Jazz in Armenia: I Am the Optimist!

Jazz in Armenia
I Am the Optimist!

by Armen Manukyan

copyright © 2005 Armen Manukyan

The year past (2004) can be considered as very successful for the jazz fans and jazz life in Armenia in general. In spite of the fact that the Yerevan Jazz Festival has not been held since 2000 (from 1998 through 2000 the participants included Chick Corea & Origin, New York Voices, Night Ark, David Azaryan, Datevik, Clarence Johnson III, George Avakian, Peter Lipa) other events fill up the jazz life of the capital of Armenia.

The events which are worth to be mentioned in the first place were the opening in the very centre of Yerevan of two new venues: The Club and The AvantGardeFolk Club. Though neither of them is a jazz club in the literal sense of the word, they attract many visitors each evening. The Club is interesting by its various programs. The most important feature is that it works as a public house only in the evening and starting at midnight it presents musical programs of diverse genres. Drinks are served only during the breaks between sets, so nothing prevents audience from listening to the music. During this first year of its activity a lot of concerts took place in it: pianist Armen Donelian (USA) and his Armenian Friends (more about that below), trio Arto Tunboyaciyan-Vaahgn Hayrapetyan-Artyom Manukyan, Modern string quartet, and others.

The AvantGardeFolk Club specializes in any genre of music which has any relation with ethnic music — folk-jazz, folk-rock, WorldBeat, etc. It is some kind of constant base for the world-famous percussionist and singer Arto Tunboyaciyan and his group Armenian Navy Band (which last year was selected as the Best World Music Artist-2004 (www.worldmusiccentral.org). The band plays here when it is not on world tours. Among other groups playing here are Time Report, Vaahgn Hayrapetyan & Cats, Armadam.

I should note here some live concerts also. American piano player and teacher Armen Donelian continues to play his noble role in the development of the Armenian jazz. Nearly each year in the frame of his "Jazz in Armenia" project he comes to Yerevan to teach jazz performance, to hold master classes, clinics for the students of the jazz department of the Yerevan Conservatory and all other curious musicians. Each time Donelian brings with him books, notes, CDs for the library of the jazz department — very helpful as this stuff is very difficult to find here. This last year Donelian's work went as usual, with The Club full of people listening attentively and with great pleasure the evergreens, standards and original compositions by his trio with bassist Kolya Vardanyan and drummer Sash Agamyan. The concert was widely highlighted in the local press.

Another concert was dedicated to the light memory of David Azaryan, Assistant Professor of Piano of the Berklee faculty who was killed in roadside accident in the U.S. in 2003. It was the anniversary of this tragic event. Nearly all Armenian musicians gathered for this tribute concert. Pianist Levon Malkhasyan, Chiko & Friends quartet (Chiko Tututnjan, drums; Tigran Peshtmajan, vibes; Alexander Mailyan, guitar; Simon Dolmazyan, bass), Time Report (Armen Husnunts, sax; Vardan Arakelyan, bass; Arman Jalalayn, drums; Hackim Saakyan, keyboards; Eduard Harutunyan, percussion), and many others. The whole profit obtained was given to Azaryan's family. I would like to note also, that everything was done free of charge — Chamber Music Hall, printing of tickets, poster, programs, leaflets, advertisements on the radio, TV, in newspapers. It was the hour of musical unity around a noble idea.

And the last concert which I would like to mention here is the visit of two excellent musicians, international guests and outstanding avant-garde folk musicians Karim Ziad (Algeria), Aziz Sahmaouli (Morocco). They presented their new percussion trio (with Arto Tunboyaciyan). The series of concerts took place in the AvantGardeFolk Club. The first set the guest played on percussion with the Armenian Navy Band and during the second they presented their own project. Playing different types of percussion, some African and Armenian folk string instruments, and singing, they gave pleasure to Yerevan jazz lovers who are belly-pinched, starved for good live music.

Many persons connected with jazz music in Armenia in one or the other way hope that 2004 was a turning point in the life of this genre for Armenia. There are some prerequisites in place now. We hope for the best. I think that I'll have an occasion to tell about the final results in my next reports.

Armen Manukyan broadcasts jazz throughout Armenia from a Yerevan-based radio station, and is official Armenian correspondent to the Jazz Journalists Association.

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