- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
April 23, 2004

JAMing: A review of Jazz Appreciation Month in Armenia

“She is old, but she is as modern as tomorrow, a brand new woman everyday, and as endless as time mathematics, living with her is a labyrinth of ramifications” so said jazz pioneer Duke Ellington of the music that is much alive in Armenia.
Big band sounds were part of the month of music..

From April 7 to 17 jazz fans of Yerevan enjoyed the pleasure of being in the endless labyrinth of jazz technique.

For the third year, April was named as Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) in Armenia, in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institute and the US State Department. The aim of the Americans is to make society aware of jazz and its rich heritage.

The lineup of various jazz events started April 7 at the hall of American University of Armenia (AUA) where Grammy winner saxophonist Bill Kirchner performed.

In the States Kirchner teaches history of jazz, jazz composition, score analysis and subjects on Duke Ellington at New York’s New School University, as well as the university in New Jersey and Manhattan Music School. He shared his teaching in Yerevan, where he gave several master classes at the conservatory and the jazz college.

“I know very little about Armenian jazz but I was astonished with not only the level of Armenian jazzmen which definitely corresponds to international standards but also the preparedness of the audience,” says Kirchner.

But while the New Yorker may have been the main attraction, Jazz Month surely belonged to the locals.

Yerevan jazz veteran, pianist Levon Malkhasyan with his stormy improvisations performed light swing with a young musician. Vahagn Hayrapetyan performed his hard bop trio.

Armenia ’s Public TV-radio company jazz band conducted by Yervand Yerznkyan traditionally performed more pop rather than jazz pieces, such as “Strangers in the Night”, “Besame Mucho”, Sinatra’s “My Way” and other dance evergreens.

The quartet Chico & Friends headed by drummer Armen “Chico” Tutunjyan performed old jazz tunes like "Memories of You", "Lady, Be Good", "Exactly Like You", "Bouncing With Bud", while the Time Report band with Arsen Nersisyan’s Cactus Latin jazz sextet and guitarist Armen Petrosyan's flamenco-jazz sextet without going far from jazz traditions showed music improvisations that acquired new colors of national shades and time.

During JAM, two interesting and unique events were added to concert performances. Colors of Jazz and Swing Dance Party at Marriot Armenia Hotel offered several hours of hot jazz rhythms that would make even the most shy person dance were performed by Armenia’s Public TV-radio company jazz band and Tropical jazz band.

On the ninth day of JAM not only musicians but also painters were given a chance to take part in one of the events.

On April 15 at the hall of the Union of Painters inspired by jazz music student painters passed their emotions onto canvasses.

The smell of oil paint merged with jazz tunes and the result was seen from their free paint brush strokes out of which images of far and legendary New Orleans were born. Painters depicted African-Americans who were expressing their complaint through music, feeding the roots of jazz with their emotions.

Art student Karine Arustamyan expressed jazz, not through some certain images since according to her jazz is a mood, a soul outburst which is the color of human essence.

Young painters were given two hours to express their emotions after which the paintings were passed to a jury for judging. All the participants were given diplomas and various painting accessories. Three best works were chosen, the authors of which were awarded with more expensive painting accessories (oil paints, pastel crayons, paint brushes, etc.).

“Jazz is not simply music but a life style, life, a way of thinking and emotions,” says jazz master Vahagn Hayrapetyan who in different countries presents traditional American jazz with the passion of an Armenian.

Young painters did their art while a jazz band played at the Union of Painters..

Composer Yervand Yerznkyan who took up with jazz back in the ‘70s says jazz is a freedom of thought and philosophy. He recalls that at the beginning jazz was banned in the USSR and only in the ‘60s when the bonds were somewhat weaker composers Konstantin Orbelyan, Martin Vardazaryan, Edward Baghdasaryan, Stepan Shakaryan started serious movement in Armenia. With them were pioneers Artur Vardanyan (piano), Alexander Zakaryan (saxophone), Armen Zakaryan (drums), Alexander Titarenko (cornet) and other jazz musicians. And the only jazz singer during those years was Lola Khomyants.

“At that time we would give anything to find one jazz record, if someone in town had a good record then it would circle around the whole town, everyone would talk about it,” says Yerznkyan smiling.

It was in 1978 that at a jazz festival in Kuibyshev ( Central Russia), the Armenian jazz quartet participated for the first time. It consisted of today’s godfathers of jazz Malkhasyan, Zakaryan, Tutunjyan and Yerznkyan, who became prize-winners of the festival.

In the 1970s jazz was propagandized by singers Tatevik Hovhannisyan, Zara Tonikyan, Elvina Makaryan. Today, all of them live in the States and continue to sing jazz. In 1980s they were followed by Zara Yerznkyan, Irina Malkhasyan, Shushan Petrosyan and today more young singer such as Lusine Kchoyan, Ilona Sakieva and others are taking their first steps.

One of the traditional events of JAM is also the concert at Poplavok jazz cafe which President Robert Kocharyan has attended for all three years, as well as ambassadors of different countries and other officials. And on April 16 while the people gathered at Matenadaran were demanding Kocharyan’s resignation with expressive exclamations, the president was enjoying the more stormy sound of jazz.

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