The Beacon of Jazz: A “tunnel”, or the Maffy Perception
Certainly, I too have a story about how I met Ahmet Muvaffak Falay, yet it could be a better start to begin with his unusual name, Muvaffak. As you know, names too come from a sociological background, reasons such as important events, famous people, fashionable names, or names of family members to show respect to tradition often shine out, yet sometimes the naming is directly related to the baby’s story. As we see in Osman İkiz’ book on Maffy Falay, this rare name doesn’t emerge from the idea of a “projected success” (muvaffakiyet) but from a success that came to be after his birth. It was referring to the life-or-death struggle of a weak bodied infant trying cling on to life. Thus, when he survived, this name was given in explanation of that story. We then learn how healthy he was throughout the rest of his life, how he spent his entire time in Sweden without using any medicine or seeing a family doctor. He was a long-winded trumpet player, who had the physical capacity required from a brass instrument player. This must mean that his triumph during his weak infancy, led him to a strong physical capacity. What about his mental health? Of course, he had it all together, even though his head was often in the clouds. He was approachable but chose to focus on his own troubles when communicating with others. Although he didn’t have a problem focusing on a subject (especially music) and was successful when he diverted all his attention at certain things, this led him to be insufficient at those he wasn’t focused at.
Within this scope, I’d like to point out an assessment that I learnt from the aforementioned book and that deeply hurts me. Maffy’s son, Emil has stated the following on his father: “Maffy was a different father. Even though he was a creative person, he squeezed his life into a narrow point of view. Nothing else mattered to him and only his music style was real music. My electronic music wasn’t real to him. Those who told me that my compositions were good were his musician friends like the pianist, Carl Fredrik Orje Maffy on the other hand, he didn’t like my music, he never told me ‘Well done’ because I wasn’t playing jazz.” When I read this passage, I especially wondered he meant by “narrow point of view” I later learnt from Osman İkiz that the word Emil used in Norwegian was “tunnelseende”, which could be translated as “tunnel vision”, describing someone focused on the end of the tunnel and nothing else as they move. As Emil keeps explaining we understand that this kid, who was vastly interested in music, (his mother had studied music pedagogy by the way) slowly becomes disinterested in it. His father keeps telling him that the genres other than jazz don’t matter. A highly controversial fatherhood method. In Abalıoğlu’s documentary, we get to see how he constantly listens to Turkish music in his apartment, and he shows great respect to Bach when he has dreams about this great classical composer. I believe the true issue lies elsewhere; I will attempt to explain that in a moment. The anxiety of thinking that he won’t be able to teach his son as someone who never had a teacher himself, may be the reason behind Maffy’s churlishness.
I’ll get back to that “tunnel vision” thing again, but before, I’d like to explain how I discovered Maffy with my own blinders (another expression for tunnel vision) I suppose my first time listening to his music was in 1987, in a place called “Lilla Maria” in Stockholm. It was an odd place, it achieved to be several things at once (a café for the community, a pub, a restaurant, and a jazz club during the weekends) its entrance had several steps going down into a stuffy chamber where the sweaty musicians’ tunes of passion and Scandinavian seriousness could be heard by the outsiders. We went there with Osman İkiz, he was already acquainted with Maffy, therefore we were able to have a little chat with Maffy both during the intermission and after the concert. I was at the end of my twenties and didn’t know much about Scandinavian jazz by then. When I moved to Oslo in 1984, I was spending most my time left from schoolwork in two places. First was the Cinematheque, where we watched terrific films in theatres filled with less than 20 people, the other was the Deichmanske Bibliotek, a gigantic library located in the city centre. This library didn’t only have books and magazines, but also a magnificent music section. You could choose several vinyl recordings with the guidance of the librarian in the counter, then give the vinyl to them and surrender yourself to the music coming from the large headphones as you sank back into a cosy chair.
As you might guess, I’ve made friends with the librarians in time. There were five or six of them that worked different shifts and they all had different tastes in music, but one amongst them was a complete jazzophile. He made it his “duty” to teach me about Scandinavian jazz, meanwhile I wasn’t really well informed on jazz by then and was finding the pieces I heard to be rather “dull” (at such young age one thinks that one can only run and never realize how joyous it could be to walk) I was conveying this reckless idea of mine to him as well. One day, he told me that he’ll play me a vinyl that even I will find “lively” That was the “Sevda” album, by then, again due to my young age, I believed that jazz was and American music and only the Europeans would make something of it, I wasn’t paying much attention to concepts like “ethnic jazz” I was able to recall a couple thing Okay Temiz had played on TRT, but admittedly, wasn’t taking them too seriously.
To sum up, I started to listen that vinyl of Sevda the Band from Maffy with all my prejudices still intact. To take a look at the back of the vinyl covers while sitting at the listening chamber of the library, aka the “Diskotek” and to read what it’s written there, checking the artists, trying to correlate the artworks with the artists was a prerequisite for the listening ritual. I had no idea about how famous some of the Swedish musicians in that band were (like the tenor saxophone player Bernt Rosengren) nor had I known anyone other than Okay Temiz (like Elvan Aracı), but years after this, I was going to learn the story of Salih Baysal the violinist and feel two time more embarrassed for my ignorance. If we go back to that moment though, it was impossible not to notice the trumpet player while listening to that vinyl, that was the moment I first met the perfect tone of Muvaffak “Maffy” Falay. He was a spectacular player, as the saying goes, he was “sealing a role” from the rest of his band members. When the librarian asked me how I found it, I recall that I answered by saying it was “perfect” with a blushing face and a hoarse voice. Thankfully, I was going to be seeing a live performance by him within the next two years and observe how much of a gigantic live performance star he is. But was Maffy himself happy with his own performance or the musicians he played with? No. I better understood how this answer always laid deep within his persona and unconscious mind after watching the documentary.
At this point it would be good to take a look at Abalıoğlu’s documentary on Maffy. Maffy’s Jazz is almost shot like a “docudrama” where musicians are put under a looking glass, it pierces into the private life of Maffy during his last years, perhaps that’s why it is a heart stinging documentary of life and a life lesson. And even for these reasons alone, it deserves to be discussed and thought on. In the documentary, we meet Maffy (of course, his full name is Muvaffak Falay, yet since he’s adopted the name “Maffy” for himself, I’ll also refer him like that) who is in the last phase of his old age, at the most truthful and unprotected era of his life, living in a small apartment embellished with Swedish sterility, along with his loneliness of old memories and photographs. Abalıoğlu presents us not only with the world of a once upon a jazz “star” through her three visits to Maffy’s house, first of which was in 2016, but also the futile talks (repeated “pieces of speeches”) of a person who strived to survive far away from his country and culture (while gradually developing dementia) This is a strange and slightly surprising form of loneliness. Why is he left alone without anyone with him? Maffy, had place in the jazz scene of Sweden as a “star” in his own right. Additionally, his fame was already there before he arrived in Sweden due to his experience in the that fantastic orchestra he worked for when he was in Germany, Kenny Clarke & Francy Boland Orchestra, a brilliant big band consisting of Americans and Europeans. He was one of the most prominent representatives for the generation that can be considered a gift from Turkey to the world jazz scene towards the late 1950s and early 1960s, consisting of creatives like Arif Mardin, Hayati Kafe and İlhan Mimaroğlu. Why was this shining jazz star left without noone around him during his last years? Could it perhaps be due to that “tunnel vision” I mentioned before?
After answering the question with a “yes”, I’d want to explain why I think like that. Maffy’s world was, to some people’s bewilderment, simple and merely about music. He was someone who lived, existed, and thought with his music. That’s why it’s such a ramified thing, his minimalist approach and the world’s chaos were contravening each other, and several fathomless acts (not caring for his son’s interest in music) and thoughts (believing that those who didn’t play with American musicians could be do jazz) were emerging out of this. I need to convey some of my observations in order to explain this. I initially recall the things he said after a concert during late1980s, where I got to see Maffy’s stage performance for the first time. Interestingly, I realized that he still had a similar speech pattern during my last encounter with him on the September of 2019 in Istanbul, after many years from that concert. And again, there are similar remarks in the Abalıoğlu documentary. He insists on expressing some stuff in a certain way, he has some “unchangeable” opinions on some subjects. Generally, his thoughts regarding music, his music and life are in a state of strange “frozen timelessness”
Of course, there can be such people who exist with their doxas, live with their steadfast opinions. In the scientific terminology the notion of doxa doesn’t have a very bright connotation, but in art and for the artists, this might be different. Perhaps what we call “style” or “technique” are no more than a sequence of doxa. Not all can be like Pablo Picasso or Miles Davis, most cannot traverse between different styles in different eras. Most artists only come with a single style, which they’ve learnt from their masters, if they can manage to improve on that in time, they do and make it a thing of their own. This pedagogical method which was already a norm within traditional societies (“meşk” in music) is now a decaying system in the modern world of today. But could it be possible to think of Maffy’s generation (first line of graduates of the conservatoire in the post Republis era Turkey) without their masters? I do not think so. Allow me to ask this again in the context of Maffy: what if we don’t have a master who trained us? What if we made an artist we adored our guide, simply by listening to their work and reading about them?
What if you don’t want to be a copycat, but still adore a style and its performers? Would a musician feel “rootless” without a master? Would this “lack” lead to a permanent unsatisfaction? At this point I believe yet another one of my observations regarding Maffy would prove to very helpful. Here’s the question: Was Maffy happ with his performance as an artist? I vividly remember, whenever I travelled to Stockholm (I lived in Oslo, but I was able to get a summer job in Stockholm thanks to a student benefit programme) I stopped by Lilla Maria, listened to Maffy’s performance and would either have a short chat with him or eavesdrop on a talk he had. He had a peculiar after-concert attitude, or in fact, an after-concert obsession. He’d invent a defect after all his concerts; sometimes disliking his own performance, sometimes fixating on the mistake of a fellow bandmate, or claiming the sound system to be faulty; in short, there never was a “perfect” performance for him! Whenever someone told him “How could say that? It was an excellent show!” he’d first gladden a bit, but then went back to mourning, never showing a glimpse of satisfaction. However, he’d look like the happiest person alive during the performance! Could he be thinking that he’s unable to convey that happiness to his audience perhaps? Or perhaps was he thinking that he wasn’t showing enough fidelity to the work of his “master”? Was he unable to satisfy the master musicians he constantly had dreams about? Let’s set these metaphysical questions aside, and ask if he actually had a master that trained him in the art of jazz music?
Was the problem perhaps revolving around Maffy’s own “idol” whom he made his guide? This “master” guide was no other than Dizzy, from whom Maffy even got the inspiration for his stage name. Dizzy may have been a “beginning” in his music life or possibly an “ending” As a matter of fact, whenever I spoke with someone who was familiar with jazz, they always grumbled about Dizzy. If you check out the literature around Maffy, (the Swedish ones) you’ll see the emphasis on Dizzy. And if you ask about his playstyle, even though it wasn’t a knock-off, it was always in the style of Dizzy, within Dizzy’s line. This was almost like an old-school master and apprentice relationship. I suppose he wasn’t able to define himself without Dizzy. He had his own style for certain, yet it still might have bugged him to think if he was truly “authentic” in his art?
The modernism’s painfulness for musicians that were raised with the traditional cultural codes and within a master-apprentice relationship go through are often know to us in Turkey via the “alaturka musiki” circles. For instance, for a musician that came from the meşk culture, to set aside the influence of their master and to find or create their own style (the modern world requires this personal “signature”) is really hard. Since Maffy was musician coming from a alaturca culture, his was a hardship that had two layers (it could be denoted as a double lack as well) He hadn’t a master in jazz nor a master in alaturca, but he was a musician who constantly dreamt about feeding his performance from both cultures. Keep this in mind, Sevda, after all, was an alaturca Project. Abalıoğlu’s documentary includes several interesting passages. The most typical scenes are when we see Maffy with his TV remote in hand zapping between channels. Was he watching (or rather just looking at it, as he was obviously unable to focus, changing the channel in an incessant circle) TV all the time? As far as I learnt from Abalıoğlu, whenever the TV was off, the music set was always on. And peculiarly, unlike what one might expect, it wasn’t playing jazz! Au contraire, it was an endless loop of Turkish music, what we might call alaturca, that can be heard all around his flat. Who was he listening to? The three musicians he obsessively put on repeat were: Şükrü Tunar (the one his admired the most) Salih Baysal (A neighbourhood violinist from a village of Bodrum that Maffy and Okay Temiz brought to Sweden back in the day) and Neyzen Tevfik.
There is this “story” everyone who knows Maffy has heard once, although there are several different versions of it, the main narrative is never changed. Maffy kind of sugar-coats it while telling it to his entourage, always plays a Turkish music when telling it to “foreign” musicians. The foundation of this story he told as a “radio theatre” (sometimes in English, sometimes with an accent, he “plays” the characters flawlessly) is built on that essential confusion seen on the faces of those foreign musicians after hearing Turkish music for the first time. He always plays a Şükrü Tunar partition for them and they are always overwhelmed with it, screaming in shock. For they have listened to the “greatest” clarinet player of all times as Maffy indicates in his theatrics. Of course, this mythic narrative has nothing to do with Tunar’s excellent clarinet skills, what matters is Maffy’s need to show himself and his culture to the “foreign” musicians he is playing with. Why does he need this? Because Maffy’s only master is not Dizzy, he has master musicians coming from his own culture too. Salih Baysal for instance, is “the greatest” violin player of all times according to Maffy. Perhaps by showing these masters of his own culture, Maffy hoped to walk away from the shadow of Dizzy.
What I’m saying is that Maffy always considered himself an apprentice. In that context, there is a brilliant “dream” sequence taking place during the dinner table scene. At some point after the dinner is served, Maffy gets up and tells a dream he had last night. Amongst several complex sentences we are able to make out the word “Bach” for example. He refers to Bach as a god-like character. In fact, Şükrü Tunar is perceived in a similar way by Maffy. A state of idolisation that turned into worshipping. When looked from this point of view, it not “possible” nor “needed” for Maffy to exceed a master like Dizzy for instance. Because musicians who are in their level can only be muses. Perhaps the reason why their concert performances was never “perfect” was that he was only able to hear one of his master muses, Dizzy in this case, and not another one like Şükrü Tunar. This might be why a Dizzy-loving trumpet player like Maffy chose to put his heart and hard work into a project like Sevda.
Maffy was a sweet person, someone who ended up in a foreign country, (which he must have considered a great fortune) but then left him on his own (I don’t think he enjoyed this at all) in these foreign lands. When I last met him in Istanbul in the summer of 2019, I thought although I was meeting the Maffy who, against his old age, was not accepting this state of “oldness” He was constantly making future plans, talking about moving to Kusadasi, his mind was running while his body was not sure what to make of the run, so to say. Someone whose never truly been a Swede, a “heimatloss” whose longing for Turkey never faded, a “vagrant migrant” who was only able breath with the music he made; and thus passed Maffy from the world. Fortunately, the longing had finally come to an end, he reunited with his homeland and found peace.
Deniz Yüksel Abalıoğlu, “Bir Maffy Belgeseli”, 2022
Osman İkiz, “Sevda, Maffy Falay”, yayın tarihi, Eylül 2022