- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 February 7, 2003 

Home-made Music: Jazz player finds his place in Yerevan

After 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 pursuit.

New York saxophone player, Zaid Nasser, now 34, would have dedicated his talent to the American public if he never discovered the friendly surroundings of Yerevan.

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 warm."

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".

The 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 irrelevant.

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 do."

"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.

And 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."


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  Photos of the week
  Photo of the week: Talk Time
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Photo of the week: Talk Time
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Ups and Downs of Campaign 2003

In the second week of campaigning, crowds turned out to cheer President Robert Kocharyan. And a crowd turned riotous at a rally for Aram Karapetyan, leaving MP Hayk Babukhanyan recovering from a stabbing.



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