“I remember a day in band class, clear as if it happened yesterday.”
Jazz musician Michael Sarian reminisces about his childhood in Buenos Aires in the 90s. It was a mundane day as far as middle school goes, just a test in band class, but it left an indelible mark on the trumpet player.
Each student took a turn to perform the same twenty seconds of music. Michael recalls the sound of his trumpet echoing in the air, while everyone seemed to fall silent. He kept playing, the notes ringing out in the hushed room.
It was then that his teacher called him over. Her tone, at once serious and unexpected, says, “Michael, I need to speak to you after class."
“Shit, what did I do?” Michael remembers, feeling deep down that it couldn’t be good.
To his surprise, the teacher's words were not of admonishment, but of encouragement. "Oh, you just sounded really good out of nowhere. You should join the band," she said, her words ringing in Michael’s ears.
His recently released album entitled “Living at the End of The World” evokes a sound that is at once intimate and emotionally charged. Michael deftly straddles the line between refined composition and unfettered improvisation. With a keen ear for nuance and a delicate touch, Michael draws the listener into his world, a world where the frenzied pace of modernity melts away.
Both meditative and evocative, “Living at the End of the World” is the perfect accompaniment to the quiet moments of introspection that punctuate our daily lives.
Although he continuously works to write, record, and perform jazz music, it was not until the age of fourteen when Michael first encountered the elusive concept of jazz. He recalls, “I knew what it was, but I never played it or even thought about playing it.”
The concert band at his school did not focus on one certain genre of music, instead dabbling in a medley of musical styles. He reminisces that the older kids would guide him, “Oh, you don't know this song? This is like a jazz trumpet song. You should know this song.”
The song they were referring to was ‘A Night in Tunisia’ by Dizzy Gillespie. A tune that left a lasting impression on the budding musician. “That was the first kind of song that I was like, ‘Oh shit, I should know this one.’
From that moment he started to explore the works of jazz legends such as Miles Davis, Chet Baker, and Dizzy Gillespie. It was not till he discovered Jack O. Pastorious, bass player and composer, he developed a true affinity for the genre. “His music really made me take my music more seriously,” he muses.
Michael eventually moved to New York City earning his graduate degree from New York University. “Coming to New York was a huge slap in the face, a wake up call,” he says.
Michael recalls a time at NYU when he played for an ensemble directed by Joe Lovano. “A living legend,” Michael affirms. “I had no business being in this ensemble.” Lovano asked Michael to play something. After he finished playing, Lovano said, “Alright you missed some of it. You actually missed a lot of it.”
He had a huge awakening of what it took to forge a path as a musician. “I felt very unprepared,” he continues, “Luckily, I decided to prove myself wrong as opposed to giving up.” Which meant long hours in the practice rooms.
Michael looks back at his time at NYU with warm memories. “Everyone was kind and supportive.”
Shortly after moving to NYC, AGBU reached out to Michael to perform at their 2013 Armenians in Jazz concert. “We were asked to bring in a piece of music that was Armenian,” explains Michael, who began sifting through Armenian songs in search of a piece that meant something to him. This dive into Armenian music became a gateway to a new found connection to his Armenian heritage. The song that clicked for him was ‘Der Voghormia’ because of its familiarity to him.
The hymns of the church were something he connected with, as Michael explains, “What I like about Komitas is the beautiful yet simple melodies. As an arranger and improviser it creates unlimited possibilities to what I can create with that.”
He continues to pull inspiration from Armenian artists as “Living at the End of The World” opens with a jazz composition of Sayat Nova’s “Yis Ku Ghimetn Chim Gidi (I don’t Know Your True Value).”
I asked Michael what three essential jazz albums one should listen to. He replied, “Jazz Massey Hall” by The Quintet, “In a Silent Way” by Miles Davis, and “My Funny Valentine + Four” by Miles Davis.
You can catch the Michael Sarian Quartet on their spring tour through Canada, the Midwest, and New York.