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Interview with musician Levon Malkhasyan

-Jazz is a lifestyle, jazz is a philosophy, jazz is an emotional state; these are the formulations that the great masters of jazz have defined in different times. Do you have your definition of jazz?

-Jazz is an art of improvisation. The main theme can last 10 minutes, it can summarize a few notes, all the rest is an improvisation, it’s a feeling of a moment, and it’s a sensation, saying. Jazz brings freedom, it has no limitations, no rules; the same theme can become a basis of new improvisations several times, it depends on what feeling you have inside your soul. Jazz can’t stand falsification, false emotions, because there can be no improvisation without true values, without a saying. Jazz can’t stand mediocre as a man can be taught everything but improvisation. It’s an innate talent which is manifested not only in music but also in all the relations of life.

-You are considered the founder of jazz.

-It’s not true. Many talented musicians have played jazz in Armenia before me – Artemi Ayvazyan, Konstantin Orbelyan, Melik Mavisakalyan, Arno Babajanyan, Martin Vardazaryan and Stepan Shakaryan. They had great orchestras- big bands. I am the founder of a small jazz group.
For the first time a jazz trio performed in Armenia- its members were Artur Abrahamyan, Armen Tutunjyan, Levon Malkhasyan. In the 60s jazz had a great audience and reputation in Armenia. Famous jazzmen such as Max Greger, B. B. King, Earl Hines came on tours and played in the concert halls full of people.

-Actually jazz is a national art. It’s the national music of the black people. And what’s Armenian jazz?

– Jazz is an international and at the same time deeply national phenomenon. The main theme can be music of any nationality; it can sound for 20- 30 seconds after which a 30 minutes’ improvisation begins. This improvisation is yours; it comes from your soul, your feelings, your musical thinking, your aesthetics, and melodic structure of your nation. I have played jazz in 43 countries of the world. After a few notes everybody understands I am neither an American nor a European. My jazz is Eastern, it is Armenian. In 1972 my jazz-quartet took part in all union festival for the first time. We performed a seventh century Armenian Church psalm in Kuybyshev. The melody of the church psalm was summarized in 15 notes, our performance lasted 20 minutes. Thus it was a half minute music and 19 minutes improvisation. And it was a church music, medieval miniature. Thirty-five years have passed but it was so impressive that I remember it till now. The bells began to ring on the background of the contra bassoon, the grand piano began imperceptibly and joined the general background and the soprano saxophone played the Armenian Church psalm as it was written in the Middle Ages and then the improvisation began. When we finished there was more than a minute’s silence, then there was a mad ovation in a hall that had 3000 seats. We won the first prize. Aleksandr Zakaryan was recognized as the best saxophone player of the festival, I got the prize of the best pianist. In America the painter Ashot Khudo took me to the private residence of jazz legend drummer Billy Higgins. The house reminded of a jazz club. A live jazz was heard in the hall and the king of the jazz was having a rest in the next room. He was already grey with age and ill. Ashot entered Higgins’s room and I went up to the grand piano and began to play with the contra-bassoon. A few minutes later Billy Higgins hardly walked into the room, without greeting he came up to the drum and began playing with me. I had an unprecedented excitement: to play with Billy Higgins? I wouldn’t even have dared to dream. Later Ashot told me that listening to my play the talented musicians had asked “Who is playing there? He is certainly not one of our players. He is from an eastern country; he is a native of the East.

– It’s known that you have gone on tours to 43 countries of the world but you haven’t stayed more than a fortnight anywhere.

-It’s a peculiar ‘Yerevan illness’. I can stand it just 13 days but on the 14th day I must be in Yerevan. The air seems to be so little, nostalgia suffocates me. I have been offered many tempting contracts, but I have refused them all. When I was coming back from America to Armenia in the years of darkness and war, the Head of the Customs said: “Only an insane will come back from America to Armenia now”. Armenia is a peculiar inspiration and stimulus for me. Even in the times of the war I have never doubted even for a minute that we would win and liberate Artsakh. From the first days of forming the army I have communicated with soldiers, I have visited military units. I saw what intolerable obstacles the soldiers and the officers overcame, how much titanic trouble it took to form the army. At the same time I was sure that in a short period of time we would witness a miracle and we would have a strong, disciplined and efficient army.
I am proud of our army, Armenian soldiers and officers. I will be happy if I can make my small contribution for the powerful and national deed of raising the army.


Category: #06 (922) 16.02.2012 – 22.02.2012, Spiritual-Cultural