Harry Bedrossian: Euphoric Oud Ride

If you have ever met musician Harry Bedrossian I think one of the first things you would say about him is that he loves life, doesn’t take himself too seriously (as none of us should) and is an excellent musician. One of his passions that definitely fulfills his life is playing and appreciating music, specifically Middle Eastern music.

“I believe that feeling of euphoria whenever I perform our music…” said Bedrossian.

HB3Harry started playing music at the age of 9 on the piano , eventually becoming classically trained. Growing up, The Beatles dominated the rock music scene and everyone that wanted to be in a band were either consumed by playing guitar or drums. Harry was no different growing up and wanted to play guitar, but the piano was the instrument of choice by his parents. This would have a lasting affect on Harry’s musical career.

When he turned 14, Harry was already listening to some of the great jazz musicians including pianist Oscar Peterson and his classical training turned to jazz despite some mild angst it caused his parents. “They were of the generation that felt jazz wasn’t legitimate music like classical music. They associated jazz with night clubs so instead my dad buys me an oud figuring it was close enough to a guitar to pacify me”. said Bedrossian. This was a gift Harry received from his father at Christmas that year. Little did Harry’s father realize the irony of giving Harry an oud and how this would not deter his son from heading towards the nightclubs in the future.

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Harry’s first LP recording from 1978.

As different generations of Armenians sought out music, each of those classes of artists had a circle of  “masters” that they hail from when talking about how they learned their craft. In Harry’s generation, many of those younger musicians were influenced by John Berberian, one of the most prominent oud players of Armenian music. Harry’s father would drive him from Rhode Island to New Jersey in order for his son to receive lessons. “I was so obsessed with his playing, interpretation of the music and tonality that I eventually became his student”.

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Harry surrounded by some of his Armenian musical mentors (Left to right, Harry Minassian, John Berberian, Harry, Joe Kouyoumjian)

Harry began to perform at local nightclubs in 1973. The first club he performed in was the famous Seventh Veil (located in Providence, RI) with fellow musicians George Righellis and Charlie Dermenjian.  He was filling in for Armenian oudist Harry Minassian. A year later, he got his first full time nightclub job at Christophers Restaurant.

Just as important as the oud is to his musical journey, the keyboard and vocal talents played an equal role. A unique combination for an Armenian musician that performs traditional and contemporary Middle Eastern music to play both oud and keyboard in the way Harry does.

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Harry performing at a nightclub setting called The Loading Dock in the Boston area.

During his musical career, Harry was fortunate to meet many other great musical artists. One of the highlights in his career was meeting jazz pianist Dave McKenna, known for his solo performances and ability to perform a “three-handed swing” style of jazz. Harry met him while in college at a jazz workshop.  “I would follow him around to the various clubs and get there early so he could sit with me and give me pointers”.

However it wasn’t until he started to perform as a Middle Eastern musician that his musical career soared. He began working at the Averof Restaurant (Cambridge, Massachusetts) in 1981 performing for the famous Arabic vocalist George Abdo. This was a journey that would have him performing on stage with other great artists five nights a week for 14 years. “I had the opportunity to work with legends of this music such as Fred Elias, Mitchell Kaltsunas, Paul BagdalianGiannis Tatasopoulos, Ernie Kamanis and so many more. When you work with giants like these you realize that your journey of learning never ends”.

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Joe Kouyoumjian on oud with Harry.

These musical influences also include Joe Kouyoumjian who he calls a mentor and says provided “an amazing insight from an entertaining and business perspective that often keeps me on top of my game when performing”.  The other mentor is Raymond Bandar, owner of the Averof restaurant. “I believe that my success in corporate America is due to using his principles of client engagement and treating his customers as family. He gave me the opportunity to truly spread my musical wings beyond what I thought was ever feasible and allowed me to have such great musical friends and mentors that I work with today”.

“Preserving our music is preserving our culture, memories, history, spirit our families” said Bedrossian.

“The stories and emotions that depict our history can be felt in every song. Our music is the most sensual, soulful, exotic, philosophical, complex, historical, deep rooted, painful, tear-jerking, uplifting of any music”.

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A Siblings Plea: Remembering 104 Years Later

“I am looking for my sisters, Veronica Moonjian and Satenig Yacoubian, from Kharpert, Mezreh. Could those from Gaban Maden have word? Do any Armenians know where my sister’s children Arantsar and Vshnasp Moonjian are? Please reprint this in any Diasporan newspapers.”

ay-e1556067268506.jpgThis was a plea from a man separated by a Genocide that systematically eliminated over a million and a half Armenians by order of the Turkish Ottoman Empire toward the end of World War I. This man took out an advertisement in one of the Armenian newspapers searching for his loved ones four years after a date that would change his life forever.

On this day, April 24, 1915, the first abduction of hundreds of Armenian intellectuals took place by the Turks. The Armenians were arrested and swiftly executed. Soon to follow were death marches: men, women and children forced from their homes to march for days without food or water. Toward their impending death women were raped, children were thrown off of cliffs or drowned, innocent Armenians — all murdered because of their religion.

58444928_2321178734821248_1304946944405143552_nIt’s the anguish of this man who spent years searching for his loved ones and escaping the Armenian Genocide in hopes that one day he would be reunited with his sisters.

That man, was my grandfather, Ardash Yacoubian.

I can’t even begin to imagine being separated from my parents or siblings for that many years only to find out that many of them were killed. In my grandfather’s case, his only sister, Satenig returned a few years later.

Today marks the 104th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Although, as Armenians we only commemorate this tragic day in our history on April 24th, we acknowledge it each and every day. All of us, including my family, were touched by the ravages of the Armenian Genocide.

There is much written on the Armenian Genocide and I hope you will share this message and the links below and educate others about this dark chapter in Armenian history.

Armenian Genocide in New York Times
Armenian National Institute
The History Channel
The Armenian Genocide (PBS Documentary)
The Armenian Genocide: The Great War (YouTube)
The Armenian Journey (YouTube)

 

Many thanks to my cousin John Yacobian for sharing this advertisement with me which inspired me to write this short piece. John has been collecting our family ancestry information for several years. Thank you John!

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A Savior of Greek Music

It goes without saying that Meletios (Meleti) Pouliopoulos loves and respects his Greek music and heritage.

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One of many house parties in Meleti’s house. This photo is from 1969. 

Growing up in a household where music surrounded him, Meleti fondly remembers how his parents would sing and dance in their house. He remembers that his mother used to sing Rita Abatzi’s, Xanthi Evraiopoula (The blond Jewish girl) which was in Greek and Ladino. Back in the 1960s, they would host house parties and everyone enjoyed singing and dancing to Greek music. “They exposed me to a full range of music, and their singing brought the traditions to life” said Pouliopoulos.

It was during his childhood days he was exposed to Greek music and traditional Greek dancing styles such as Kalamatiana, Tsamika, and Epirotika.”When I was growing up in the 1960s, there was Greek music everywhere. We would always sing and dance in the house, and the record player was the centerpiece of our home”.

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Meleti with a Classical guitar at his home in Manchester, NH, 1976.

Eventually, Meleti would study music as a child, first playing the viola in the 4th grade that would lead him into playing mandolin and guitar for several years. Growing up, he regularly attended the St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Manchester, NH. It was there he joined the choir. “I would be listening to a Byzantine hymn, and would be drumming out a Tsamiko – somehow it morphed that way”.

As Meleti got older, not only did his passion for Greek music increase, but he saw the need to preserve his culture. “Our traditions are going up in flaming cheese” says Meleti.

Music is the core of any ancestry has vast historical implications if they are lost, which we have experienced in many cultures throughout Europe and the Middle East. Meleti saw the need to contribute and draw more attention to the preservation of Greek history.

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Rita Abadzi, a Greek Rembetiko singer that started her singing career in the early 1930s. 

In 2006, Meleti founded Greek Cultural Resources, a non-profit organization whose mission is to obtain, document, preserve, archive, promote, and provide access to recordings of Greek music and relevant traditions, as well as related publications, manuscripts, images, interviews, and film/video footage for the benefit of musicians, folk dance troupes, teaching institutions, scholars, performers, collectors, and the general public.document Greek Music and related traditions.

“I was concerned that the older music that I grew up with was not being re-released on CD, and wanted to figure out a path for preservation. In my love for my heritage, I wanted to find the songs that my family sang to see if they were recorded – and to also understand what they meant”.

He began to document the music by all means possible. Whether it was newspaper articles, catalogs, photographs, sheet music and ephemera. This included interviewing musicians or those connected to music that would help preserve the story of traditional Greek music. “One thing was very clear to me – that a lot of our music and history was lost, and it was not being preserved by the libraries and traditional institutions”.

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Meleti sorting 45rpm records in Stratham, NH

Since its inception, Greek Cultural Resources has been a resource for musicians as well as students doing thesis work surrounding Greek music. Meleti wants to right the wrong that is available on the internet about Greek music and he is collecting every means necessary to provide accurate information about the music he loves. Whether it is a radio commercial or newspaper advertisement, they help to unlock the clues that will preserve history. Currently the archive includes thousands of phonographs, audio and video recordings. It is hard to believe that the good work Meleti has done through his nonprofit organization has been self-funded for over twelve years. In November, 2018, Meleti partnered with Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. to fund raise so that he can continue to preserve his culture.

“The vision of Greek Cultural Resources is to become the premier archive of Greek
music and related traditions. In three years, I hope that we will have enough
support to have a building to house and process the collection, and to have a public
space for people to do research and lectures, and to learn about the lost history of
Greek music and culture” said Meleti.

It is Meleti’s desire and dream that the younger Greek generation learn and appreciate the music and culture of their grandparents and great grandparents. Meleti is concerned that the younger Greek generation, as they become leaders in the community and occupy jobs at various Greek societies and foundations, they wont know the rich history of their ancestries. “What they fail to understand is that music is an important part
of our heritage, and that traditions have been historically conveyed by music from
generation to generation”.

Under the category of “Did you know?”

  • The first commercial recordings of Greek music were made in America in 1896. There were eight songs that were recorded then – some we believe were from Asia Minor, judging from the titles. Unfortunately, all of those with the exception of one have been lost. The one left from 1896 of has not being digitized and is held in a collection that is not available to the public.
  • The first Greek talking motion picture was produced in America in 1930, and was shown for one night inNew York. Over 1600 people flooded the Earl Carroll Theatre on 7th Avenue for one screening, and after that the film was lost. There were two songs that came out of the film which were put to record.
  • One of the most exiting finds is the resurfacing of a film made in 1963 in New York’s Greektown. The film entitled, “Bouzoukee” is the earliest footage to date of the inside of the Egyptian Gardens nightclub, and features a multi-ethnic band, belly dancers, and original music by George Mgrdichian. It was produced by a friend of Meleti, Bill Bouris, and was directed by Eugene Marner. The master was unfortunately destroyed, but we were able to transfer a 35mm celluloid. There is a lot of history packed in this short film, and we hope to show it this year as part of the 2019 Greek film festival.

Meleti Pouliopoulos can be contacted at Meletios@GreekCulturalResources.org  For more information on Greek Cultural Resources, and to make a donation to support the preservation work, please visit: http://www.GreekCulturalResources.org

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Karim Bader, Legendary Arab Oudist

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Photo courtesy: Lorelei Zwiernikowski

Abdul Karim Bader, renown Arab oud master has passed away on February 24, 2019 in Farmington Hills, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan.

Bader was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1921.  “Abdel Karim” means “servant of the generous,” a reference to God. His family name, “Bader” means “full moon.”

Karim’s background is richly rooted in music. His father was a musician in the Ottoman Brass Army and played clarinet and oud. Thus, it was natural for Karim to eventually pick up the instrument when he was five years old, as a student of his father.

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(left to right) Karim Bader, Adeeb Jaber, Munir Bashir

Back in Lebanon, he taught music and also formed “The Near East Radio Ensemble,” at the Lebanese Radio.

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Bagdad, 1954, Karim playing violin second from left. 

From Lebanon, Karim went to Greece and Iraq. Traveled throughout the Middle East and eventually came to the USA in 1970.

“I learned music on the violin and cello, but neither of these instruments really fulfilled me. The oud is a like a lover or a baby; you cradle it in your arms, hold it close to you.” said Karim from a 2011 interview conducted by musician Igor Houwat.

In 2005, in recognition for his lifetime of dedication, he was awarded the Golden Oud Award by the Arab American Arts Institute (Harvard University), and in 2006, a Michigan Heritage Award (through Michigan State University) which honors Michigan citizens for excellence and authenticity in community folk traditions.

Karim was probably one of the most well known oud musicians in the metro Detroit area for over fifty years.

“For twenty-five years I danced for Karim, all over the world. He was perfect, never made a mistake!” said Robin Schienle (stage name was Shadiah), a popular belly dancer from the Detroit area.

A true Middle Eastern musical icon.

Special thanks to Robin Schienle, Nadeem Dlaikan, Thamin Jabiro, and Lorelei Zwiernikowski for biographical and photo assistance. 

 

 

Additional biographical information about Bader:

Maintaining a Musical Tradition in Arab-America: An Oral History of Abdel Karim Bader
By Igor Houwat (2011)
https://d.lib.msu.edu/etd/1378/datastream/OBJ/view

Why Quit at 80?
https://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20100519/DM01/100519850/why-quit-at-80

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Louise Manoogian Simone (1941-2019)

She has been called a civic leader, a philanthropist, businesswoman, patron of the arts and devoted to preserving the Armenian culture.

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Louise Manoogian Simone (Photo courtesy of AGBU)

Louise Manoogian Simone, daughter of the late Alex and Marie Manoogian has passed away at the age of 85. Her father was the inventor of the Delta faucet and led Masco for several years. The Manoogian name and their contributions will live on for decades. The list of accomplishments and how they helped both the Armenian and American community is endless.

Simone followed in her father’s footsteps by leading the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) for several decades. Retiring from the AGBU in 2002, her involvement in the organization has left an indelible mark on the Armenian community.

Through the Manoogian Simone Foundation, millions have been funneled back into the Armenian community. Not only the Armenian community, but the arts community.

I never personally met Ms. Simone, but I was on a recipient of her generosity over the years. When Andrew Goldberg produced the documentary “The Armenian Americans”, she contributed significant funds to make the documentary a reality. She flew myself and few Armenian musician Dick Barsamian out to New York to film us perform Armenian music for the documentary. The second time was when I produced the CD: George Mgrdichian, American Oud Master. Simone was very selective in the books and musical selections she would feature in her AGBU magazine. She was an avid fan of George’s playing and was more than happy to help sell copies of the CD in her bookstore.

Simone was also a great benefactor to American Universities, Museums and cultural institutions, including the University of Michigan, Wayne State University and the Detroit Institute of Arts. She received many honors throughout her life, among them the Ellis Island Medal Of Honor.

She is survived by a brother, three children and two grandchildren.

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Chick: The Blue Collar Musician

As I was growing up listening to Armenian music, there were different groups of instrumentalist musicians that I was aware of that played folk music. One of those groups of musicians were oud players. As far as I was concerned, there were only four Armenian oud players – George Mgrdichian, John Berberian, Harry Minassian and Richard Hagopian. Simply put, they were the only artists that I had recordings available in my house. Little did I know this was the tip of the iceberg of oud players that played and preserved Armenian and Middle Eastern music. The list, albeit too exhaustive to list here, included many of the “masters” that set the course for all the other oud players, including present day musicians.  As I grew older and as I listened to more music I discovered more musicians that played the oud.

Probably a major reason I was unaware of these artists surrounded the fact that recordings were limited in their commercial availability. As I began to collect LP and 78rpm recordings, I discovered more musicians. All too often I would scout out other recording’s of that particular musician because I couldn’t get enough of their performances. Many of those “finds” ended up being field recordings that someone recorded off the stage. To me, these are truly some of the best ways to hear musicians – in their element, playing for an audience and not scripted like most professional recordings are done.

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Chick Ganimian at Newport Jazz Festival in 1967. 

One of those Armenian musicians was Charles Ganimian, always referred to as Chick. He was a unique musician they’ve had a signature style of playing the oud but was also known for who singing talents. He did not have the smooth voice like Frank Sinatra, but he created a tone and style which was rarely duplicated. His voice has been described as “unpolished” or “husky”. Probably the only musician I know they came close to his style is present day oud player, Dick Barsamian. Dick would often sing a number of songs associated with Chick’s repertoire.

I don’t recall ever seeing Chick perform live although it’s very possible as a child as I traveled with my parents to different Armenian weekends out east and Chick may have been performing on stage. However, I grew interested in knowing more about this musician. Especially as I heard that he performed with other musicians I was keenly aware of and didn’t realize their connection to Chick.

Over the years, very little has been written about Chick’s life and the recordings of his playing oud are limited to some of the below recorded from around 1959-1975.

The Great Hudson River Revival Volume I (Guest performer)
The Exciting Music of The Nor-ikes  ‎(Nor-Ikes)
Daddy Lolo (Oriental Rock And Roll)/Halvah 45rpm
Heddy Lou 45rpm
Come with Me to the Casbah (Ganimian & His Orientals) LP & 45rpm
The Wailing Dervishes (Herbie Mann)
Impressions of the Middle East (Herbie Mann)

IMG_2008At a certain point I felt (as a record producer) that it would be great to pay homage to Chick by releasing some type of recording that featured his musicianship. As I mentioned earlier, he had few recordings ever released, but he was recorded live in different settings. Nightclub surroundings and festivals were Chick’s playground. In 1999, I released Chick Ganimian LIVE, which was a field recording of Chick that included Armenian musicians: Haig Hagopian (clarinet), Jack Chalikian (kanun), Roger Krikorian (dumbeg), Ken Kalajian (guitar), Chris Marashlian (bass) and Paul Mooradian (tambourine). This was recorded live on July 3, 1978 at the Sheraton Regal Hotel in Hyannis, Massachusetts by musician and recording engineer Leon Janikian. The July 4th “Kef” (party) weekends were very popular for over thirty years and organized by Charlie Krikorian. It was the first time in decades that a recording featuring Chick’s music was released to the public.

CG“Let me confess that I’m biased about this unknown genius and his virtuosity on the oud. I was playing clarinet with him for years and played on this job. He was the finest musician for belly-dancers. If you like Middle Eastern music, you’ll love this CD” said in 2015 by the late Haig Hagopian referring to the release of this CD. As the record producer of this compilation, I must admit that it doesn’t provide the full breadth of Chick’s work but it does provide a good example of his playing abilities in front of a live audience with some of his signature songs such as Efem, Canakalle Icinde, and Halvaci Halva.

Chick was born in 1926 in Troy, New York. Music was part of his life at a youthful age. He began on the violin but was convinced that this was not the instrument he would be drawn to in the future.

When he was ten years old a 4th of July fireworks accident injured his right eye. Surgery helped correct the problem, but for the rest of his life, it would occasional wander.

His musical inspiration came from his father as well as Oudi Hrant Kenkulian. “He’s so great that he’s just known as Udi Hrant” said Ganimian.

Perhaps one of the reasons Chick doesn’t appear on many LP recordings is that he detested the commercialization of the music he dearly loved. He refused recording offers as he felt the sound engineers could never record or present (or respect) his music properly to the public.

Arno Karlen, an American poet and was Senior Editor of Holiday magazine in the 1960s had this to say about Chick’s playing after watching him perform for the first time a Cafe’ Feenjon that was a popular nightclub in Greenwich Village, New York City.

His face and voice are tense with the feeling of the song, but his left hand, as though belonging to someone else, works intricately on the short, unfretted fingerboard, drawing from the oud an accompaniment of runs and glissandi, a silver ribbon that twists, hesitates, turns shyly toward the quarter tone above or below, trembles, turns back again, glides on.

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George Mgrdichian (l), Chick Ganimian (r) Photo courtesy of Jack Chalikian

After doing a stint in the US Army in the mid-1940s, Chick formed his first ensemble called the Nor-Ikes. The band’s name means “New Sunrise” in Armenian, a suggestion by one of the musicians father. was suggested by Souren Baronian’s father and means “new dawn” in Armenian. The Nor-Ikes performed throughout the eastern region of the US and this exposed Chick to a greater audience.

He regularly appeared at many well-known clubs throughout the east coast including the Fennimore Hotel, Catskill’s Shady Hill Lodge, Providence’s Seventh Veil, Boston’s Club Zahra, Grecian Palace, Port Said, Cafe Feenjon, and the Roundtable. From 1960-1969, Chick was a fixture at the Roundtable. He not only headlined at this nightclub, but was in charge of the music and hiring of musicians to perform there. Known for his intensity on stage, he demanded and expected musicians and dancers to perform with perfection. I have been often told that you did not want to get on the wrong side of Chick when playing music. A hint of his working style as well as his frustrations for musicians dancers is evident in Karlen’s article. “Like many first-rate artists, Chick is like a light with a fixed pinpoint focus. Anything that is artistically foreign or offensive to him rouses him to instant, puritanical anger.”

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The Nor-Ike’s LP released in 1975. 

From the early 1960s to mid-1970s, Chick was in his prime. Although he was trained to be a butcher, he made his living playing music.

In the late 1990s, I had the opportunity to meet and interview the great jazz musician Herbie Mann. He was performing at a concert nearby and I reached out to him to see if he would be willing to meet me and discuss Chick and recording two Middle Eastern-Jazz albums. He was intrigued that I was aware of these albums and so he was willing to meet me. We had lunch and we discussed his musical career and the vast amount of sidemen he performed with during his career. When I asked him about his memories of Chick, he was clear in his recollection. “When I was interested in Middle Eastern music, I wanted to find someone with knowledge of that genre but had a taste for jazz music. I was told about his Armenian oud player in New York City and I saw him perform live at one of the clubs and knew he was the musician I was looking for. Chick’s playing filled that magical combination” said Mann.

Chick would make two albums with Herbie Mann during a time when Middle Eastern was a hot commodity for record buyers. The popularity of Zorba The Greek, Topkapi and others coupled with the vibrant nightclub action of New York had everyone interested in the exotic sounds of the Middle East. Unfortunately, the Bossa Nova sound was on the heals of Middle Eastern music and thus Herbie Mann as well as mainly mainstream jazz artists as well as record producers shifted into the new sound.

In the few records Chick did make, one of them was called Come with me to the Casbah for Atlantic Records in 1959 and produced by Nesuhi and Ahmet Ertegün, brothers that owned the record label. “Chick Ganimian was a rare musician who was a master of both the authentic Middle Eastern music and of the Western Jazz mode. Chick, like many of his Armenian antecedents was a superior interpreter of Middle Eastern music” said Ahmet Ertegün.

Chick was the working man’s working musician. The title of this article refers to Chick as a blue collared musician and that isn’t meant to be derogatory. In every conversation I had with friends and fellow musicians that performed with Chick, he worked for everything he obtained and at times it wasn’t easy. Living as a musician is hard enough, living it as an Armenian oud player performing in clubs is a hard life to lead and difficult to be successful in.  Your surroundings can be “interesting” at best and he performed until the early hours of the morning. Certainly alcohol could enter your life in this environment and whereas Chick avoided the drug elements, he couldn’t escape from the alcohol. While he continued to enjoy an active musical career throughout the 1970s, his health deteriorated in the 1980s.  He passed away in December, 1988 leaving a rich legacy of music that will hopefully never be forgotten.

 

 

 

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Footnote:  Special thanks to friend Mal Barsamian for sharing the YouTube concert that included a youthful Chick Ganimian with Herbie Mann from 1967. It sparked the genesis of this story. I had always felt that there was not a lot written or preserved about Chick nor was his music widely available when I released the CD back over twenty years ago. The liner notes for this album were limited as due to budget at that time as well as difficulty in obtaining information as this was “pre-Google” where finding information was by phone or letter. I even recall getting a fax on one of the quotations that I used in the CD liner notes. 

Posted in Armenian, belly dance, Middle Eastern music, music, oud, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Amer-abic Percussionist Remembered: Eddie “the Sheik” Kochak

2018 marked the end of another legendary icon of Middle Eastern music in America, his name was Eddie “the Sheik” Kochak. He was 97 years old.

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Eddie Kochak’s orchestra at the Bossert Hotel, 1948

Another way to describe Kochak would be to refer to him as a personality. This by no means is meant to be derogatory, it is an extreme compliment. He performed for nearly 70 years and made over 100 recordings during his lifetime. Kochak, like many of his musical peers, elevated traditional Middle Eastern music and kept it alive for decades. He popularized the Arabic dabke Musicians like Mike Sarkissian, his brother Buddy, Fred Elias and many more helped popularize the music which kept it fresh, plentiful and enjoyable for listeners.

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Kochak with his musical partner Hakki Obadia, a well-known violinist and oudist that performed and recorded with Kochak for many years. 

To be a personality, you have to have a bit of charisma and ability to brand and market yourself, Kochak was such a person.

Kochak was born Eddie Soubhi Kochakji in Brooklyn, New York. One of six children, Eddie’s parents immigrated to America from Syria.

As a child, Eddie had a deep passion for music and gravitated toward percussion instruments. “Well, I was breaking too many pots and pans. My mother’s pots and pans were getting scarce! And they all saw that I had the feeling in me, that I was gifted with music and tempos. So my sister went out on my birthday and bought me a dumbek” said Kochak in a 2001 interview. I was about twelve years old.” , he studied with one of New York’s top percussionists at the time, Henry Adler.

Eventually Eddie entered the U.S. Army  where he toured with special services performing in the USO shows in Europe and the Middle East. The title “the Sheik” came from those military days as his Sergeant had difficulty saying Kochakji and coined the name “the Sheik”.

48381985_2206976726183528_3122759777621377024_nHe played the Green Grove Manor in Asbury Park, New Jersey for a decade as well as at Philharmonic Hall, Lincoln Center, and Town Hall in New York City. Kochak has been credited for his comedic talent, fine support with the dirbakee (Arabic tom-tom), and resurrecting the debke, native dance of the Middle East. He had long associations with Dean Martin and Danny Thomas (Thomas and Kochak are both of Lebanese extraction). For decades, as a maker and producer of records, not to mention live performances, he ruled the Brooklyn and to a lesser extent the New England “Mecca East” scenes. In the 1980s he played the percussion for Anthony Quinn in the Broadway production of “Zorba.” In the twenty-first century the Sheik has conducted musicians and dancers on stage at an Atlantic Avenue festival in Brooklyn.

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Oudist Scott Wilson with Kochak in 2012. Photo by Sharon Stapf

Maurice Sedacca and I had the honor of performing with Eddie throughout the 80s and 90s, Maurice on guitar, me on oud, Eddie on dumbek and singing, for parties, birthdays , shows etc. Eddie, in his sense of humor, would always say to us at some point “You guys are great, when do you leave!” Eddie’s songs were often about pashas, harems, desert Oàsis, caravans, camels at a time when the mid-east was a mystical picturesque land, not what the present day unfortunate reality is. His original songs from the 40s, 50s and 60s used simple popular Lebanese melodies with his English lyrics. He would in intersperse little chants in Arabic with call and response from the audience. “Ya Habibi🎶”, audience would respond – “Ya Habibi🎶!” Eddie often would say in his routine, pretending he’s had enough “And the show goes on and on…and on and on…and on and on! Unlike some musicians who see themselves as “serious” concert artists who disdained playing for belly dancers as beneath them, Eddie loved performing with dancers, and did popular call and response drum solos with them”. – Scott Wilson, oudist.

Kochak was revered by belly dancers from around the globe and his music is still available and utilized for dancers to this day. His list of achievements including touring with Anthony Quinn in 1983 for the Broadway revival of Zorba, The Greek and performing for celebrities like Dean martin and Danny Thomas. His discography is one of the largest of Middle Eastern musicians in America. He truly left behind a legacy.

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