Searching for Jazz in Kyrgyzstan

Mark Sabbatini has a nice little goal in life; “To find jazz musicians in the world’s most unlikely places.”

His most recent quest to do so took him to the “unlikely” country of Kyrgyzstan where he spent four days in the capital of Bishkek searching for his favorite style of music, a challenge, as he would learn, that proved nearly impossible.

On his website,, Sabbatini touches on some of the more likely reasons people travel to Kyrgyzstan, such as the spectacular Tian Shan Mountains or picturesque Lake Issyk-Kul. He also discusses local food (mostly chicken) and drink (mostly vodka). But it is his love for jazz that really dominates his visit.

Sabbatini’s quest to find jazz in Kyrgyzstan was like searching for camels in Anchorage–people were aware that such a thing existed but had no idea where one could find such an oddity. Even the numerous pirate CD markets failed to carry a single jazz album. The salespeople were no help, nor were local taxi drivers when Sabbatini asked them about bars or night clubs which might play some live jazz.

It was only by accident that on his last day in Bishkek Sabbatini wandered into a pizza joint and was greeted with the soothing sound of a real saxophone. Jazz had been found! Sabbatini was overjoyed to have discovered his grail, but rather disappointed in the lackluster response from an audience that never once applauded the music.

It was a bittersweet victory, but a victory nonetheless.