Lou was always on first

In the past, I have touched on my fascination of old movies, especially old comedies. In many of my stories I have filtered in comments relating to some of the classic comedians of the last century including Charlies Chaplin, The Three Stooges, and of course, Abbott & Costello.

As a young boy, I watched several classic movies that aired on television and before the advent of DVR/VCRs, you could only watch the movie when it was being shown. Sometimes, a particular movie you wanted to see might only air once a year…and usually at a time which was never convenient such as in the middle of the night! In my case, that meant my local television stations would air The Three Stooges at 4:30pm and 11:00pm during the week and Abbott & Costello were always on each Sunday starting at 8:30am.

An original promo poster with Bud & Lou’s Who’s on First script. This poster was promoting the Go Ahead candy bar by Nestle in 1980.

During my earlier years, I was especially fascinated by watching Abbott & Costello. I couldn’t get enough of watching their movies. I knew all the dialogue and as most diehard fans would attest, I would wait for my local station to schedule Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. The TV Guide would only show a week in advance and I used to (this is true) call the television station and ask them what the Abbott & Costello movie line up was for the month. Can you imagine calling a television station today with that type of request? Since there was no ability to record the movie for future playback, I would put my audio cassette recorder up to the speaker and record the audio of each of their films and play it back, imaging the scene as if I was listening to a radio show. The more I watched their movies, the more I became memorized by their antics and comedy. Ah, my youth!

Eventually, this passion of watching their films turned into my first real hobby – collecting Abbott & Costello movie memorabilia. In the days prior to the Internet, you could only find rare and original movie memorabilia in unique movie memorabilia stores like Jerry Ohlinger’s Movie Material Store and Movie Star News or potentially at a memorabilia/comic book show.

This is a 6 sheet (47×70) original movie poster from Abbott & Costello’s 1942 film Rio Rita.

My first taste of collecting memorabilia started with 8×10 glossy movie photographs (stills) at around ten years old…. by accident! Through a series of connections between contacting my local television station and my correspondence getting funneled up the chain, I was able to meet Lou Costello’s middle daughter, Carole. You could probably imagine my excitement as a fan of her fathers that she not only received my letter, but responded to me! She not only replied and sent me a couple of photos she had in her personal possession, but she connected me to her younger sister, Chris, who at the time owned her own public relations firms and recently finished writing a biography on her father. (Side bar: if you haven’t read the book, its excellent and you can buy a copy by clicking here). This began a pen pal relationship which lasted a number of years – the lost art of writing letters. I would send her questions and she was so kind to reply back to me.  I kept all her letters after all these years. The anticipation of going to the mailbox and waiting for a light blue envelope and her personalized stationary was the highlight of that day.  40 years later, I still stay in touch with Chris and she has done a fantastic job keeping the memory of her father and Bud Abbott alive.

A small sample of the original photos I collected over the years.

After receiving those pictures, I wanted to collect more and eventually I discovered the world of collecting original movie poster material. These are the posters that were used to promote the movie in the theaters. They came in different sizes and were very artistic and colorful.

Today, I have a great collection of these original posters, many of which are framed and on my walls, others are stored for safe keeping. My photo stills are in books, categorized and in safe keeping. I might expand on this hobby in a future post.

Never did I collect for the purpose of re-selling or making it a business venture, it was just a fun hobby, a hobby that I owe gratitude to the Costello family for that first 8×10 still.

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Kresge Arts in Detroit announces 2021 Fellows

I have often said that receiving the Kresge Artist Fellowship over nine years ago was a musical game changer for me. The doors it opened for me as a musician allowed me to create and afforded me unique opportunities to collaborate with other artists and projects. For this reason, I owe much to Kresge for the recognition they gave me and each year I am excited to see who the new artists are that receive this honor.

Since 2012, I have stayed connected with Kresge Arts in Detroit through different ways, whether it was as a panelist to review the fellowships, to helping provide plugs to get Detroit artists to apply or, as is the case this past time, provided some music for their opening and closing credits.

Since 2008, Kresge Arts in Detroit has awarded more than $6.7 million through 13 Kresge Eminent Artist Awards ($50,000 each), 238 Kresge Artist fellowships ($25,000 each), and 32 Gilda Awards ($5,000 each).

This year, 30 Detroit-area literary and visual artists will receive a total of $550,000 in Kresge Artist Fellowships and Gilda Awards.

The 2021 cohort can be viewed by reading here.

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The Great Duduk Master Has Passed

The entire world music community has lost a true living legend, Armenian duduk master Djivan Gasparyan has died at the age of 92.

The duduk is exclusively and internationally known as the instrument of Armenia. Made out of apricot wood with a handmade double reed (similar to the oboe) this instrument is played by thousands of musicians throughout the world, but none as famous as Gasparyan who brought global recognition to the instrument.

Djivan Gasparyan, born in 1928 in the Solak village, which is in a province located in the central part of Armenia, has a list of accomplishments unparalleled in the Armenian musical community. A four time medal winner of the prestigious UNESCO award, a WOMEX award, he began playing the duduk at six years old.

At 21, he joined the popular National Armenian Song and Dance Ensemble of Tatul Altunian. It was during this time that Gasparyan made a name for himself throughout Armenia. Receiving several honorary recognitions from the 1960-1970s in Armenia, Djivan would eventually teach close to a hundred duduk students at the Yerevan Conservatory.

Gasparyan was a Grammy nominated musician that took the duduk from its humble mountainous beginnings, birthed several centuries ago, to the front steps of every major musical stage throughout the world. He performed and collaborated with some of the most famous artists, most notably, Peter Gabriel, jazz legend Branford Marsalis, and Queen’s guitarist Brian May. Countless symphonies have featured Djivan’s duduk playing and he played for thousands of different audiences throughout his career. He even had a vodka named after him.

Gasparyan would take the duduk to new heights making it one of the most well-known world music instruments performed today. You can hear the duduk in motion pictures and television shows on a regular basis – all because of Gasparyan. His film credits include The Crow, The Siege, Gladiator and Blood Diamonds. He is on over thirty different recordings

Hans Zimmer, famed Hollywood composer, when describing a certain music sequence he was writing for the Oscar winning motion picture Gladiator, said “I always wanted to use this one instrument in the Moroccan sequences called the duduk….there was one player that is amazing a 72-year old man called Djivan Gasparyan. I want to write this for him, I want this to be about him”.

(left to right) Djivan, Manvel Khosrov Mnatsakanyan, Mher Mnatsakanyan, and grandson Djivan Gasparyan. (Photo courtesy of Mher Mnatsakanyan)

He has inspired thousands of Armenian and non-Armenian musicians to perform the instrument and today. “I was fortunate and lucky enough to have had a chance to work and tour with Maestro Djivan for three years. We lost a giant today” said Armenian duduk master musician, Mher Mnatsakanyan.

As the great Armenian-American novelist William Saroyan once said, “Dear Djivan, this is not music, but a prayer.”

UPDATE: Please check out my good friends (Mark Gavoor) blog about his personal reflections on Djivan Gasparyan. CLICK HERE.

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Sweet Partridge; Performing with my daughter

We performed together for the first time a few days ago.

My daughter and I played an Armenian folk song and I wanted to share the experience with you.

Aline and I right before we performed together.

My twelve-year old daughter, Aline is in the 6th grade and sings in her middle school choir. As children sometimes do, they brag (out of pride) about their parents and during one of her rehearsals at school, she mentioned to her choir teacher that I played Armenian music. So, her teacher came up with the idea of having the choir sing an Armenian song and she asked if I would accompany the group on kanun.  Of course, I was delighted and honored. (…and a little nervous if I am being totally honest).

Ironically, this was the first live performance I have given since January, 2020 – right before the pandemic!

The song chosen was Gakavig (Partridge) and was composed by Komitas Vartabed. Known as an Armenian children’s song, its inner meaning and words made this the perfect song to perform as the lyrics are timely – looking at coming out a pandemic and as the weather changes from dark/cold to sun/warmth. Part of the lyric translation is:

The sun came out from behind the dark clouds,
And the little partridge flew out
From the edge of the green forest,
It brought greetings from the flowers.

Gakavig is a very pretty song and I took great care in learning the melody over a few months.

It goes without saying that being able to perform with your children brings a parent great joy and a keepsake memory. I know Aline was nervous too, but she did great and we both high-fived each other after the recital. Special thanks to Carolyn Priebe (Choir Director) and her husband, the talented Greg Priebe who accompanied me on piano. Of course – a big applause to all the kids that sang that evening!

Looking forward to the day my son Alec might want to sit on stage with his old man to play a few tunes!

Posted in Armenian, detroit, music, Reflections | 2 Comments

The Return

It seems that, at least in the United States, we are slowly seeing that “light at the end of the tunnel” that we keep hearing about as we hopefully put the pandemic behind us and return to some form of normalcy. Will we ever be completely normal? Probably not, but that’s ok. Some things shouldn’t go back to normal, but some things must return.

A return to the ball park or stadium
A return to the art museum
A return to live music
A return to socializing

Many things need to return to pre-pandemic times (We have used A.D. and B.C….will future generations refer to this as P.P.??). The other day, my wife was talking about how great it would be to seethe play Wicked, which announced its return tour to Broadway. My immediate reaction to her was that it will probably be another year before we’d even be able to get tickets for something like this because people will be flooding the ticket office to go see anything live again. Then I started to think – would they? I got worried for a quick second and then rationally (or wishfully) thought, the inevitable return of some of our greatest pleasures will happen – some faster than others. After attending a few of my children’s sports activities, I envision sports venues being the first to fill up – college athletics, national sports should all see an uptick immediately.  Then I believe movies, plays, and concerts will quickly follow, just a step or two behind sports. Then the small venue attractions, avant- garde’ and other types of special events would be next in line.

There is no science or research based on my above thoughts, just my own theories (guess that’s why I have a blog!). Watching and talking to people and getting their sense of what a return looks like for them. The thoughts of doing any of the above activities gives a sense of anticipation, joy and freedom – invoking the feeling that we take many things in life for granted and we don’t cherish the things or people that are in our lives.

I think we can all agree that COVID has done some major damage to people and families, but also many industries throughout the world. Small businesses have permanently closed and I fear more will become casualties even as we draw closer to the end of this nightmare.

We can not forget about our favorite businesses, restaurants, and entertainment venues we enjoyed so frequently before the pandemic. We need to help and support these institutions which in many ways are economic drivers. This means, unless you have chronic health issues, start to go back to the places you once loved. Also, try to investigate new places that perhaps you thought about going to, but hadn’t for whatever reason.

Finally, pay particular attention to the arts, they have had some devastating blows not
an easy industry that can pick up by their bootstraps so easily. As an example, musicians have had to sell their instruments to survive because as individuals, they didn’t qualify for unemployment. They need audiences to play for so please support some of the smaller venues that support live music.

The return will happen.

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The Genocide defines who I am as an Armenian

Those that follow my articles know that the focus has always been on arts and culture. I don’t debate politics or engage in those thoughts, unless it is about my ethnic background, being an Armenian. To me, that’s a different ball of wax.

This is the logo by Government of Armenia for 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

As an Armenian, I think of the Genocide on a regular basis. I refer to its history when I publicly play music (which seems like a million years ago), I think about it when I meet a new Armenian and ask them about what village their family came from, and I especially thought of the Genocide during the war against the Armenians in Artsakh by Azeri Turks. Unfortunately, the Genocide defines who I am as an Armenian. I didn’t have a choice in that. It shapes most discussions and conversations that I have about being an Armenian, whether its arts/culture, current events or even general conversation with a fellow Armenian. Words don’t need to be spoken about it, its present.   It’s a subject that is with me all the time and manifests itself in different ways. It will undoubtedly be with me for my entire life.

Once a year, I reflect on the Genocide in this blog, but as you may be aware, this is not the only time I speak or think of the subject.  However, I feel obligated to devote some time every April to cover this topic in a written form.

106 years later Armenians still want justice for lands stolen from them and families that were murdered and displaced. Each year, Armenians around the world wait for the sitting President of the United States to use the words ‘Armenian Genocide’ to commemorate the loss of 1.5 million lives by hands of Ottoman Turkey. Each year, Armenians have been disappointed not hearing those words. Rumor has it President Biden will utilize the word Genocide when he commemorates (with a proclamation) his first Armenian Genocide on April 25th. It would be grand for our country to acknowledge what we have known for over 100 years. However, to me, what does this change? Yes, we still wait to hear the immortal word, Genocide, from a US President (last time was President Reagan), but that alone doesn’t define us as a people and culture. The world has yet to come together and condemn the acts taken by the Turkish government, the former Ottoman Empire for masterminding the plan to rid the country of Armenians.

Each year, I fight to find new words that describe the emotion I feel about the loss of life, family, and culture. It is an obligation that I feel, as an Armenian. I would be untruthful if I said finding new words was easy as there are only so many ways to express emotions one feels on a topic. As an musician, I choose to show some examples of Armenian composers that lived in the Ottoman Empire, prior to the Genocide that created some of the best classical music still heard in Turkey. To this day, many of these pieces are performed live and on recordings. The breathe of these composers talents are remarkable. If they lived to see the Genocide – would they have suffered the same fate as Komitas? Just a few names to share…

Kemani Tatyos Ekserciyan (1858-1913): One of the most famous composers of the Ottoman Empire.
Tigran Chukhajian (1837-1898): a composer and conductor, and the founder of the first opera institution in the Ottoman Empire. He is considered the first opera composer in Turkish history as well as the founder of the Armenian national opera.
Hampartsoum Limondjian (1768-1839): a composer of Armenian church and classical music, as well as Ottoman classical music, and musical theorist who developed the “Hamparsum” notation system. The system was the main music notation for Western Armenian and Ottoman classical music until the 20th-century introduction of European notation systems, and is still in use by the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Finally, I recently asked my eleven year old daughter about her thoughts on what the Genocide meant to her. Words that might describe her thoughts. She said the following:

Terrifying – The fear of the unknown for those Armenians that were hunted and killed. Knowing they would eventually die. Knowing that at any moment their lives would change forever.
Sadness – Simply put, the loss of life.
Aggravation – The hatred and distaste of the Turkish government attacking innocent people.

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Guy Chookoorian, Iconic Armenian Musician and Entertainer (1923 – 2021)

Unique. Pioneer.

When I think of the Armenian icon Guy Chookoorian, I immediately think of these words which describe this Armenian singer, musician and actor. Sadly, he passed away on January 31st at the age of 97. “He had an amazingly full life and illustrious career entertaining his audiences with his music and humor,” said his son Arshag Chookoorian, also musical partner for over 40 years.

Gaidzog (Guy) Chookoorian was born on November 15, 1923 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. At the age of 12, his family moved to Fresno where his father Roupen, an amateur musician, worked by day as a shoemaker in his own shop. On the side, Roupen would also write short stories which would appear in various Armenian newspapers.

Many would identify with Guy’s upbringing, as he grew up hearing Armenian music throughout his home. His father played the oud/violin and wrote Armenian lyrics. Watching his father perform no doubt instilled a passion for music in his heart, inspiring him to begin playing the oud at a youthful age. He had vivid memories of holding the instrument and picking at the strings. But the harmonica was the first instrument Guy picked up to learn Armenian music. Truly a self-taught musician, he would learn several instruments throughout his lifetime including oud, bouzouki, guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele and many others. “If it had strings on it, he could play it,” said his son.

The tradition of having Armenian music permeate his childhood carried on when Guy started to raise his own family with his wife Louise. He taught his son Arshag how to play the dumbeg at seven years old; eventually, he would play gigs with his father. Guy’s daughter Araxie would also eventually join the band as a singer and keyboardist. Guy and Louise also served as choir director and organist, respectively, at their local Armenian church for over 50 years. Teaching and sharing their love of music was important to them.

Being on stage was always in Guy’s blood. As a youngster in junior high school, he partnered with a schoolmate for a double act performing music and telling jokes. He also appeared on a local Fresno radio program with a classmate to perform cowboy music and comedy routines on a regular basis.

A remarkable World War II veteran, Guy enlisted (not drafted) in the US Army Air Corp and flew over 30 bombing missions as a radio operator-gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters as well as other awards for his service. It is also believed that he was one of the few American airmen to shoot down a German ME-163, a rocket-propelled warplane.

After the war, Guy was focused on pursuing an acting career. A handsome man in his youth as well as a distinguished looking gentleman as he aged, he left Fresno for Hollywood. Guy was successful on stage in a number of different productions. While acting, Guy also formed his first ensemble and performed for both Armenian and American weddings and parties throughout California.

To the Armenian community, he was probably best known for his novelty songs. Taking popular American tunes and putting Armenian words was his trademark. The rhythm and blues/novelty song “Open the Door, Richard” was a hit (top of Billboard charts) in 1946. Guy was given the idea if he recorded this in Armenian, it would be a great stunt that would attract attention. He recorded his version called “Toore’ Pats, Dikran,” and he sold thousands of copies. Realizing what a hit this record became, Guy would go on to record more novelty songs such as “Choriner” (Mule Train), “Davit Amoo” (The Ballad of Davy Crockett) and “Yegoor Eem Doonus” (Come on-a My House). Interestingly enough, when Guy went to obtain permission from the publisher of Come on-a My House, he was told he needed to meet the composers of the song so they could hear Guy’s version, something rare even by today’s standards. Guy was introduced to both William Saroyan and Ross Bagdasarian. He sang the song for them, and they were impressed and even wanted to form a partnership to record more songs. But after a falling out between Saroyan and Bagdasarian, this never happened.

All recorded on his record label Lightning Records, these 78rpm records would make Guy an Armenian household name. From the late 1940s to the early 2000s, Guy would produce collections of his music. This is how I actually came to meet Guy back in 1999 as he had just re-released some of his favorite songs on CD called “Guy Chookoorian Does The Apple Tree Song and other hits.” When we spoke, he was charismatic and youthful…excited to talk about his collection that I was more than happy to help distribute for him.

In the early 1960s, Guy would enter the Middle Eastern nightclub scene performing in supper clubs with belly dancers. His first engagement was in Las Vegas where he shared the stage with icons Harry James, Fats Domino and many more. Guy’s audience was growing.

He also formed The Barites, a popular Armenian folk band with Peter Chorebanian, Dick Agajanian, Jimmy Haboian and others. Over the years he would work with many well-known Armenian musicians from around California including Richard Hagopian, John Bilezikjian, Jack Chalikian and others. Performing Armenian music is an important way to help preserve the history of our rich songs, but Guy took it one step further. In 1952 he was commissioned to record a series of songs from Yerzinga, located in historic Armenia. These were songs that his father performed and sang; both father and son documented the lyrics for future generations. These recordings even came with a booklet that Roupen wrote in order to teach the specific dances from this region.

There wasn’t a segment of the entertainment business that Guy didn’t leave a lasting impression on. From radio and television to theater and motion pictures, his credits are numerous with over 80 appearances including The Lucy Show, Charlie’s Angels, Lou Grant and The Love Boat.

He was a true entertainer who indeed lived a full life. Even though the generation who marveled at his success and adored his music is diminishing, his recordings live on through the efforts of his children. Besides, we can never forget his voice yelling out “Choriner”!

This is a reprint of a story I originally wrote for the Armenian Weekly. I often reissue the story in Hye Times with additional video and audio links whenever possible.

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Our Home to Artsakh – Virtual Concert Fundraiser, March 25

On September 27, 2020, Armenians in Artsakh were attacked by Azerbaijani military forces. With the support of Turkey which provided weaponry and mercenary soldiers, Azerbaijan ignored international appeals to stop the aggression and to conduct peaceful negotiations. After Azerbaijan violated multiple ceasefire agreements, on November 9, 2020, Russia forced the parties to agree to a cease fire, thus putting an end to current hostilities.

This most recent war has left a devastating impact in its wake and caused the deaths of innocent men, women and children. Families have been displaced, homes have been destroyed and thousands of volunteer soldiers were killed defending their families and homes. As a result, countless refugees have fled to Armenia proper which is now struggling to provide food, shelter, and medical supplies. Winters are brutally cold throughout Armenia and Artsakh. The need for humanitarian aid has been immediate.

Click to view a larger version

His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia has designated 2021 as the Year of Artsakh. St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Churchof Dearborn, Michigan is answering the call by organizing a fundraising effort, called Our Home to Artsakh. The effort features a virtual concert with some of Michigan’s finest musical artists to raise funds for our brothers and sisters. This virtual concert will air on March 25, 2021 starting at 7:00pm, EST. You can watch this via Facebook LIVE or YouTube LIVE

St. Sarkis Church has identified 100 families in need and most affected by the war, to whom gift cards for the local grocery stores will be directly delivered. A tax-deductible $100 donation can feed an entire family for a month.

In a current pandemic environment where musicians are unable to show their talents to live audiences, many adjusted to performing online. St. Sarkis has assembled a group of extremely talent artists from Michigan who have offered their talents by providing music videos that will be combined together and aired on March 25th.

Dave Bennett is a clarinet virtuoso who plays electric guitar, piano, drums, AND vocalizes. Saluting Swing to Rock: covering music from the Swing Era to early Rockabilly and Country, to Elvis Presley and more. Leading His Tribute to Benny Goodman, Dave has been a featured soloist at Carnegie Hall with The New York Pops (2013) and has played the show with 35 other US and Canadian orchestras including Nashville, Detroit, Rochester, Omaha, Toronto, Vancouver, Orlando, San Antonio, Jacksonville, Portland, OR and Portland, ME, and Houston. Fifty performing arts centers across the USA have had success with his presentations. Dave is joined by his Pastor, Tom Hampton on guitar in his video.

Ben Sharkey has enjoyed an extraordinary dual career over the past ten years. Since the charismatic vocalist posted his first raw home videos of himself singing Michael Buble and Frank Sinatra classics to YouTube in 2007, he has amassed over 5 million views worldwide for over 70 clips – including the professionally shot, James Bond themed original “What You’ve Given” (over 150,000 views alone!) The Michigan native has also become one of the Motor City’s premiere live entertainers, with hundreds of performances at jazz hotspots like Cliff Bell’s and a five year and counting residency at the Axis Lounge at the MGM Grand Detroit.

Xiao Dong Wei began studying the erhu (the Chinese two-stringed violin) with her father. At age 11, she was accepted into the prestigious Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Ten years later, she earned her degree becoming a ‘Master of the Erhu’. In 2005, Xiao Dong broke ground by forming an alternative chamber music trio comprised of a bluegrass guitarist, a mandolin player, and Xiao Dong on erhu. Xiao Dong has been featured on National Public Radio (NPR) and as a guest soloist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Her music continues to cross international borders by being heard on radio stations throughout the United States, Australia, and Europe. Xiao will be joined by Yuki Mack on piano.

Joshua Davis has honed an impressive range of skills over the last twenty years – songwriter, bandleader, guitarist, and vocalist among them – in the most honest possible fashion: night after night, song after song, show after show Davis simply delivered every performance as though his life depended on it. Investing himself in the American musical diaspora, he has explored the common thread connecting folk, blues, jazz, ragtime, and country forms – discovering his personal perspective as a composer in the process. Since his appearance as a finalist on Season 8 of NBC’s “The Voice”, Davis has been churning out an album a year and has plans to continue to do so. His sensibilities shine brightest on his latest trio of solo releases, each a thoughtful dispatch on life, love, change, and growth.

CutTime Simfonica® was launched in 2010 by bassist-composer Rick Robinson during a 22-year tenure in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. It complements his first outreach ensemble, the mixed octet CutTime Players, which had been a huge hit since 1994. Both groups bring famous, select symphonic works where orchestras can’t fit, at first to churches, schools and music festivals. CutTime Simfonica, however, also brings Robinson’s funky-romantic compositions that show how classical can be presented as an educational entertainment in restaurants, bars, clubs, cafes, homes, even offices. Sometimes this ensemble adds a second viola and a cello for a rich texture; but tonight’s setup is most typical. Robinson resigned his DSO position in 2012 to develop his ideas for broadening classical music audiences with musicians across the country, seeding the next generation for a resilient casual classical attitude. He won both a Kresge Fellowship for composition in 2010, and a Knight Foundation grant in 2013 to develop a pop-up series called Classical Revolution Detroit.

The next two musical groups comes to us courtesy of Great Lakes Performing Artist Associates, Its mission is to encourage the cultural and artistic development of the Great Lakes region by supporting the performance careers of exceptional regional artists.

Djangophonique is a musical project born out of reverence for the Parisian Jazz Manouche style that was made popular by the legendary Sinti guitarist Django Reinhardt and his Quintette du Hot Club de France. While remaining steeped in the rich and virtuosic tradition, the group brings this music into the present with stunning improv, spontaneity and musical interaction. Hot swing, lush ballads, musette waltzes, jazz standards, boleros, and moody minor pieces are all fused together with theatrical flair and musical humor.

Westbound Situation blends the precision of classical chamber music, the rhythmic drive of bluegrass, and the colorful expression of jazz into a new style of chamber music—chambergrass. The quartet—comprised of Grant Flick on violin, Matt Davis on banjo, Zach Brown on cello, and Jacob Warren on bass—mixes composition and improvisation seamlessly into their entirely memorized arrangements.

Corporate funds are being solicitated from a variety of sources within the Armenian and non-Armenian community in order to match donations made the evening of the fundraiser.

Please help us so that we can help the innocent Armenians of Artsakh through these difficult times. Share this story, watch the concert and if you can – please CLICK HERE to this worthwhile effort.

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Songs of Solomon, Armenia’s Entry for Academy Awards

“The boy would grow up to be known as Komitas. He would rise above his humble beginnings to eventually be known as the savior of Armenian music”

Recently I had the opportunity to screen Armenia’s official entry for the upcoming 93rd Academy Awards, the movie is Songs Of Solomon. The movie is based on a story written by Sylvia Kavoukjian and includes an all Armenian cast.

This film is identified as a biographical drama account on the life of Komitas Vartabed (aka Soghomon Soghomonyan prior to becoming ordained as a priest), widely known to Armenians as the father of Armenian music.

The story centers on a childhood friendship which is ripped apart by the Hamidian massacres, also referred to as the Armenian massacres of 1894-1896 (by order of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire) in the 1890s as a Turkish woman at risks her own life and the life of her family to save her best friend, who is hunted down for her religious beliefs.  The film takes place between approximately 1881-1915, which also marks the beginning of the Armenian Genocide (1915).

As with any movie, the soundtrack is equally as important as the the film. Songs of Solomon features an excellent soundtrack of Armenian songs. Much of the music featured is from the talented Yerevan State Choir, created by Maestro Harutyun Topikyan. Several years ago, my father met Maestro Topikyan on one of his trips to Armenia. The choir at the time was fairly new but their songs were dedicated to preserving the choral music of Komitas. Under my record label, I had released the album The Music of Komitas Vartabed which featured Topikyan’s choir. Sadly, Topikyan recently died due to COVID-19.

I have extreme difficulties watching movies that discuss the Armenian massacres and Genocide, it doesn’t matter if the film is factual or fiction. Many of the components that surround these movies strike a chord into my soul making hard for me to watch without feeling the sadness of our people. You are immediately hit with emotion as you hear Komitas’ music at the beginning of the movie.

At first I was weary about watching this movie for those same reasons but as with any good dramatical motion picture, this captured my attention. Well acted, well filmed and edited. However, if you are looking for a full story about Komitas’ life, this movie won’t satisfy that desire. I must say I was anticipating a fuller story about Komitas with this movie as it is long overdue. With that said, it is my opinion, that the lack of focus on his life does not make this a bad movie or get a poor review from me. Truthfully, any (well-made) movie which depicts the horrors my ancestors suffered by the hands of the Turkish government should be shown and supported.

Songs of Solomon shows how Armenians and Turks lived together harmoniously prior to the massacres. This part is true and I am glad it was captured in film. Not all Turks were bad, many helped the Armenians – as much as they could. The love of a Turkish girl for her friend, Komitas created an interesting plot line.

Much more can be said about Komitas and I would encourage you to research and read more about this important figure within my Armenian culture. Much has been written and archived about his contributions to Armenian music.

Unfortunately, this film is not currently slated for worldwide theater distribution but it has been picked (and only Armenian film selected) by the Armenian National Film Academy to be compete under the “Best Foreign Language Film” category at the 93rd Annual Academy Awards, which will be held on April 23, 2021.

The Academy creates their short list of nominations by Feb. 5th – voting from 94 down to 15, it is my hope that this movie makes the cut.

Songs of Soloman Movie Trailer

 

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Chaplin and his century of legacies

The Kid, released in 1921 is 100 years old this year.

Those of you that know me well are aware of the admiration I have for the art of silent movie icon, Charlie Chaplin. I have been watching his movies ever since I was a “kid”. A wonderful childhood memory I have was going to the local library with my father and checking out several Chaplin one-reelers to watch on 8mm at home. My father and his generation before him were fans of Chaplin’s work. I recall my father telling me how they used to show his movies at school during lunchtime. I had an uncle that used to clown around the house wearing a bowler hat similar to the Little Tramp costume. (His granddaughter gave me that hat and it is prominent in my home office).

In my opinion, Chaplin was an absolute genius on screen. He had the ability to produce, direct, write and act in many of his movies. Much has been written about his life, his body of work and philosophies. He was controversial in his personal life which may have led to his many of his film inspirations.

He truly is legendary and all of his films will live forever. Many of his full length features are still critically acclaimed invocate emotion and empathy even in current times. To watch his earlier work would put a smile on your face. The Little Tramp he created would get into trouble, get chased, and sometimes get the girl at the end of the movie. His later work such as Modern Times, The Great Dictator and Monsieur Verdoux all contained deeper messages and thoughts that he wanted to convey to his audience.

Just as amazing as each of his movies, the musical score he composed for his full length features are equally genius. It is true what they say about the power of music in movies. A perfect example is City Lights – a truly magnificent score that compliments the film.

As each year passes, a new Chaplin milestone is created. A few years ago I wrote a short post about Chaplin’s film The Pawnshop turning 100 years old. I was fascinated to realize that his movies had started to pass the 100 year mark. What prompted this posting was that I recently saw his classic film The Kid (Premiered: January 21, 1921) celebrated 100 years this year. This was a pivotal motion picture for Chaplin as it was his first full-length as a director. It starred child actor, Jackie Coogan who would be more familiar to fans of the Addams Family television series as he portrayed Uncle Fester.

Interesting to note that the last surviving cast member of The Kid is Silas Hathaway, who played the baby at the beginning of the movie. He is 101 years old and one of a handful of last surviving silent film actors.

To end with a quote from Chaplin, something that we all could use more of in our lives, especially during these trying times …

“A day without laughter is a day wasted.”

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