When I covered the Istanbul Jazz Festival for Cornucopia back in 2004, I paid a visit to a small jazz club called Nardis. I was immediately impressed by the place, and found myself heading back there on a couple of occasions, following a road heading downhill from the Galata Tower. The club had been open for barely two years and was run by two walking jazz encylopaedias, guitarist Onder Focan and his wife Zuhal (portrait above by Monica Fritz), who welcomed all kinds of musicians to their stage – Turkish, foreign, young and old – with obvious warmth and enthusiasm.
Fast-forward to 2022, and I’m talking to the Focans, telling them about my early impressions of Nardis. Although there was good food and drink available here, the music was clearly the priority. And while guests were instructed to remain silent during the live performances, there was nothing stuffy or churchy about the atmosphere. With the club’s audience capacity of just 120, people would be immediately conspicuous if they broke the rule, so they just didn’t. The music was different on each of my visits, swinging from classic to modern jazz, from soloists to sextets, and from East to West in flavour – and it was invariably good.
‘It’s still the same today!’ says Zuhal proudly. And she’s right to be proud, because Nardis Jazz Club is celebrating its 20th anniversary. To celebrate this achievement, it has stretched out of the confines of that cosy brick building in Beyoğlu. Back in June there was a big celebratory concert at the Volkswagen Arena in Maslak, and now the club is coming all the way to London. For two nights in November there will be a pop-up Nardis Jazz Club in Clerkenwell.
The event is part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, and the music will range over a broad spectrum. A concert by the Anatolian Fusion Ensemble will feature the musician Ozan Baysal playing a double-necked version of the Turkish saz (also known as a bağlama). Another show, Female Voices of Turkey, brings together the talents of three quite different female singers. Onder Focan will perform on stage as well, playing his celebrated style of jazz guitar in the Onder Focan Quartet. And there is a concert to honour the life and work of the brilliant Turkish trumpet player Muvaffak ‘Maffy’ Falay, who died in February at the age of 92. Maffy Falay played at Nardis, bringing his sextet to the club in 2009 and his quintet in 2014.
The Nardis pop-up event also includes jazz documentary screenings, and a ‘noon raki’discussion (in Turkish with simultaneous English translation) about the nightclub owner Frederick Bruce Thomas, the ‘Black Russian’ who brought jazz to Constantinople in the early 20th century.
The creators of the pop-up – Turquazz, a nonprofit cultural organisation – have chosen an appropriately characterful building for the event: the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer, a late-19th-century Italianate structure whose interior acoustics should serve the music well. On one level, the pop-up will consist of two days of entertaining and exciting sounds. On another level, the programme director, Batu Akyol, says that it promises ‘a glimpse into the thousands of years of Anatolian culture’. He says that Turkish musicians, with their connections to both the East and the West, are especially well placed to mix other musical genres with jazz to create new fusions.
Nardis is all about the music, so it seems appropriate that the Focans’ club was named not after its founders, as Ronnie Scott’s was in London, say, but after an intriguing piece of jazz. ‘Nardis’ was composed by the great Miles Davis for an album by the saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, and has been widely covered ever since. Onder Focan confirms that this Oriental-tinged tune will be performed at some point during the London pop-up. He played it himself, in a quintet of guitar, trumpet, trombone, double bass and drums, at the Volkswagen Arena concert.
How does Onder feel about the 20th-anniversary celebrations in London? ‘I’m very excited,’ he replies. And many people in London who appreciate jazz and exotic music will surely be feeling the same.
The Nardis Jazz Club London Pop-Up comes to Clerkenwell, central London, on Friday November 18 and Saturday November 19.
More details and tickets: https://www.turquazz.com/nardis/
Tony Barrell's review will appear in Cornucopia 65.