Armen Nalbandian Trio
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Armen Nalbandian Trio

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By Mike Osegueda / The Fresno Bee
September 21, 2007

Good news, jazz lovers: Armen Nalbandian is back for the fourth year of his Rhythms of Art concert series at the Fresno Art Museum.

Bad news: It's his final year.

"I love being in the museum; I absolutely love it," Nalbandian says. "But at this point, with performing and composing commissions and so forth, it's just getting more and more difficult to present a concert series."

Thursday marks the start of this season. Nalbandian has a two-part program planned.

He's unveiling a collaboration with DJ 4 a.m. and debuting a new group called Heretic that features familiar collaborators Brian Hamada and Tommy Delgado. It also includes guest Derek Keller, an award-winning composer and guitarist who recently was commissioned by John Zorn's Tzadik label.

Nalbandian says one of his goals for the fourth year is to bring in more guests like Keller.

"Some of the greatest improvising musicians in the world are coming out," he says. "I felt like there was still stuff I needed to do. I wanted to present musicians that I felt very passionately about."

Nalbandian put together an extraordinary amount of music during his summer break, something he plans to share through the course of this year's series.

"We recorded 11 different projects; I think nine of them are coming out," he says. "They're all different groups. They're all different sets of music."

Look out for a Nov. 17 concert at the museum where he'll release two projects, the trio recording "Manchester Born" and the solo work "Young Kings Get Their Heads Cut Off."

Upcoming Rhythms of Art dates include Nov. 29 and Jan. 31, with three more dates to come in 2008. For more info, go to armennalbandian.com.

Rhythms of Art concert series with Armen Nalbandian, 7 p.m. Thursday at the Fresno Art Museum. Tickets: $5-$15. Details: (559) 441-4221.
- Fresno Bee


By: Leyta/Fresno Famous
September 5, 2007

Armen Nalbandian is one of Fresno's most recognized citizens. Nalbandian has singlehandedly created a music scene that nestles itself somewhere between the Fresno Philharmonic and the shows at the Starline. He has unapologetically been a driving force in Fresno music as the Musical Director/Resident Artist of the Fresno Art Museum and a highly successful bandleader and composer in his own right. I suppose you would be hard pressed to find a fan of music that lives in the Central Valley unaware of Nalbandian, but it seems that while he's regularly written about and covered by radio and TV, his musical abilities have been more highly regarded on a national level. How many people than live in Fresno have been recognized by Wikipedia or have hundreds of Google entries written about them. While his music will almost always be covered before anything else in the press he recieves, his humanitarian work has caught the eye (and pen) of quite a few writers.

I think most people caught wind of Nalbandian a few days after Hurricaine Katrina hit New Orleans. Nalbandian had been a strong fixture on the Fresno music scene for some time (as of this writing he's 29-years old), and was about to start his second season at the Fresno Art Museum when he pre-empted his season's first concert by 3 weeks to put on a benefit concert for the victims of Katrina. This concert happened on September 8th , days and weeks before the rest of the country assembled their benefits and TV charities. Nalbandian assembled a huge cast of musicians from Kevin Hill, Patrick Contreras, Carmenchristina Moreno, Mike Dana, David Aus and dozens more to pay tribute to the city and raise money from the Red Cross and United Way or New Orleans. This was the first time I saw him in concert. For those who haven's seen Armen Nalbandian, he stands over six feet tall, with very short hair, usually adorned in a suit, often pensive looking, exceptionally polite, and speaks with an unplaceable drawl, that seems equal parts "east coast" and "southeren."

Nalbandian raised thousands of dollars in aid that night, but that was not his first benefit concert. That previous May, Nalbandian hosted a Mother's Day Concert and dontaed all of the proceeds to Breast Cancer Research and The Relay for Life Foundation. Since the Katrina Concert, Nalbandian has raised money for organizations as diverse as The United Way, The Red Cross, the ONE Campaign, Habitat for Humanity, The American Cancer Society and more. In addition to donating these funds to various charities, he also visits schools and retirement communities.

Not the average musican I must say.

I suppose in reading the above one would assume that with all the time Nalbandian spends on charity work, his music may suffer. Based on my research, Nalbandian leads 14 (yes, 14) groups, writes original bodies of music for the Rhythms of Art program (all the music \is inspired by the art), has written music as diverse as jazz trio music to a string quartet to his own version of Armenian, Japanese, and Mexican music and so much more. In a recent interview with Nalbandian on The Fresno Beehive Podcast, Nalbandian admitted to having finished 9 recordings of original material, all with different groups that he leads. On top of that, being a crazy man, he has his own label, Blacksmith Brother Music, and plans to release them all this fall.

So one would expect a man with his hand in so many pots to have a huge ego, or even a maniac. Well, quite the contrary. Granted it took me about 2 months to get an interview with him, I decided to press him harder when I found out that he was returning for a fourth and final season at the Fresno Art Museum. I needed to find out more.

I met Armen at a coffee house on a Sunday evening. The infamous suit was nowhere to be seen nor was the closely chopped hair. He arrived wearing baggy jeans, Addidas and a T-shirt, with a LA Dodgers baseball cap on, and a beard beginning to grow in.

This is an excerpt from our conversation:

Q. I decided to focus this article on your charity work instead of focusing on the music, is that ok?

A. Yeah, that's fine. I'm not really sure there is a big scoop there though.

Q. Well, when I starting writing out all that you had done, it seemed unbelievable that one man could do so much.

A.It's not that much really. There is just so much more we can do…that we can all do.

Q.Do you wish more musicians would be as charitable as you?

A.Oh, man. That seems like a loaded question. Honestly, I don't think most people know or care what charitable type stuff other people are doing. I'm sure that there are lots of musicians that are doing so much great work for their community. For instance, the organization Food Not Bombs, man that's such a great organization. Man, there's just a lot of things…everyone's trying to do something. And you know not everyone needs to spearhead a movement, the world just needs people to be forward thinking and decent to each other.

Q. You have repeatedly returned to New Orleans in your charity work. Why do you keep coming back to that?

A. Are you serious? Man, there's just not enough being done. That area has been so neglected, these beautiful people of the world treated so inuhamely, it just really f*cked up. Can you imagine a government treating their own citizens that poorly? Its unfathomable. You know, this big hoopla is always made about Fidel Castro and his negative Communist thing, but even a so called "enemy" of the American people offered more help than our government. It just depressing. It makes me sad.

Q. So you're returning for a fourth year?

A. Yes.

Q. And final year?

A. Yes. It's looking that way. It most likely will be.

Q. Done with Fresno?

A. No, not at all. I like Fresno. I like the people, I like all that this city has, other than summer weather I guess. But no, I'm not sure what happens after July 2008 just yet, I have a few ideas, but nothing concrete.

Q. You know you seem to get a lot of press for a Jazz musician from Fresno, does that ever seem surprising to you?

A. Yes, of course. I'm always flattered, and optimistic about the intent of what's being written, but man there are so many great musicians in Fresno.

Q. Such as?

A. You want me to make a list? (laughs)

I really don't want to because I will leave someone out but I can tell you that there is a drummer that I have the pleasure of working with often named Brian Hamada, who is absolutely brilliant. I really feel fortunate everytime I play or even speak with him. He is a master musican, not only for Central California but anywhere. Kevin Hill, of course, is wonderful. Eva Scow is a really special talent, I am so happy for all of her success. Tommy Delgado is brilliant. David Aus is a wonderful pianist. Jeanette Harris and her brother Mike are great musicians who seem to be enjoying a great deal of success which they no doubt deserve. Mike Dana is a great, great musician and great guy. John Laffenburger is a great musician who I don't really ever play with, but he's really pretty wonderful. You know who else? Joe Lewis! He's something really special and a good man. We used to work together a lot, but haven't in some time. He is a really great player and composer. I think I need to stop right there because I am forgetting names and that would be a disservice to so many great musicians. I mean I didn't even list the non-Jazz type players, like Julia Dawn or Kat Jones that used to live here. DJ 4AM is amazing, and the drummer that plays with 40 Watt Hype, Sean Aldrette, he is an incredible drummer, always has been.

Q. You make it seem like Fresno is a hot bed of musical talent!

A. It is in many ways, obviously overlooked because eveyrone seems to always bitch about how Fresno is so lame…not true. Fresno has lots of great talent, not only in music, but in the visual arts, theater, and so on. It would be really cool if there were more venues that featured all this great music and art, but there's always hope right?

Q. Every other interview I read about you talks about all the music stuff you have coming up, will there be more charity events?

A. Um…yes, sure. Every concert this season, there will be six this year, will serve to generate funds for various organizations. I'm still working out which ones, but yes, more community work than before.

Q.And is it true that you have been recognized by some of these charities for your community contribution?

A. Yes, but I don't want to talk about that. That's not the reason that I do it.

Q. Fair enough. Let's end with this question… What's coming up next musicially for you?

A. More work with the trio, a few new groups I'm working on, and a few special guests joining me on as I close out my time at the museum.

Q. Thanks for speaking with me Armen.

A. My pleasure. Thank you for your interest.


- fresnofamous.com


By Jessi Hafer
November 2007

Even though I've talked with Armen Nalbandian before about the problem of music too often being background noise to people's other activities (i.e., driving, exercising, etc) instead of being the focus of attention, in my recently harried schedule, I made the mistake of attempting to give my first listen of one of his two upcoming cds, "Young Kings Get Their Heads Cut Off," while doing other things. It didn't work. The music overpowered me (and the things I was attempting to do while I listened), and it was captivating and striking (among other things).

Overall, the music is difficult for me to describe because I don't think I've ever heard anything quite like it. It is highly experimental. The first three tracks are cold and futuristic. Then, the fourth track hits you like a ton of bricks, a fantastically beautiful piece appropriately titled, "Music Box." It is more dreamy and melodic than the previous three tracks, and that juxtaposition was a significant part of the impact for me. Though part of me wanted to listen to track four repeatedly, it isn't the same without the context of the surrounding tracks. It reminds me of a time when I was living in Wisconsin and it was freezing outside (I really hate being cold), but I decided to get over it (if just for a moment) and enjoy the fat, drifting snowflakes.

I found out from Armen after I listened to the CD that the fourth track is the only track that is an actual composition of his (though most of the tracks are original). Track 6, "Blues to Steve Lacy," is attributed to D. Douglas. All the other nine tracks are original and improvised, recorded in real time without over dubbing or studio manipulation.

I also learned later that all the tracks were recorded just on the Fender Rhodes (a piano with stiff wires in place of strings). The tin-y rhythmic tapping in several tracks is achieved by "preparing" and treating the Rhodes like a percussion instrument, manipulating the hammers with drum cymbals, snare drum heads, wrenches, mallets, and keys. It's an innovative technique that probably has never been recorded before.

It certainly makes for an intriguing sound throughout the CD. Then, what's really fun about the last track (11), "Withdrawal," is that it tricks you into a false sense of closure.

Armen's solo album deserves to be listened to with undivided attention. I figured that if I were to do anything while listening to these fascinating tracks, I would want to be looking at surrealist paintings. I had to laugh when I learned later that the title of the record is a reference to a painting by Jean Michel Basquiat, a somewhat surreal painter of the 1980s. While so much about the CD is unexpected, it still makes sense somehow. I encourage you to drop everything and give it a listen. This CD and the new CD from the Armen Nalbandian Trio (Manchester Born – see our December issue for the review) will both be available at the CD release party at the Fresno Art Museum on November 17. After the release, the CDs will be available at www.armennalbandian.com.
- Undercurrent


By Jessi Hafer
July 1, 2007

Though my article last year on Fresno musician Armen Nalbandian referred to him as a jazz pianist, Fresno has since seen Armen as more genre-defying.

If you haven't already noticed this from attending one of Armen's performances at the Fresno Art Museum or Veni Vidi Vici's, you can take his several upcoming recordings (each with a different line-up of musicians) as evidence: one solo recording, one cd with the Armen Nalbandian trio, a duet with Derek Keller, one with Tommy Delgado (a project called "Choke the Jellyfish"), and one with Nino Moschella and the Little Big People.

Armen has hence been busy recording, rehearsing, writing, and composing. Though he has limited his performance time, Armen began touring with Nino Moschella again in late June, and he will be touring with Derek Keller in November. He has also been organizing the Festival Of Resurrected Music (FORM). Although FORM was originally slated for earlier this year in Fresno, the event has gotten bigger and bigger. Now, Armen expects the festival to occur in October, possibly in San Francisco or Sacramento to maximize exposure and audience capacity.

In addition to these tours and events, Armen is holding a benefit concert at the Fresno Art Museum on July 19 with Nino Moschella and his band. This will conclude his second season as music director for the Fresno Art Museum, and Armen expects to announce more on his future plans in late July. This July 19 concert is to benefit Habitat for Humanity New Orleans.

Armen noted that people across the country did a great job raising funds and awareness for New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina, but attention and donations have waned despite continued need and neglect. Some areas of New Orleans still don't have electricity, and a lot of working and middle class homeowners—people like the people in Fresno—have lost everything and still don't have adequate housing.

Armen said that the first thing that comes to mind when he thinks about the time he has spent in New Orleans before the hurricane is the great food, but then even these fond recollections are overshadowed by memories of the people. "There's an incredible brotherhood and sisterhood there," he continued. "Everyone says hello to you on the street." It's one big family there, and everyone is very communally oriented. "The area just got so neglected by the government and their own people. It's heartbreaking."

The July 19th benefit concert will feature Armen's new composition, "The Battle of New Orleans," an ambitious and experimental piece in the form of a "game piece." Armen's approach has resulted in a 30-page book explaining how to play the piece. There are a couple of pages of written music, then pages of guidelines, rules, and instances where rules might be broken. Armen will dictate the performance of the piece during the concert, using symbols, cue cards, and hand symbols to shift the style, key, and instruments used as the piece is being played. The aptly named game piece will present about 1 to 2 hours of continuous music. It sounds like a challenge to play and a fascinating, unpredictable occurrence to listen to, not to mention quite a feat to compose.

Armen noted that the piece fits into the overall trend of the "Rhythms of Art" series, becoming more experimental. As the style shifted away from more familiar jazz sounds, the audience shifted as well. That said, Armen's approach has always involved a strong improvisational component, and moving away from some of the more narrow views of jazz into a more experimental approach allowed for more freedom.

Armen said that even the upcoming trio cd doesn't really have anything he would call jazz. However, he added that music, more than other art forms (i.e. visual art, live theatre, and poetry), is too often forced into big, broad categories. The MTV-effect uses visuals to tell people what they're listening to, and "in today's culture, unfortunately, we need to be told what to feel," Armen explained.

He also pointed out that when you listen to music, it's often in the background to make your immediate activity more pleasurable, which is unfortunate. You don't usually just sit and listen to music as you might sit and read a book, watch a play, hear poetry, or look at a painting. Instead, you listen to music while you drive, clean, go for a walk, work, or write an article for The Undercurrent (good grief, I'm using music as background now, even).

It becomes so clear why improv is so important to Armen and music as a whole. The music becomes a moment. You need to pay full attention during improv, because you may never again have the opportunity to have the same sound experience. Armen brings further weight to his musical moments by using his upcoming performance as an opportunity to raise money and awareness for New Orleans, which is certainly a city that has fostered a fair share of improv.

And yet now, I have to turn off my background music as I realize that maybe New Orleans is a similar victim of the tendency to force things into genres and into the background. Maybe society has subconsciously categorized the people of New Orleans into a genre, a genre that might not be marketable enough, a genre that might not suit more desirable activities…
- Undercurrent


By Diana Marcum / The Fresno Bee
September 8, 2005

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?
When the hurricane hit and the levees broke and images of death beamed from the Superdome, Joe Moore, host of a jazz morning program on KFSR, FM 90.7, in Fresno, didn't immediately turn to the music of New Orleans.

"New Orleans is party music. It seemed disrespectful somehow," he says.

But after a few days, listener requests started coming in.

"Please, can you play an hour of New Orleans jazz? I just really need to hear it right now," said one man.

If ever there was a city with its own soundtrack, one that marched to the beat of its own second-line drumbeat, sent trumpets wailing over the river and celebrated every aspect of the life within its boundaries with its own brass band, it's New Orleans. Louis Armstrong was born here. Harry Connick Jr.'s dad was the district attorney. This is where the fabled, but unrecorded, music of Buddy Bolden once floated across the Mississippi River.

The Marsalis brothers, all four of them, and father Ellis are from New Orleans, and so are the Neville Brothers.

"The city is the music and the music is the city," says Armen Nalbandian, who has organized a Hurricane Katrina fundraising jazz concert tonight at the Fresno Art Museum.

For Nalbandian and other Fresno jazz lovers, the tragedy in New Orleans feels like it's hitting home, because, in a way, it is.

"Usually hometown is where you grew up, but for a jazz musician, New Orleans is your hometown " says Nalbandian. Nalbandian, 27, a piano player who favors suits and has long been trying to find a niche for classic jazz in Fresno, was visiting friends when he passed by the television and saw a city under water.

"Where is that?" he asked.

When they answered New Orleans, he started crying. He figures he kept crying for two days.

That first night at a gig with his ensemble at the Landmark restaurant in Fresno, he brought along the sheet music to "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?"

The crowd that comes to hear his group usually regards jazz as background music. Their attention is on chatting and eating and drinking.

Then somewhere in the middle of the song, the room hushed. The words to the song are about a lazy Mississippi river, tall sugar pines, a rush to spring.

"People realized what we were playing," Nalbandian says. "They listened and they started clapping and crying and we kept playing. People understood."


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What is New Orleans? It's red beans and rice on a Monday night. … It's all the leftovers from Monday through Friday on Saturday night. … What is New Orleans y'all? It's if you don't love this life you gotta be crazy.

— Kermit Ruffins with the Rebirth Brass Band

New Orleans is a port city. Jazz, regarded as a uniquely American art form, is a gumbo of African, Caribbean and French influences, along with anything else the river brought in. It was a city where slaves held onto their drums and continued to play them, and those beats to this day reverberate through all American music.

It became part of the social fabric. There were jazz bands at picnics and at funerals. Walking back from a cemetery, bands would break into jubilant Dixieland marches.

Jazz was for celebrating life.

Moore, the KFSR disc jockey, has come full circle. Now instead of considering it disrespectful to play New Orleans jazz when the city is devastated, he considers it an obligation.

"This is our country's cultural legacy. If we don't celebrate what was and what could be again, that's a tragedy," he says.


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Dear old Southland with his dreamy songs, take me back there where I belong.

— "When It's Sleepy Time Down South"

Even as New Orleans residents are scattered countrywide, government looks at rebuilding a city that's always gone its own way, and as receding waters leave behind a foul stew, Fresno cornet player Joe Lewis says New Orleans will retain its identity.

"No jazz musician will worry about the spirit of New Orleans being destroyed. No matter how they rebuild it, New Orleans will be New Orleans because its spirit is so unique."

Loren Pickford, born and raised in Fresno, has been a musician in New Orleans for the past 17 years. Now he's holed up with musician friends in Kansas City. When he left New Orleans, he only took what he could fit in his car, leaving behind treasured instruments.

"He went there because it's such a jazz center. He had work there and jazz musicians don't have work everywhere," says his mother, Glenna Pickford.

"He lived in a neighborhood where all the musicians live and they'd walk around the levee in the evening. He knows some friends are dead — and others he surmises. He mourns his friends and he mourns the city."

And as he mourns, he's playing jazz in Kansas City.

At tonight's benefit concert in Fresno, musicians will play jazz, but there's one New Orleans standard that Nalbandian won't call.

"Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans. Every time he performed he started with 'When It's Sleepy Time Down South.' Near the end of his life, a doctor told him, 'Don't keep playing and singing, or you'll die.' He laughed and said, 'OK, then.' He kept playing."

"It's the idea that if you have any ounce of energy in you, you do it," Nalbandian says. "That's Louis Armstrong, that's jazz, that's the legacy that belongs to New Orleans."







- Fresno Bee


By Stephanie Cardozza / Fresno Magazine
May 2005

The Fresno Art Museum is dedicated to the enrichment of a multicultural community through exhibits and educational programs that emphasize the modern and contemporary arts. With this in mind they appointed Armen Nalbandian as their Musical Director/Resident Artist. The Rhythms of Art Concert series is an exciting addition to the Art museum and is an entirely new concept. Nalbandian composes and performs original music inspired by the Fresno Art Museum's exhibiting visual artists. For each new exhibition Nalbandian performs two live concerts with original jazz compositions. These performances are a union of music and the visual arts.

A pioneer to this concept, Nalbandian reaches back to his beginning years at California State University, Long Beach, where he attended the Henry Mancini Institute Program for Jazz. Later he attended California State University, Fresno to fulfill his passion for art. Fresno State provided him the opportunity to explore artists' techniques in conveying concepts, emotions, and values, of cultural, personal and social meanings. Continuing in this exploration, Nalbandian moved to San Francisco to study jazz. " To learn jazz, you have to listen to it. " and that is exactly what he did. He ventured out to introduce himself to his peers and jazz enthusiasts. San Francisco's jazz community became his muse. He was inspired and stimulated to continue on this road. This time was spent developing his sound, studying others and meeting musicians with the same passion.

Armen Nalbandian had developed a name for himself. The Blue Devils asked him to compose a jazz arrangement for their centerpiece fieldshow. This program offers youths ages 17 to 21 quality educational and performance experiences in the areas of musical and dance performance. Over 450 young people currently participate in the program. To Armen this was a great opportunity to showcase his talents and give back to the community.

After moving to back to Fresno, Nalbandian became a member of the Fresno Jazz Society, played gigs at Veni Vidi Vici and Brix, and continued maturing his sound. A buzz was created around Armen's music. His recorded live music from gigs was played on the radio on a regular basis. Armen feels that, "When you listen to rock music you hear the lyrics first. Jazz is organized like classical music. Today's pop music is watered down because people find that easiest to listen to. The truth of Jazz music has been lost. "

The next course of action for Armen was to expand himself into the art realm. He pitched the idea of a collaboration of music and art to the Fresno Art Museum. Nalbandian's extensive resume of musical conquests, fundraising abilities, and local connections, prompted them to hire him as the Musical Director/Resident Artist. The Rhythms of Art Concert Series is an innovative perception of art through the sound of music. Each concert demonstrates pure emotion and understanding of the art exhibits through Armen's interpretation. At first he is given the chance to see the artwork, talk to the artist and curator. For some pieces the musical melody pops in his head, for others he has to search it out. But once it is in his head he can't get it out. His mind will not rest until he can write it down or finish composing the composition. " Most music starts with a map of stricture and form that is methodical, yet jazz adds flexibility for improvisation, " as Armen tries to explain the process of creating music. " You hear it, see it in your head."

One of Nalbandian's favorite artists is Frank Lobdell. As one of the foremost artists working in the Bay Area, Lobdell has equated art and life on the most fundamental level. Highly influenced by the struggles of war, his artwork draws inspiration from a multicultural array of historical figures and social designs. These luminous works reconnect contemporary viewers with the eternal, physical, and spiritual struggle of humankind. Nalbandian was struck by the strong and clear concept of design. "The work was colorful and consistent. " The melody that developed when examining the exhibit was clear and immediate. Armen mentions, "Much like the art of Frank Lobdell, the compositions performed are an abstract expression on a traditional form. Jazz, however, adds another essential element to all of this, leaving the music open to improvisation. In jazz, the improvisation is what allows the audience to witness the vitality of a performer firsthand." A live improvisational performance can never be repeated so soak it up!

During performances, Armen converses with the audience, describing the motivation of the compositions. After the concerts, a Q&A session follows with questions like, "How do you develop music for the art pieces?", "What type of techniques do you use for playing different instruments?", "How well do you work with other musicians?"

Armen Nalbandian considers himself lucky to be part of the art he loves and the music that guides his soul. As Armen says"

"Keep Swinging!"


- Fresno Magazine


Jazz pianist combines art forms for a concert series.
By Marty Berry / The Fresno Bee
October 24, 2004

Artists paint to music. Music is inspired by art. Ballets are written to music. Stories spring from paintings.

Artistic cross-pollination is nothing new — the most famous example of music inspired by art may be Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" — but basing a whole series of concerts on the concept takes it a step further.

The Fresno Art Museum and Fresno jazz pianist-composer Armen Nalbandian are doing just that with their Rhy- thms of Art Concert Series. Nalbandian is writing concerts of compositions inspired by each set of exhibits the museum presents throughout the 2004-05 season.

Art museum marketing and membership director Nicole Gonzalez describes the series' creation as "serendipity."

"Armen called, looking for a space to rent for a performance, and we started talking about the cultural landscape of Fresno," she says.

"We talked about bringing together the visual and other arts," Nalbandian says. "Nicole asked me if I'd be interested in writing something specifically for the paintings, for the themes of the exhibits, and I said, 'Sure.'"

"The more we talked about him writing music for exhibits, the more we liked the idea," Gonzalez says. "So we took it to Carlos [museum director Martinez], and he went even further with it, offering Armen an artist-in-residency as musical director."

The first concert was held in September in conjunction with the opening of the museum's four current exhibits: "Botanical Intervention," paintings by Glendale artist Olga Seem; Berkeley artist Danae Mattes' sculpture exhibit, "Inherent Processes"; Bolinas artist Christoph Fields' exhibit of crayon drawings, "Mixed Media Drawings"; and Fresno artist Stephen Dent's exhibit of abstract paintings, "Subterfluence."

"When I first saw the exhibits, Olga Seem's work just blew me away," Nalbandian says of the artist's distinctive works, which were inspired by plant life. "The music came to me immediately. I went home and wrote the first song that night, it was so powerful.

"When I started writing, her work was the major focus. There was just this vibe I felt. Then about halfway through, Danae's work started inspiring me — her exhibit 'Inherent Processes.'

"With Danae's, it was more the texture of what she does that I picked up on — specifically her evaporation pools, how they change and develop."

Mattes created her organic sculptures by adding water to clay, to form a pool or sluice, and as the water evaporates over time, the sculptures change.

"It changes over a period of time. She sets it in motion and lets it go, which is what we do with jazz improvisation," Nalbandian says. "When I write, I write a framework, some of it note for note, then leave a lot of room for improvisation."

In fact, two pieces he performed at the first concert that were inspired by Mattes' work were completely improvised, he says. One piece he played by himself, and the other with local rock and jazz drummer Mike Walker.

Nalbandian will present two concerts for each set of exhibits. Today's concert will feature the same compositions as the first, but rearranged.

"It's the same music, same compositions, but they're performed in a different style, with different musicians. The first one was more avant-garde jazz. This one has different instrumentation, a different theme. This one will have some more straight-ahead jazz."

Walker again will play with Nalbandian, this time in a traditional trio of piano, bass and drums. For the first concert, the trio was augmented by horns.

Walker already knows the painting and the music, of course, but the bass player hasn't even been decided upon yet. Richard Giddens, who played with Nalbandian and local musician Sean Alderette in high school and last weekend at Arte Américas, may or may not be able to make it up from Los Angeles, where he is in school. The bass player will have to be a quick study, Nalbandian says with a laugh, but such is the nature of jazz.

Nalbandian says he already has a "rough idea" of where he wants to go with the next set of exhibits, which will open Nov. 16 at the museum.

"I've been busy, but once this concert is over, I'll begin working on the next set of songs," he says.

Nalbandian not only played at Arte Américas last weekend at the museum's "Prelude Lara Party" for the weekend's Fresno Philharmonic concerts, he and Giddens also backed up signers Carmencristina Moreno and Oscar Ortega in a medley of Lara songs, arranged by Nalbandian and Moreno, at the Philharmonic concerts.

His residency at the Fresno Art Museum continues through August 2005. Then, depending on its success, he may or may not return for another year or two, he says.

"I hope people come check this out," he says. "I wish more people could know about this, and maybe it will influence other visual and musical collaborations. I'd like to hear what other people would do with it.

"This is the first time it's really been done like this, to my knowledge, and I've done extensive research. Duke Ellington wrote some songs inspired by some paintings, and Mussorgsky, of course, but those were specific songs for specific works, not a series like this."

The current exhibits will remain on display through Oct. 31 at the museum. Next up will be exhibits by E.Z. Smith and Frank Lobdell, plus selections from the Elisabeth Dean Collection. The first concert for that set of exhibits will be held Nov. 20, with a second one to be held in December.


- Fresno Bee


By Dorina K. Lazo / The Fresno Bee
November 10, 2000

It's the element of surprise that keeps jazz fresh for Armen Nalbandian.

When his fingers chase across the piano keys, he doesn't always know where he's headed. And he likes it that way.

"I try not to rehearse everything," says Nalbandian. "I think that's the beauty of the music. It's so improvised."

Nalbandian brings his own box of surprises to the stage tonight in his hometown of Fresno. A live concert, featuring Nalbandian, kicks off at 7 p.m. in the Bonner Auditorium at the Fresno Art Museum.

"It's a homecoming for me," says Nalbandian, who attended Clovis West High School. He now lives in the Bay area and plays jazz across the country.

Joining Nalbandian for the concert will be founder of the Fresno Jazz Society, Joe Lewis, on trumpet; accomplished musician Michael Rudd on tenor saxophone; bassist Richard Giddens, currently of "Stomp"; and seasoned educator and performer Brian Hamada on drums. The concert is the first in the Fresno Jazz Society's "Jazz Composers" concert series.

Nalbandian says 90% of the concert will be original music he composed -- never heard before by an audience. In this case, not even the musicians themselves know what to expect.

"The musicians are upset right now because they don't have the music," says Nalbandian. "But I like it that way."

Nalbandian says he takes cues from legendary jazz musician Miles Davis, who always said not to rehearse too much for fear of the music getting stale.

While Nalbandian holds out on giving up the music, members of the band feel the adrenaline rise. Rudd, who has been playing saxophone for more than 11 years and the past few with Nalbandian, says, "It makes me a little nervous but I've got confidence in Armen's vision."

"It's going to be spontaneous but there's going to be a real strong structure beneath it," says Rudd. "That's kind of the spirit of jazz."

Armen has studied with Cecelia Coleman and the legendary pianist John Hicks. His educational experiences also include time with such notables as Billy Higgins, Carl Allen, McCoy Tyner and Art Farmer.

The 22-year-old is taking a year off to compose and practice piano before he returns to the New School for Social Research/Mannes College of Music in New York City. There, Nalbandian will join his friends Giddens and Sean Aldrette. The three have been playing jazz together as a trio since high school.

The reporter can be reached at dlazo@fresnobee.com or 441-6479.

What: Jazz piano concert featuring original music by Armen Nalbandian. Performing with Joe Lewis, Michael Rudd, Richard Giddens and Brian Hamada.

When: 7 p.m. today.

Where: Bonner Auditorium in The Fresno Art Museum, 2233 N. First St.

Cost: $6 in advance; $9 at door.

Details: 291-5113.
- Fresno Bee


Discography

- Armen Nalbandian Trio “Armen” (2006 Blacksmith Brother)
- Armen Nalbandian Trio “Manchester Born” (2007 Blacksmith Brother/Noise Boutique)
- Armen Nalbandian (solo) “Young Kings Get Their Heads Cut Off” (2007 Blacksmith Brother/Noise Boutique)
- Armen Nalbandian Trio (live) “The Battle” (2008 Blacksmith Brother/Noise Boutique)
- Armen Nalbandian (w/Tommy Delgado) “Choke the Jellyfish” (2008 Blacksmith Brother/Noise Boutique)
- Armen Nalbandian (solo) “Nemesis EP” (2008 Blacksmith Brother/Noise Boutique)
- Armen Nalbandian Trio “Quiet As It’s Kept” (2008 Blacksmith Brother/Noise Boutique)

Photos

Bio

'' Armen Nalbandian is a truly great modern musician with an expansive understanding of the jazz tradition and then some. He has a completely open mind and big open ears. His work on prepared Fender Rhodes is a revelation to someone like me who grew up hearing that instrument in the way it was used in the 70s. Armen can massage the jazz and can find the music and beauty in noise.''

-Matthew Shipp- (pianist & composer, curator of the Blue Series Thirsty Ear Records)

Over the past decade, prolific improvisational/experimental musician and composer Armen Nalbandian has earned wide spread notoriety for his achievements in the arts. Nalbandian has composed over 500 original compositions, leads over a dozen music ensembles ranging from improvisational duos to full piece orchestras, and is a highly regarded performer on the piano and Fender Rhodes mechanical piano.

Armen Nalbandian is the protégé of Jazz legend John Hicks and has experience learning/playing with an amazing list of Jazz greats including McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, John Handy, and Britt Woodman.

Since 2004, Armen Nalbandian has with great prestige held the position of Musical Director/Resident Artist for the Fresno Art Museum. In 2004 the art community also witnessed the birth of Armen Nalbandian’s “Rhythms of Art” monthly concert series hosted by the Fresno Art Museum. Over the years Nalbandian’s “Rhythms of Art” program has been met with critical acclaim and overwhelming success with Nalbandian’s musical endeavors which range from performance of original compositions inspired by the museum’s artistic exhibitions to expanded “Sound Ensembles” improvising based on Armen’s direction through “game pieces”. Nalbandian recently announced his 4th and final year as Musical Director/Resident Artist of the Fresno Art Museum. The 2008 “Rhythms of Art” concert season features Nalbandian performing improvised duets with legendary drummer Han Bennink and drummer Chris Corsano. With the blessings and support of the artists Nalbandian will also perform the music of Dave Douglas (Greenleaf Music) and John Zorn (Tzadik recordings).

Blacksmith Brother Music (Nalbandian’s own Record Label) successfully released his trio album “Armen” in 2006. Blacksmith Brother Music in partnership with Noise Boutique will release the Armen Nalbandian Trio’s follow-up recording “Manchester Born” and Nalbandian’s solo experimental “prepared” Fender Rhodes recording “Young Kings Get Their Heads Cut Off” in late 2007. Blacksmith Brother/Noise Boutique will release numerous other recordings from Armen Nalbandian that continue to span the experimental music spectrum.