On May 25, 2017, the Armenian music world lost another one of its members; Set Proodian passed away at the age of 97.
I did not personally know Set, but I was certainly familiar with who he was as a musician along with his father and their contributions to Armenian and Middle Eastern folk music.
Set’s father, Karekin Proodian (1884-1977) was a well-known composer, musician, singer, and recording artist. Karekin recorded for major record labels such as Victor and Columbia as well as the independent Armenian label M.G. Parsekian. He wrote/sang songs like: Chinary Yares Aghchg (A girl from Chinari) and Gamavor Zinvor (Volunteer Soldier) – both well-known folk songs, still performed today.
Set was not the recording artist his father was, but nevertheless this does not diminish his contributions to our music. Performing extensively in the east coast and eventually in Florida, Set’s music can be found on a couple of LP recordings: Serena, Concert at Woodstock and Kef Over Miami.
It comes as no surprise that Set would be interested in Armenian music and carry on the tradition of his father. He played both the saxophone and clarinet. Armenian clarinetist, Hachig Kazarian performed with Set in New York City and fondly recalls an anecdote from those years. “Set would always say his dad never approved of his playing. As a young man he said ‘I would be practicing my saxophone and my dad would be sitting in the living room just shaking his head back and forth saying ‘aman, aman’.”
Eventually, Set made his way from New York to Florida and whereas the stereotype is that people move to Florida to retire, Set continued to perform music, and quite a bit of it. After all, this was his passion and he played well into his nineties. In Florida he recorded Kef Over Miami as well as performed with some of the more popular Greek ensembles in the area. Armenian musician Joe Zeytoonian commented, “He really found his spot with the Hellenics Band and played with them for years. He introduced me into the band and I have also been working with them happily. He was the kind, gentle and a wonderful husband and father. I will miss him.”
Set also performed with musician Ara Dinkjian’s father, Onnik, back in the mid-1960s-1970s. Ara remembers Set and often reminisces about Set’s father. “He was a passionate lover of middle eastern music and practiced almost every day of his life. He was a real kind gentleman,” said Dinkjian.
Below is Set’s biography as it appeared in his death notice:
Set Proodian was born in Union City, N.J. on March 3, 1920. His Father, Karekin and Mother, Haiganoosh were born in Dikranagerd. Set is predeceased by his two older siblings, Vahan and Sara, which he adored. He grew up in a musical household, with lots of parties, because his Father was a composer, vocalist and kanoon player. At age 9, Set began studying the saxophone and walked many miles to the next town to take lessons, later adding the clarinet to his studies. Set found out at an early age that he loved bringing his soulful sounds to the thousands of people and bringing joy and music to
Set’s father: Karekin Proodian
After the loss of his Mother, in 1941, his Father purchased a train ticket to California for him to ease the pain of his great loss and at the same time, have the opportunity to meet his Armenian cousins. Here he found a job breaking wild horses for some pocket change while he enjoyed his new found family.
In 1942, he was drafted into the Army as a combat engineer, along with his brother. In WWII, he served in Africa, France, Central Europe and the Battle of the Bulge. He not only was employed creating the maps for the various invasions, but he played in the Army band for the officers. In 2015, he received the French Legion of Honor, the highest honor France awards. After WW2, he returned to New Jersey where he apprenticed as a lithographic artist in a photoengraving firm and also continued playing weekend gigs in NYC and NJ. One night while playing the saxophone at the Hotel Plaza in Jersey City, he met the love of his life, Florence Mazujian, aged 18. It was love at first sight for both of them and one year later they were married, and later had two children, Gary, now deceased and Karen presently residing in Florida.
Set had developed a reputation as one of the most famous Middle Eastern clarinetists and recording artists of his time. As the years progressed, he eventually retired from the photoengraving business, and moved to Florida where he basically enjoyed life playing golf, music with the Greek Band, the “Hellenics” and wrote an autobiography.
Special thanks to Ara Dinkjian for supplying the photos of Set Proodian for this story.