenous people that were invaded and decimated by my European ancestors and even when walking though a city like New York I try to imagine what it must have looked like when the first Europeans charged into the New World. For me growing up in post war Europe, the US was both our liberator and role model but also the arrogant superpower and supporter of the dictatorial regiems of Pinochet, Allende, The Shah of Persia, Videla a.o.. The Vietnam catastrophe also had a serious impact on the image of the US. Human rights and democracy didn’t match the ambiguous ambitions of the US in the 70’s and the 80’s.   But even with all that in mind New York and the rest of the US are still images that thrill me. “Blue Highway” by William Least Heat Moon has been a favorite book for a long time.  I’ve never been able to travel there for a long endless trip but it’s still very much on my bucket list. American music however I take to as essential nourishment for my musical well being. In recent times I’ve grown more and more fond of Country, Folk, Bluegrass, Cajun etc. I love the music of Bill Frisell, John Mayer and Bruce Springsteen alike. It’s a a well that never dries.When I was in New York with Sezen, I knew we were going to play the famous Carnegie Hall. For the rest of the band it was like the regular gig because they’d been there before but for me it was a temple of music. The place where all the illustrious jazz stars and singers had performed when they were at their top. The place where Glenn Gould worked his way through the Goldberg Variations on Bach. A magical monumental place. And me, the guy from outskirts of the small industrial town in the south of The Netherlands that nobody heard of, was going to play for a sold out house. In itself a lifetime achievement.
We spend some days hanging around Manhattan but when the time came we were anxious to play. Our tour bus took us to the artist entrance and when we came in there was a small stairway with a big photo of Frank Sinatra climbing the same stairs…. It was a great experience and though the hall, with its classical acoustics, had a hard time with all the percussion in the band the audience was exuberant, loud -like always-, and out of their heads. The broke down the temple. And Sezen was both Lucifer and the Madonna. It was hilarious. People running and shouting, singing out loud and clapping ferociously; turning the chique Carnegie Hall into the Bazar of Istanbul. The conquest was complete: Sezen came, saw and won. And as always after the show there was Turkish food for everyone. That would become the staple diet of the years to come. The delicious and rich flavors of the Turkish cuisine, always, always, always; no matter where we were. If we’d toured India, Mexico Japan or China only Turkish food would be served.
When the food and drinks were finished we were ready to go but….outside it was like stepping into a scene of Hill Street Blues – I immediately got the picture- because there were hundreds of people waiting and while many police cars were flashing their lights, trying to control the crowd that wanted to get a glimpse of Sezen. Being such a star takes a huge toll. It takes away your identity and changes your environment fundamentally. Since I wasn’t a Sezen disciple – I didn’t really know anything of her before I joined the band- I could joke and talk with her on an equal basis. I still take her serious as a person, not as a star and I love her for that. Sezen is a special person with a special place in my heart. Over the years I’ve come to understand that being a superstar is both a bless and a burden. Drugs and alcohol are available anywhere, anytime and as Sinatra didn’t want to sing Randy Newman’s song….it’s lonely at the top.

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How I Got Started….

My  earliest memory of music I can’t really recall. It may have been the South African songs we had to learn in school like “Sarie Marais” – I am that old yes- but I remember that I heard a song blasting out of our old radio while I was playing with my Dinky Toy cars. radioI recall the sound which was very thick and heavy. Different and raw. In my memory it was Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” but of course I couldn’t really tell. The time frame is way too blurred. However I do remember the TV showing us the first man on the moon and the relentless B 52s bombing of Vietnam, Watergate -which took forever- and of course the World Championships in Mexico in 1970 with Pele and Rivellino. My dad was a huge soccer fan and sports famila-ratwas one of the most important elements growing up. I would often play soccer with my brothers and many kids from the neighborhood at a small abandoned square in front of our house which used to be part of a temporary wooden school when the quarter was build in the early 60’s.
autoMy dad had bought his first car, a Vauxhall Viva- the English version of the infamous Opel Kadett- which allowed us to go to soccer games in Rotterdam to see Feyenoord, one of the best teams in the world at that time. I recall seeing Ajax with Cruijff & Neeskens and Feyenoord with van Hanegem and Franz Hasil play each other in the most beautiful soccer stadium ever “De Kuip” in Rotterdam. I knew all the players by heart. Us kids collected small soccer player pictures and glued them in special books. Same stuff that’s still going on nowadays. To this day I can recall some of the names of players that played with  small long gone soccer clubs like DWS, GVAV en Holland Sport.
My parents didn’t really have a musical taste or interest. Nobody played an instrument although the neighbors had a piano. My neighbor friend Paul always hated his piano lessons  so there was not much enthusiasm for a sport like that… We had a record player with a build in speaker, on which they’d play a few comedian and operetta albums like “Stimmung, Stimmung” or Toon Hermans – a dutch stand up comedian avant la lettre – every now and then. Music lessons at the local Music School, which was in the city centre, were for the rich people and we were not part of them. It just didn’t even cross our minds to go there; it was in another, strange world; just not part of our upbringing.

Itilburg-485 loved to be outside playing and roaming the streets and woods around the town I grew up in; Tilburg, the Netherlands. I lived in a typical Dutch 60’s quarter -square and straight- on the western edge of a deteriorating industrial town where the textile industry had left. Just a couple of hundred yards from our house you’d find woods and farm land. The next village was about 10 miles away westward. I never had the idea I lived in a city because it felt really like a small village with plenty of space around.
In the 60’s and 70’s the whole inner city of Tilburg  was littered with broken down ruines of once flourishing factories. The was no real heart in the city: we don’t have an old centre like neighboring cities ’s Hertogenbosch & Breda. Tilburg was quite a desolate and grim working man’s town in which relative poverty was common. Fortunately for me there was a great music scene that, in due time, would be a big part of the growing self esteem of the expanding town. However, all of that took place quite far away from where I grew up though. When you’re a child, your world is limited to the school, your house, the soccer club  and the small woods around that. It only changes in time when you start to leave the nest….

 

toppop

 

I liked to watch our national TV pop music show Toppop which imported pop culture in every household with a TV which started in 1970. It gave me my first music heroes like Demis Roussos, Slade and The Sweet. rousos slade_-_toppop_1973_19 My mother keeps telling me – to this day- that I was a very busy kid -now they’d probably diagnose me with ADHD- and that I would use my cutlery as drumsticks and would be drumming on everything that was available on the table when we had dinner. I played drums on the empty wash powder boxes my my mother saved for me while play backing our favorite popsongs using pvc pipes you use for electric wire as my drumsticks. My friends would imitate playing guitar on old tennis or badminton rackets.
cassette-recorderI recorded as much music as I could on my first cassette recorder with a build in speaker(!). I would check the national hitlist which was available at the Tobacco store in a small mall nearby and wait for the songs I wanted to be broadcasted. Then I hoped the DJ would shut up so I’d have the whole song and not some stupid introduction. I do recall recording “Jet” by Paul McCartney and Wings and many other different popsongs. We would be searching for all great new songs and especially new clips that were extremely fascinating in those days. It was long before MTV hit the screens and videos were very rare. Colour TV was just coming into range for average, moderate income families like mine. It also took some time before our dad bought a decent Philips stereo amplifier with good -loud- speakers and a real -stand alone- pick up to play LP’s and singles…. Me and my brother were in heaven. We always played music when we were at home. Our thirst for new music was endless and that would last for decades.  pick-up

It was also the time that my older brother started to bring in LP’s he’d bought. After a few samplers with super hits of the 70’s he came home with an album from Mike Oldfield “Tubular Bells”. But it was another album he brought home that really turned me on to wanting to play music.  I was struck by the high energy and power of a band that would make an everlasting imprint on me and how I ‘d deal with music through my teens. I do remember hearing the music in my head going on and on and on and on.  I remember walking to school, I must have been in 5th or 6th grade, passing a small park and watching the trees shake in the wind while I heard that great organ sound of Jon Lord in my head. The vocals which were gentle but turned into screams and of course the heaviest guitar I’d ever heard. dp-in-rock The fast solo’s and agility of the rhythm section was just mythical.deep-purple It was the right album at the right time: a teenage kid in a small town suburb in the early 70’s hearing music that you couldn’t listen to  on any radio station. It was of course also very important that my parents didn’t like it at all. Way to rough. This was my music.  This was what I wanted to do: make records, albums and play all over the world. I had one problem: I had no instrument but some of my older brother’s friends played guitar and they, being about 3 years my senior, were the real cool guys. They had long hair and upcoming beards, wore old soldier’s coats and cowboy boots with square noses- not pointed- square!  I was fascinated by them learning to play guitar – I thought they were amazing: they played barre chords (!) – and I kept asking my dad for one like theirs. My dad was a generous and loving man and he realized I wasn’t going to back down -something which is not in my nature- so he went with me to the town’s legendary guitar shop Bill Coolen where he bought me my first guitar. It was the cheapest acoustic steel stringed guitar we could get and it was a tour the force playing that instrument but it didn’t take long before I could play a few chords. The teacher I had found in our neighborhood, and where everybody went if you wanted to learn to play guitar, was a real gentle, nice,  jazz musician who loved Les Paul and Chet Atkins. I really liked him a lot. I admired his chords and way of playing but I really liked it when he started to play old school Rock ’n Roll. I hadn’t come for the smooth jazz stuff he played – which in later years I truly regretted-, I had come to learn the rough stuff and just enough to start my own band.  I wanted to have my own hardrock band. I had found my mission.

Me and my brother would borrow each other’s cassettes with more and more pre-recorded music. We would borrow  LPs  from anybody around and record it on the cassettes. You would record over the tape when you didn’t like what was previously on there. The problem was that you could only write a name on the tape once. You couldn’t overwrite the written text. So it happened that my brother had a tape with written on it: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young “Deja Vu”. When I played it , it hit me but so differently then other music. It opened another door for me. It made me travel through the landscapes in the Southern US, which I had seen in westerns on TV. It sparked my imagination but in a completely different way.   It became a turning point in my music appreciation. It was so cool, relaxed, groovy and different. naturallyFor a short while I thought CSN&Y  were the best that ever happened to me. That was until I played it while hanging out the window in the evening some summer night and one of the girls next door asked me what I was playing.  As I replied CSN & Y she said: “no way this is not Deja Vu because I know that music well”, so I went to my brother and asked what he had recorded over the now classic album. He said it was “Naturally” by J.J. Cale. J.J. is my main inspiration since then. All my life I’ve kept listening and playing his music. In my darkest hours he gave me comfort and in the best of times he made the happiest man on the planet.  In the end he’s been on my shoulder ever since.

AMSTERDAM, HOLLAND: JJ Cale performs live at the Carre Theatre, Amsterdam in 1973 (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

Through him I really encountered the Americana, Blues and Folk. The complete opposite of the mega rock stars from Deep Purple with all the line up changes and bursting egos. This guy just kept on going writing great songs in modesty. Revered by men like Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler but unknown to the main public. When he passed away recently I really felt as if I’d lost a friend, a comrade. He’s on my playlist for over 40 years and will never leave. If I had to pick five albums to take with me to a deserted island “Naturally” is one of them…..

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My Sezen Aksu Story: Bilfen and The Circus In Stockholm

 

The taxi brought us to the Bilfen School Theatre in Istanbul. As always the driver was comparing his racing skills to those of a Formula 1 racer. There are no crazier people than Istanbul cab drivers. It’s a city so large it’s very easy to lose your sense of direction and since I had no clue where we going, we hoped the taxi driver did but we weren’t sure. You’re never sure in Istanbul. sezen-aksu4 I just was impressed by the endless line of apartment blocks with restaurants and small shops at the ground floor. In the nineties I had been a frequent visitor of Johannesburg, another huge city but Istanbul is a different ball game. It’s like an overflowing beehive 24/7.
The school is located on top of one of the many hills on which Istanbul is built so the view over the metropole was great: the Blue Mosque, the Bosporus, Aya Sophia and the Sea of Marmara just within reach.
Inside the private school there’s a nice theatre where the Sezen Aksu Acoustic Band would rehearse this week in Februari in 2010. They supplied me with a wreck of an acoustic bass but I was anxious to do the  thing right so I complained only to myself….not to Cem, the huge guy who handled all the gear for years. The whole crew, whom  I was to get really good friends with, was at hand even during rehearsals. Something which I of course, was not used to: we jazz guys are highly DIY oriented. Food and drink were plentiful and we worked in a quiet, but reasonably organised way. Listening to the songs and then searching for the right groove and feel for the new band. We reworked some of the most popular tunes Sezen and booker/ producer Riza Okcu had selected.sezen 3
Recomposing the material is a real nice way of getting deep into the songs. It helps you to put a layer of your own creativity into the song that wasn’t there before. Since Sezen’s songs are real pop songs, almost like French chansons with a middle eastern flavor, we managed to make it work quite well. It was kind of a struggle to deal with the language, and it would remain so for years due to my lacking progress in Turkish, but since a few colleagues spoke English, French and German I managed to follow the gang. I got to know all the guys that became such very good friends in the progressing years.

Jarrod

Jarrod Cagwin is the drummer of the Acoustic band. Since we were the only foreigners in the band we had a natural flow of growing partnership in running the rhythm section. We lay down thick fat grooves and played Turkish music in a different way than in Sezen’s previous bands.  We both come from the heavy rock like Led Zeppelin, Rushrush4_660, AC/DC and Deep Purple 2603549-ritchie-blackmore-deep-purple-617-409which was all around us in our youths, learned to play jazz well afterwards and often had a trip down memory lane when we looked for ways to describe and play grooves or when just making fun. And fun it was.
mustafa & jarrod

Mustafa Boztuy was the percussionist from Hannover Germany so communicating with him was easy. He was not from the inner circle around Sezen either but added great value to the percussive power of the group. Mustafa lived in Germany since he was 19 and he takes benefit of the best of both worlds. A very spiritual man, who hates religion as poison of the mind-like me-, but looking for depth and sensible social intelligence in life.  Often we arrived at Ataturk Airport together and then headed into the heart of Istanbul. Talked and discussed many things that really concerned us in our daily life but also more in a philosophical manner.article-0-1D1ED54A00000578-626_634x413

We rehearsed all week but there was no sight of Sezen during the first few days. But the last day we would have a whole rehearsal with her. When she eventually arrived the air became electric and many of her personal crew were running around as if the Queen of Turkey came down from the palace. She was, and is however, a very gentle and sweet, loving woman. A party animal is an understatement I reckon and she immediately started to hand out glasses of Jack Daniëls which I like but both Jarrod and Mustafa politely declined. jdMustafa stuck to his langtime decision never to drink a drop of alcohol anymore but Jarrod couldn’t escape the lady right in front! It was hilarious. He had no idea how not to embarrass Sezen but the point is that Jarrod just can’t stand and handle strong liquor. He just gets very sick….it wasn’t the last time I saved his ass as he would save mine at least as many times. I like JD every now and then and then was as good as any…..

Cirkus,_Stockholm,_Sweden

We split up and would get together in Stockholm Sweden to start the European tour in The Circus; a beautiful old wooden theatre. It was still very icy  and cold early March when we arrived. We stayed in one of those hip Scandinavian design style hotels where luxury is as common as a lightbulb. Flying with my double own Pillement bass from the early 1800’s in a huge flight case costed €750 extra so I was kind of scared they’d make a fuzz about the excess travelling costs but there was not even a blink in his eye when I mentioned the amount to the tour manager Cagdas before he reimbursed me the money. Wow; this is really a different ballgame, I thought. Little did I know they normally travel with a truckload of luggage just for Sezen herself and then there’s the group of over 25 people that come along….
sezen
We did the sound check in the theatre and we just got back to the dressing rooms and about to have dinner in our “Green Room” when the fire alarm went off. It was like someone drilled a hole in your eardrum. Out! Out! Out! Out! Came the security screaming into the room. It wasn’t me! It wasn’t me! Shouted Sezen as we went outside in the freezing cold of pre spring Stockholm. I wonder why she shouted that so vigorously. Of course the Circus did not burn down that night. And we got back inside anxiously awaiting the first gig of the tour. As a musician you practise your instrument ‘till you’re a master. But when you’re touring, mastering the waiting is a different hard nu to crack. You wait at the airport, at the customs, at the hotel, before roll call, before sound check, before the gig, before going back to the hotel, before the adrenaline level has waived….being a musician is often a waiting game.

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We entered stage and started to play our newly arranged intro put together of Fatih Ahiskali’s and Özer Arkun’s tune. As soon as we started to play the Turkish 9/8 rhythm, which is an odd one for someone who considers jazz timing hard, the thousands of people started to clap along…. I couldn’t hear anything anymore, let alone, the direction of the tune! In 9/8! Every Turkish person grows up clapping and dancing to the rhythm and Jarrod and I looked at each other in horror. The noise kept on and on and by the time we were at the end the whole band had lost it. It was nerve wrecking. Then I started the intro of Gülümse by arcing a long low G note. Lights dimmed and spotlight came on. sezen 2As Sezen entered the stage the audience couldn’t hold back anymore. They screamed and shouted, whistled and were in awe. That night it sounded as if the whole world shouted for Sezen Aksu. It was louder than the loudest concert I had played or listened to. It was heart-warming to see so many people longing for the person who’d been a part of their lives for so long. Someone who comforted them in harsh times and who celebrated their feasts and parties with them. The Grand dame of Turkish music was getting steamed up, was picking up speed and we were right there, following every move, every musical curve she took, skipping parts and continuing longer or stopping short before the ending. We were on the move….

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