Jazz interview with jazz pianist Arshak Sirunyan. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Arshak Sirunyan: – Grew up in Yerevan, Armenia in a family of engineers, chemists and mathematicians. My father, who’s a very successful radio engineer and an amateur pianist, was my first source of inspiration. I grew up listening him playing easy, nice tunes on piano and being fascinated by what those black and white keys produced. He eventually was forced to teach me his magical skill and quit playing after I mastered all of those tunes and got better than him, sorry dad .. At the age of 3 it was clear that I had a gift and was meant to choose piano to be my heaviest toy and a companion of life.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the piano? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the piano?
AS: – I was admitted to Spendiarov school of music at the age of 6 and assigned to amazing Arkuhi Harutyunyan, who became the most influential teacher throughout my years in the school. I also had the privilege of my father’s close friend Mikayel Mikayelyan, an amazing pianist and skillful jazzman to mentor me and inspire me to love the instrument even more.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
AS: – Practice, practice and practice! Being a classical pianist has always disciplined my approach towards prioritizing my goals during homework: having control over keys, thinking vertically rather than horizontally, shape my sound and be very particular about note execution. I have been taught to nurture every note I play since I was a kid.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
AS: – I start my daily routine with warming up by Czerny or Bach. It can be a short etude, invention or fugue. They keep me in shape and be more in control.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?
AS: – I tend to shift towards more tense and poly-harmonic harmonies lately. I get hungry for new chord layouts and combinations all the time which results in having more dissonant structures. Of course, there must always be balance of new and old, tonal and a-tonal, rhythmical and poly-rhythmical. The most important for me is to be open minded and let it flow naturally with no restrictions.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
AS: – Just be yourself! Listen and learn from everyone and don’t think about what ‘not to do’. Limiting your mind compromises the creativity and creates a box where opportunities suffocate within.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
AS: – Both are very essential in music. I always let my heart filter my brain at the end. There can be tremendous amount of intellect, but if there is no soul, music tends to become just a piece of paper with data on it.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
AS: – YES and NO.. Depends on what you are trying to achieve. True artist never lets the audience dictate what needs to be heard. Of course, it’s nice to sell more CDs, get more exposure and etc.. but when that overshadows your purpose, you start loosing your grip in the creative world.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
AS: – Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” was rioted at it’s premier. He knew it .. he knew it would possibly create chaos for all those vulnerable ears waiting enthusiastically to be fed sweet candies, but it didn’t stop him to create one of the most brilliant and revolutionary works of art!
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
AS: – Once I kicked a baby rat in a club during a gig, which was trying to cross under my keyboard and run to the kitchen door. Seeing the ignorance and the cockiness of the uneducated guest of that fine jazzy evening, I suddenly recalled the years of my Karate-Do and swiftly made use of my sharply pointing dark brown shoe sending it upwards to the ceiling. Show must go on!
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
AS: – Agree with Mr. Coltrane 100%. Music is my spirit, my oxygen, my water and bread, my joy and my sorrow, my life! But the true meaning of life for me is my son, my Mark!
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
AS: – Ask Taylor Swift to singe one 🙂
More comprehensive music education in the schools, including jazz, history of music. and make it a mandatory subject!
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
AS: – Shostakovich.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
AS: – My time machine would be set to go back to 18th century, 1730-1750 to be more precise, St. Thomas church in Leipzig and listen J.S. Bach improvise.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the music world what would that be?
AS: – Have Taylor Swift sing more jazz standards 🙂
JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
AS: – Thanks for the opportunity to share my views!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan