Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Legacy Band

Michael, Phillip, Andrew, and Armen
The Legacy Band
     Poon Parigentan in the Armenian church is the “joyous living day” and feast before the start of Lent. Lent in the Armenian church begins on the Monday before Ash Wednesday. Growing up, I do not recall ever hearing the term. I am sure that is either a hole in my memory or a gap in my Armenian experience. It was about 20-25 years ago when I first started hearing the term and getting hired to play music for Poon Parigentan cerebrations. It is quite common these days for Churches to have a gathering which includes food and music for the joyous living day.
     This past Saturday, the Armenian Diocesan Churches in Chicagoland had their joint Poon Parigentan Dinner Dance. This year the big attraction for me was the band which was billed as the The Legacy Band: The Sons and Grandsons of Richard Hagopian and Hachig Kazarian.
      Richard Hagopian is an oud virtuoso and master of Armenian and Turkish folk and classical music. He was playing violin at age 9 and the oud at 11. He studied Middle Eastern Music Theory or Maqam Theory with the famous Kanuni Garbis Bakrigian. Richard was born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley of Central California where as a young fellow, he learned folk songs and lyrics from the first generation of Armenian that migrated there. While well known in Fresno, he burst on the national scene in the 1960s. In 1989, he was named a Smithsonian Master of Traditional Arts, the first and only Armenian to be so honored.
     Hachig Kazarian is a clarinet virtuoso from Detroit. Having grown up there myself, I remember being amazed by Hachig’s playing when he was a student at Cass Tech High School and I was like half his age. He went on to Julliard and quickly became a fixture of the Armenian music scene there playing with oud players like Chick Ganimian and John Berberian. He returned to Detroit and recorded two albums with the Hye Tones, my favorite band growing up. His second album, The Exciting Sounds of Hachig Kazarian, was groundbreaking. It inspired countless young Armenians to take up the clarinet. They all wanted to and tried to play his signature piece at that time, Govand, which was a halay.
     It was inevitable that Richard and Hachig meet and play together. They did thanks to the famed drummer Buddy Sarkisian who brought them together for groundbreaking Kef Time Las Vegas album. They played Armenian and Turkish dance and party music. The had a heavy, soulful, and yet energetic style which is basically the Armenian definition of the word kef to me. The went to record Kef Time Fresno, Kef Time Hartford, and Kef Time Detroit which are all classics in my book. As a young oud player, I used to tune to their albums and play along for hours on end. Hachig and Richard appreciated each other both as friends and simpatico musicians. They were often hired together and, needless to say, I would got to see them play whenever feasible. They were awesome individually and even more awesome together.
     I was delighted to see that their sons and grandsons would be performing in Chicago. I had to go and it was great. Hachig’s son Michael is an excellent drummer. I have known him all his life and had the pleasure of playing with him several times. It was good seeing and Michael.
     Richard’s son Armen plays the clarinet. I recall hearing him many years ago and remember liking how he played. So, I looked forward to seeing him and hearing him again. Indeed, it was a pleasure, Armen played very well. I especially liked his well crafted improvisations. I appreciated talking and catching up with Armen.
     The real attraction of the evening, and this is no offense to Michael or Armen, was to hear Armen’s sons and thus Richard’s grandson’s, Phillip and Andrew, play. I had heard great things about them. They each play keyboard and oud. In fact, Phillip majored in piano at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. He graduated in 2017. In Chicago, he was playing oud and singing. His brother Andrew, who plays guitar and kanun as well, is younger and is just graduating from high school this year. He looks to major in business in college. For the Poon Parigentan, Andrew played guitar and sang.
     The band was awesome. The young brothers were phenomenal. I had heard that they both sing like Richard and, in fact, they do. Richard has a unique voice which I am going to classify as a bassy tenor with a unique lilt and accentuation. Darn if both boys didn’t inherit that gene. Richard’s playing is also unique. He has the fastest mzrab, pick, out of any one I know. It looks like he is pounding the oud but has a very controlled and very articulate style that try as my contemporaries and I have, we haven’t been able to duplicate. It is simply because we are lacking that gene but not Philip. I heard he is very Richard like in his playing. I thought they were over exaggerating a bit. No they weren’t. It was amazing to hear this clone and prodigy who will only get better. Andrew was rock solid on the guitar. In watching him play, you could sense his love of the music by the body language he had while playing. He also had some great chord progressions. From what others have told me, I would have liked to have heard him on oud or kanun as well.
     Even though the grandsons were excellent musicians and lived up to their advance press, they were also very friendly, polite, and engaging young men. I think is was even more impressed by this.
     I liked The Legacy Band. I hope this appearance in Chicago was not a one and done. I think the name is meaningful and quite marketable. Best of all, the music lives up to the legacy their fathers and grandfather have given us. I look forward to hearing them again and again. Abriss dghakner!

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