months of reading "Anna Karenina", friends
now see him with Tolstoy's "Walk in the Light
and Twenty Three Tales". People stop him
in the street and find it easy to start a conversation.
"Get me an American husband", shouts
a large woman while seeing him buying potatoes
at the market on Komitas.
Some friends call him Z. Others prefer his last
name, Nasser. He spent 32 years in the US and
never thought life would bring him to Armenia.
Nor did he believe that jazz will be his only
New York saxophone player, Zaid Nasser, now 34,
would have dedicated his talent to the American
public if he never discovered the friendly surroundings
Born in New York City, Zaid was planning while
in high school to study communications but his
first love was always music. He got inspired from
his daddy, Jamil Nasser, a musician who many years
ago played with B.B. King.
Years later, Zaid was working at "Smalls"
jazz club in New York City when he met Vahagn
Hairapetyan, who invited him to play in Armenia.
He came to Armenia on his birthday in September
2000 and got a reception he never imagined.
"New York is a totally different place
where you have only two or three friends,"
he says. "You don't even know your neighbors
there, while here the people are great and so
Unlike many foreigners here whose salaries are
based on standards of their native countries,
the jazzman lives off his music, making a bit
more than $200 a month, half of which goes to
rent on his two-room apartment.
He says he has developed a fondness for dolma,
but makes soups for himself that, like his music;
allow him to "improvise".
transplanted musician is, in nearly every way,
like his Armenian colleagues, with the simple
exception that he is a black man in an overwhelmingly
white environment. And that was the attribute
he had to overcome here.
Playing jazz in a club is even a glamorous advantage
while walking on the street, Zaid himself admits,
is not always a pleasant thing. People stare at
him and sometimes even laugh.
"It doesn't bother me anymore because I
understand that only un-intelligent people do
that", he says. "But it's still frustrating
at times as I can't respond. I wish I could speak
Armenian so that I can ask them what is really
making them laugh about me."
But what comforts Zaid is that he is always surrounded
by friends, and his color for them is totally
Another mark that makes Zaid distinctive is his
glass eye. He was born with only one eye and he
had to deal a lot with hospitals but he never
really considered it a handicap as he "managed
to do all the other things that normal people
"He is such a good friend", says Gevorg
Hovanisyan, another musician who plays with Zaid,
"and when he is performing, his positive
energy influences us a lot".
The group he plays with is not the same all the
time. There are four to five musicians who constantly
change from one engagement to another. Still,
the stage is usually guaranteed with a piano,
drums, a vibraphone, a bass and the Zaid's saxophone.
"Important is the unison we are able to
create", says vibraphonist Tigran Peshtamajyan.
the harmony the Armenian musicians are reaching
together with the New York jazzman, as Tigran
puts it, is not only due to their professionalism
but especially due to the friendly and relaxing
environment that Zaid is able to create.
His presence in Armenia, especially after decades
of Soviet totalitarianism and inaccessibility
to foreign music, is also a possibility for local
musicians to exchange their experience and art
of performing jazz.
"We always learn something from him, and
he learns from us too," says Simon Dolmazyan,
double bass player.
Asked about whether he plans to go back home,
Zaid smiles and says that his work permission
is valid for one more year.
In spite of modest pay, low temperature in his
apartment, constant hassling on the street and
women asking for American husbands, he says he
is happy for having many friends in Armenia:
"For me being here is exciting and exotic."