Armenian Music in The Big Apple: Lucy Yeghiazaryan’s mission of uniting Armenian Folk tunes with American Jazz
Meet Lucy Yeghiazaryan, our 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow and a leading voice in American straight-ahead jazz
Nov 10, 2023 | by Creative Armenia
Lucy Yeghiazaryan, 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow
Meet Lucy Yeghiazaryan, a renowned jazz vocalist, who blends Armenian musical heritage with the jazz of The Big Apple. Her childhood years in Armenia were filled with melodies of American jazz. These tunes played a significant role in shaping her musical journey. In this interview, Lucy shares about her inspirations and her upcoming project Beside the Golden Door, where she fuses Armenian folk songs with American jazz classics. As a 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow, she is all about fostering unity through the universal language of jazz. Dive into the full article to discover Lucy Yeghiazaryan’s harmonious world.
Tell us a little about how you began your journey of becoming a jazz vocalist.
For a very long time, Armenia has been a hub for jazz in our part of the world. My father had gained access to a very limited number of American jazz recordings during the Soviet era. Throughout the 90's these cassettes would be playing in our home whenever the electricity was on. I grew up hearing these sounds and equating them with America so much so that when we immigrated in 2001, before I could speak English I kept on singing the tunes as the only familiar bit of America in the new world.
"Whether you're a native of Harlem in NYC or Lori in Armenia, there are always universal human stories, morals, joys, and pains that are clear and dear to everyone."
Becoming a jazz vocalist was not so much a direct choice but what I fell into. Since I had grown up with the music, had a good ear from my Armenian classical violin background, AND our family had moved to New York, which is the global epicenter of jazz – I sort of fell into it by chance. I worked very hard throughout my teenage years and twenties to prove myself “worthy” of performing this beautiful form of American music. My early investments have paid off because I enjoy singing and I make my living as a very active member of the jazz community here in NYC and abroad.
Tell us about your creative inspirations and what you have learned from them.
As an immigrant what I find to be most inspiring is finding the common ground between all peoples. Whether you're a native of Harlem in NYC or Lori in Armenia, there are always universal human stories, morals, joys, and pains that are clear and dear to everyone. Through my art, I always strive to bring people together through these at times satirical, at times serious stories. I do not believe in divisive art because its larger purpose should be unifying all people and I find that folk music and jazz tend to do this particularly well.
Congratulations on the release of your new album Lonely House earlier this year. Also in the works is another album, Beside the Golden Door, which will thematically pair Armenian folk songs with American jazz standards. What has your process been in
selecting these pairings – does the Armenian song come first, or the American?
Beside the Golden Door has been in the works for a very long time. As a singer, my beginnings are deeply rooted in Armenian folk music and this project certainly outlines that. I've wanted to present Armenian music to an American audience in a very clear and direct way and this album will do just that! Instead of providing translations of Armenian folk songs for English speakers, we've paired Armenian folk songs with jazz standards that tell the same or very similar stories. This accentuates the universal elements in all cultures and presents Armenian music in a very clear and modern context.
The repertoire is expansive and includes classics from the 40's, performed and recorded by the National Armenian Folk Ensemble, which I've gathered from the Armenian Radio Archives up to pop tunes from the 90's including compositions by Elvina Makaryan and Ruben Hakhverdyan. This will be an interesting listen even for an Armenian because it covers such a large ground but still keeps it very listenable and casual. To top it all off, we have one of the leading jazz guitar icons Peter Bernstein on this album which will surely gather some jazz listeners as well. This project has been funded by Chamber Music America, the Armenia Fund, and now Creative Armenia and AGBU, which is very exciting!
Which comes first – the Armenian or the American? It's interchangeable and depends completely on the listener – whichever will help you ease into the album more.
You have mentioned that you want this new project to be a bridge between Armenians in Armenia and Armenians in the diaspora. How do you see yourself building that bridge through your artistry and music? How does your experience growing up in Armenia and living within the diasporan community now contribute to the project’s goal?
This album will be very helpful and interesting to a diasporan who may not be too familiar with the musical landscape of Soviet and post-Soviet Armenia. I think that there are serious gaps between all groups of Armenians that need to be closed for us to operate as a unit more efficiently and with fewer misunderstandings.
The core portion of the album has already been recorded here in NYC with a diverse group of performers that includes Armenians and Americans. The next stage will be dubbing or layering some of the tracks with artists in Armenia like Miqayel Voskanyan, Zhanna Davtyan, Mane Galoyan, and maybe even a small collaboration with the rapper A-Chilla. We've been using the capabilities of modern technology to bring together two vastly different worlds.
What do you do as a Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow and, later, as a creative ambassador for Armenia?
I am currently in the process of finishing the recording end of Beside the Golden Door but we are also planning a big tour for this album in the summer of 2024. We'll be traveling throughout Armenia with concerts planned in Vanadzor, Armavir, Gyumri, and other provinces at big and small venues most of which will be open to the public.
I recently celebrated a night of Jazz organized by AGBU here in NYC with Zaid Nasser on saxophone, who was a driving force behind popularizing bebop in Armenia in the 90's.
As a creative ambassador for Armenia, I strive to present the artistic excellence that is worthy of the cultural heritage of Armenia and to help any new artists or curious audiences better understand the significance and beauty that is at the heart of Armenian music.