Armenian Jazz critic/writer Simon Sargsyan talks about the Jazz, Blues and local Armenian music scene.

"I think jazz and blues have largely influenced global literature. Julio Cortazar, one of my favorites, came to compose prose in jazz rhythm. You can also find a lot of works in blues rhythm. Unfortunately, both jazz and blues are not part of mass culture."

Simon Sargsyan: The Jazz & Blues Ark

Simon Sargsyan is a lover of Jazz and Blues music, also run a popular website JazzBlueNews.Space and facebook group about Jazz and beyond. Armenian writer and Jazz Critic Simon Sargsyan talks about the Jazz, Blues and local Armenian music scene.

Interview by Michael Limnios           Photos by Simon Sargsyan Archive

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues & Jazz culture? What does JAZZ & Blues mean to you?

Jazz is about life, and blues is about reasons to live. My close ties with jazz and blues since 2004, when I attended a concert in Yerevan, organized by the US embassy. The band playing were the New York Voices, after which I started to look for jazz and blues in record stores. I started out with Oscar Peterson and Albert King. They were my first steps into addiction to that wonderful music, which radically changed the way I live.

"My exploration of jazz and blues and my communication through facebook, changed the way I see the world culture, and changed for the better, of course. It also gave me a chance to travel around many countries."

What were the reasons that you started the Jazz researches? What characterize your site “Jazz Blues News Space” mission?

When I embrace anything deep into my heart, I need to explore it to the utmost depth. That was the case with jazz and blues - I started to learn the genesis of that music, its means of expression, biographies and personal stories of musicians, features of their collaboration. Pardon me for possible arrogance, I consider myself a connoisseur of jazz, while I lag a little behind in blues.

Opening up a website was a requirement of time. You know that I am an admin of a huge Jazz and Blues facebook group, which has now 75 000+ followers. Then I had an idea to put together my talks with famous musicians and my observations on music into my own website, where my readers would get a better view of where I’m going. Of course, I welcome opinions of critics from around the world, to keep it from expressing a view of just one single person.  How well I’m doing, I leave to judgment of my audience, which is already in thousands, and which visit JazzBluesNews.Space. It gets updated daily.

How has the Blues and Jazz culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

My exploration of jazz and blues and my communication through facebook, changed the way I see the world culture, and changed for the better, of course. It also gave me a chance to travel around many countries. I was lucky to attend Julay jazz festival in Bulgaria, Istanbul international jazz festival, Black Sea jazz festival in Batumi, Georgia, Tbilisi jazz festival, London jazz festival and Roma Jazz festival, as well as concerts in Moscow jazz clubs.

I think about opening up my own jazz club in Yerevan, as a next step in my association with jazz and blues. Why not bring all those great musicians to the audience in Yerevan.

 What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

My fears, or rather anxiety, come from attempts to forge jazz and blues with other styles. Until recently everything seemed to be fine, but I start to see a trend of fusing a trash like rap with jazz and blues. It was particularly disappointing to see this in performances of Eric Truffaz. It seems to be a must for him to perform with a rapper on his each concert. I think after mixes with different styles of rock, soul, classical, ethno, even pop /though I don’t support it either/ one shouldn’t have gone that far to reach rap.

"I would like to  keep jazz and blues clear from kitsch. Every record in jazz and blues keeps on living for dozens of years, if not a century, while jazz rap and jazz pop cannot stand up to that. Time will tell…"

Make an account of the case of jazz/blues in Armenia. Which is the most interesting period in local scene?

Armenian jazz and blues have their own attraction in incorporating national traditions in music, along with purist, classic-style performances. Armenian jazz is on the rise, which, unfortunately, I cannot say about blues. There are effectively no new blues acts in Armenia.  In 2008, when we were celebrating 70 years of jazz in Armenia, numerous renowned jazz and blues musicians visited Yerevan. Here I cannot but mention my childhood memories of the blues king, B. B. King, who toured the USSR in 1979 and performed in Yerevan. I was 10 at the time, and unfortunately don’t remember much, but the delight of my parents stays with me till today. In the latest years, Yerevan keep hosting Yerevan jazz festival, starring one or two great acts each time. This year, in late October and November, we expect Marcus Miller and Gonzalo Rubalcaba to arrive.

Are there any similarities between the blues/jazz and the genres of local folk music and traditional forms?

Yes, and this is very encouraging. A mix of blues, jazz and Armenian folk music marks the work of a band of Michael Voskanyan, who plays tar, a folk instrument. Time after time, this band goes touring in different countries. One of our greatest classical composers, Komitas, is appreciated by jazz musicians, and his perfection is rendered by such greats as Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Chick Corea…

What is the impact of Blues and Jazz on literature and on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

I think jazz and blues have largely influenced global literature. Julio Cortazar, one of my favorites, came to compose prose in jazz rhythm. You can also find a lot of works in blues rhythm. Unfortunately, both jazz and blues are not part of mass culture. They don’t reach every household, that’s why their impact on society is limited. If past and present leaders of different countries display their interest in jazz and blues and even perform themselves, that does not get us far enough. That might be good if there would be more endorsers among celebrities and politicians.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

That would be a thrill to travel, if only for a few days, to the 60s, when jazz and particularly blues were evolving brighter than ever. Communicating with music legends of that time could be worth a whole life. I wouldn’t single out any names, to avoid an impression of prioritizing ones over others. In any case, I would travel to the United States, where they lived, or to Europe, to feel the agitation of burgeoning musical scene of the time.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Partly, I answered that on your previous question: I would like to  keep jazz and blues clear from kitsch. Every record in jazz and blues keeps on living for dozens of years, if not a century, while jazz rap and jazz pop cannot stand up to that. Time will tell…

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