FEATURE: Tigran – My Inspiration | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Armenian musician Tigran Hamasyan began playing piano at the age of 3. He’s racked up quite the musical career since then and ahead of playing at Sage Gateshead on Saturday 26th January, we caught up with him to talk more about his inspirations.

Classic rock and jazz influences in childhood:
I was born in Gyumri, Armenia, a town which was, at the time, part of the Soviet Union. As a toddler I was exposed to a lot of classic/hard rock bands that my father listened to. He was really passionate about rock and would pay a fortune for a number of records that were “smuggled” into soviet Armenia. He would pay his entire month’s salary to get the new Led Zeppelin album and there is this story that he was once taken in by the KGB because he played a Black Sabbath song at a party… On the other hand my uncle (my father’s brother) was really into jazz, soul and funk. So when I was 3-4 years old he would take me for rides in his car and play me stuff like 70’s Herbie Hancock, James Brown, AL Jarreau, Curtis Mayfield, Miles Davis, Chick Corea and so on.  I remember being so into Herbie that I even transcribed Chameleon. As a child, I would also pick up songs by Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and try to imitate them on the piano – I loved improvising around what I was listening to. At the age of 11, I had an incredible jazz teacher named Vahagn Hayrapetyan, who finally taught me how to improvise within structure, through teaching me Bebop. 

Discovering Armenian folk music, post bop and modern jazz
It’s interesting because although being an Armenian, I only realised that there was such a thing as Armenian folk music – or for that matter any kind of folk music – at the age of 14.  I discovered the traditional music of my country through the music of Jan Garbarek, Keith Jarrett and Georges Gurdjieff. When I heard Jan Garbarek improvise, I realised that he was using a different musical vocabulary than that of bebop and that vocabulary came from folk music from different regions – especially from Norway. So I started listening and transcribing Armenian traditional music and made my first attempts at arranging them, or writing melodies that sounded like “new” folk songs. When I did that, I realised just how hard it was to arrange even a simple – let alone a complicated – folk song in such a way as to elevate it and find something meaningful and profound, rather than just “using” the tradition for your own benefit by scratching the surface. A monodic folk song is already perfect and doesn’t need anything extra, so if you have to arrange a song that was handed down to you centuries ago, you need to treat it with due respect.  Some of the masters from whose recordings I have learned extensively include Akunq Ensemble, Shoghaken Ensemble, Parik Nazarian, Saro Danielian, Djivan Gasparian and Maro Nalpantian – not to mention a bunch of cassettes I have of field recordings of unknown people from various Armenian villages singing some incredible stuff…
When I realised that Bobop wasn’t compatible with the folk music I’d found and wanted to develop, I started getting into post bop and began checking out modern jazz and was very much influenced by the music of John Coltrane, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock (his 60s records), Miles Davis’ quintet from the 60s, Wayne Shorter, Branford Marsalis, Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Jim Black, Ben Monder, Mahavishnu Orchestra, John McLaughlin and Shakti, Avishai Cohen, Dave Holland, Ralph Towner,  Chris Potter, Joshua Redman, Pat Metheny more of Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal, John Abercrombie, Kenny Garrett, Mark Turner – I could go on!

Classical Music and Early Music 
Although I have never tried to pursue a career as classical pianist I did study classical music for 10 years, and to this day it is one of my biggest musical inspirations. I absolutely love the music of Shostakovich, Ligeti, Komitas, Alfred Schnittke, Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Scarlatti, Debussy, Satie, Prokofiev and so on. Through folk music I also got into early European music. I am a huge fan of the “gothic” era (Ars Antiqua) composers like Perotin and Leonin, early renaissance (Ars Nova) composers such as Guillaume de Machaut, Francesco Landini, Paolo da Firenza, and mid to late renaissance period composers including Heinrich Isaac, Josquin De Pres, Antoine Brumel, Palestrina and Monteverdi.

Re-discovering rock and other genres. 
I strongly believe that at some point in our lives, our childhood experiences and influences will be reflected on us in adulthood. For example, when I was getting ready to record my first album with Ari Hoenig on drums, I asked him what he was listing to, and he replied,  “do you know this metal band called Meshuggah?” I didn’t, so checked them out and was awe struck… It was some of the most incredible stuff I had heard. I loved the heaviness and the crazy rhythmic ideas they had. I guess my father’s influence of Black Sabbath woke up in me at that moment. From that point on I began exploring music from different genres that spoke to me and which in turn became influential  – Meshuggah, Tool, Radiohead, Mars Volta, Sigur Ros, System of a down, Car Bomb, Efterklang as well as electronica artists like Aphex Twin, Chris Clark (Clark), Hudson Mohawke, Prefuse 73, Flying Lotus and Apparat.

Tigran plays Sage Gateshead on Saturday 26th January.

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