Tigran Hamasyan: A jazz pianist taps Armenian folk, metal riffs and a sense of history

The National Public Radio has interviewed Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan. Tigran Hamaysan spoke with NPR’s Arun Rath about exploring the diverse dark history of his small country, and why he thinks traditional approaches to piano ignore much of what the instrument is capable of. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

Musicians arrive at their signature sounds through all sorts of influences. For jazz pianist Tigran Hamaysan, that collection of sounds comes from far afield — he’s a fan of progressive metal bands like Tool and Meshuggah — as well as from his backyard.

Hamasyan was born in Armenia, moved to Los Angeles and New York, then returned to his homeland as an adult to get more in touch with his roots. His new albumMockroot is inspired partly by the work of Bedros Tourian, a 19th-century Armenian poet who died at 21. Hamaysan says he didn’t need to use Tourian’s words — indeed, the songs based on the poet’s work are sung in invented syllables from no certain language — to capture his essence.

“Everybody considered him super-melancholy, super-dark, but I don’t agree with that. He has poems that are on the darker side, but all of his poems have light in them; you end up being enlightened and full of life after reading him,” Hamaysan says. “I like finding inspiration through poems, but not necessarily using them as lyrics to songs. Sometimes the music that I write doesn’t need to have lyrics, it just needs vowels.”

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