Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Djivan Gasparyan (1928 - 2021)

From the FB announcement from
his son that he had passed away.

I woke up yesterday morning and received the news that Djivan Gasparyan had passed at the age of 92.  It was sad news to hear and a great loss for not only the Armenian nation but for the world. 

Djivan was the master of the uniquely Armenian instrument:  the Duduk.  He was a treasure of Armenia in the Soviet times.  With the independence of Armenia, he brought the beautiful sound of the Duduk to the world.  He has recorded with the likes of Sting, Peter Gabriel, Lionel Richie, Brian Eno, Brian May, Erkan Ogur, and Hossein Alizadeh.

My good friend Ara Topouzian has posted a beautiful biography and selection of videos, The Great Duduk Master Has Passed, on his excellent Hye Times blog.  As he has done this, allow me to reflect on my personal experiences with the great Duduk Master and to post a few other videos.

I actually had a gig with Djivan Gasparyan.  It was during my time in Connecticut.  Another good friend and excellent accordion player, David Attarian called and send we were hired to play for a 40th birthday party backing up Djivan, good friend of the family.  What?  Play with Djivan?  Dvijan Gasparyan?  Wow.  I was both excited and scared at the same time.  His talent was so far above mine.  While we were both Armenian, our repertoires were not the same.  I knew I would not be familiar with, as in probably never attempted to play, most of the pieces he would be performing.  David was less concerned.  Our drummer, Johnno Dolbashian, was not concerned at all. 

Djivan could not have been more cordial.  He was truly one of us.  He was truly a gentleman.  While we were warming up, he winked at me and starting play Al Aloukhus.  He knew that was a piece I probably knew and indeed it was.  I started playing along with him.  It was like he sensed that I was worried about playing with him.  I immediately felt more comfortable and realized that he was even a Greater and Grander Master than I had thought. 

When we started playing Djivan naturally led.  He played song after song expecting we would know the key and song.  He played, he sang, and we followed backing him up.  Well, we tried, really hard, to follow.  I was sitting next to David.  We would look at each and whoever figured out the key first told the other.  If I knew the melody or could figure it out, I adapted to the Master’s interpretation.  If the melody was not in my grasp, I droned to the chord progressions of the song taking David’s lead in this regard.  David and I were together, and we were either both right or both wrong.  I don’t think I ever concentrated so hard on a job.  But, we made it work to the best of our abilities.  And Djivan?  He never gave us a sideways glance or glare if we made mistakes or weren’t up to his standard.  And, I know I wasn’t up to his standard and most certainly made mistakes.   

We made it work.  He was fantastic.  The people in attendance were loved it and that is all that really

Djivan (center) at age 16 in 1944

matters.  At the end of the gig, he came to each of us, shook our hands, and said what a pleasure it was to have played with us.  I was amazed and honored.  Playing with Djivan Gasparyan and getting such an affirmation from him was one of the great highlights of my musical life.

A few years later, I had a chance to meet Djivan again.  I was asked to emcee an Armenia Fund fundraiser concert at Lincoln Center that featured both Djivan and Nune Yesayan.  It was a great honor to introduce both of them.  Needless to say, I was there a few hours before the event to go over everything and make sure I was well prepared.  Djivan came in shortly after I did and for exactly the same reason.  We chatted.  I was delighted and honored that he remembered me and the gig we played together.  He excused himself and went to his dressing room to practice.  While I was going over program and editing what I would be saying, Dvijan was doing scales and then practicing the pieces he would be playing to the packed house.  He prepared and practiced for longer before the concert than he actually performed on stage.

I am not na├»ve, I knew all the great musicians worked at their craft and followed a similar routine before such a concert.  I just had never seen it.  It was a treat to hear him prepare.  It was a concert before the concert.  Once again, I was inspired by this bigger than life wonderful man and world class musician.  This was Djivan and it is confirmed by the many people that met him and shared similar memories and impressions on Facebook.

We have lost a great one.  His memory will surely last through the recordings and videos of his virtuosity and also by kind and encouraging personality.


Here is a recording of Sari Gelin he did with the great Iranian musician and composer Hossein Alizadeh.  It features Djivan’s voice and duduk.

His collaboration with Erkan Ogur on the album Fuad is exquisite.  Djivan’s parents came from Moush and Erkan is from Kharpert.  Here is Siretsi Yaris Daran.

Here is are lively folk tunes from the Master, following a lovely introduction, Yes Bejour begins at 2:45 and Yerevan Bagh em Arel at 4:05.

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