The bright new Armenian piano star will open the London Jazz Festival.
Tigran Hamasyan is a brilliant jazz pianist who is clearly on the rise – for one thing, like many a star before him, he has dropped his surname, and is now, according to his latest record The Fable, simply Tigran.
One reason he became addicted to the acoustic piano as a child was there were so many blackouts in his native Gyumri in Armenia and it was something he could play by candlelight, Tigran said in an interview with theartsdesk.com.
Tigran’s parents – his father was a jeweller and his mother a clothing designer – would queue at five in the morning for hours for bread of dubious quality “When the electricity came on my sister would start crying as it was so unusual,” he recalls. The first music he fell in love with in the middle of this post-apocalyptical atmosphere was heavy metal, and he says he still loves Meshuggar, the Swedish Death Metal band (authors of “the heaviest songs ever written. Rhythmically, it’s insane”) as much as Ravel or Thelonius Monk.
He was enrolled at a classical school aged five “For years it was just a chore. My mum made me practice, but as soon she turned away I started improvising and coming up with cheesy songs.” While most classical musicians don’t improvise “it was my thing, I didn’t even know what jazz was, for me improvising is the deepest music, it’s where everything starts.” In his teens a Jazz loving uncle introduced him pianists like Fats Waller. Tigran has a hand span which reaches from C to the Eflat above, which makes it that much easier to play the minor, melancholy chords that infuse his music.
When he was 16, his parents moved to Los Angeles to give their two children (Tigran’s sister is a painter and sculptor) better artistic opportunities and Tigran began to win a series of piano competitions and he met saxophonist Ben Wendell and drummer Nate Wood, who still play with him today.
The other reason you can tell Tigran is on a vertiginous ascent is that fellow jazz pianists like Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Brad Mehldau have all raved about him, and he recently made his TV debut on Later With Jools. He was even played on theartsdesk radio show.
His last album The Fable , is mainly solo piano, with snatches of singing and humming and is an immensely poised masterwork with sparkling melodies that veers between introspective romanticism and expansive virtuosity. Of all his albums, this one has the most of his native Armenian influence. There’s a take of the standard “Someday My Prince Will Come” and an Armenian medieval hymn with most of the rest being new compositions, improvising around Armenian scales, which gives the whole a certain mysterious East-West quality.