Friday, May 15, 2015

High School All-Stars Alumni Interview: Noah Garabedian

For those of you who were acutely feeling the absence of High School All-Stars alumni interviews, we have a wonderful May installment for you. Many of you may know of the New York-based band, the Amigos, either by way of one of last summer’s alumni interviewees, Sam Reider, or by way of the Amigos’ upcoming SFJAZZ Family MatinĂ©e engagement on May 16th. Amigos’ bassist, Noah Garabedian, is more than simply a slice of the Amigos’ pie; the Brooklyn-based alumn fronts his own sextet, Big Butter And The Egg Men. Noah also works with Jazz At Lincoln Center, the Weil Institute at Carnegie Hall, is part-time faculty at The New School, and has served as adjunct faculty at NYU. Impressive CV? Read on to learn about Noah’s musical journey following SFJAZZ and you’ll see that you don’t know the half of it.

What is your favorite memory of your time in the High School All-Stars?

“I have two favorite memories: the first was when we played at Lincoln Center in NYC in the Essentially Ellington competition. It was a true thrill to play on that stage, and our band was slamming that year; there were some really wonderful players in it whom I still play with today. My second favorite memory is when we performed at a ballet at the Yerba Buena Center: we all had to wear Santa Hats because it was holiday time, and we set up on a stage that was below ground. When it was our time to play, they elevated us and we played a bunch of music from Duke's Nutcracker Suite. It was hilarious and really fun.”

Can you describe your current sextet project? What were the influences that generated it?

“It is a sextet with bass, drums, two tenor saxophones, alto saxophone, and trumpet: All of the musicians in the band are friends of mine, which is very important to me; we share a lot of musical interests and hang out together frequently. The writing is influenced by everything from New Orleans Jazz, to Afrobeat, to J.S. Bach. The name of the band is a nod to the tune made famous by Louis Armstrong, "Big Butter And Egg Man," and I try to maintain the spirit of collective improvisation that New Orleans Jazz popularized within our ensemble. We released our first album in September 2014 on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, and hopefully will be recording more soon.”

You have a degree in Ethnomusicology; what was your focus and (how) does it inform your musical performance?

“I entered UCLA not really sure of what I wanted to study or pursue. Eventually I gravitated towards the ethnomusicology department because I wanted to remain involved with music, but learn about it and approach it from a different perspective than a performer. In the beginning of my time in the Ethno department I was drawn towards music from West Africa, Mexico, and Appalachia in the Southeastern US. The department had wonderful faculty from all around the world who led performance ensembles, so I got to play in all sorts of inspiring groups on different instruments, and learn from experts. The department also had an incredibly extensive library full of video and audio recordings that previous students and famous ethnographers made while doing research in the field. After my first two years I became more serious about jazz again and ended up doing my final project on jazz bass. But through studying world music, I deepened my understanding and appreciation of jazz, which combines African rhythms with European harmonies, making it a truly original American art form. Also learning about how cultural identity and music are intertwined, and understanding the relationship between them has profoundly informed my work in and passion for music, especially my own original compositions.”

As a teacher at several NY universities, what are some of the concepts and skill that you feel are most important for young jazz musicians to grasp these days?

“The musical way to answer this is pretty simple; young musicians should make sure they develop their ears, compose music, keep an open mind, and listen to a lot of music. The other side to your question is a little more complicated. Young musicians actually need to understand what being a musician means; it is a financially difficult life, and can be very frustrating at times. It is important to learn how to be self-sufficient and learn about everything from taxes to web design. A lot of musician friends I have do something else on the side to add a little more financial support for themselves: teaching music, tutoring academics, web design, or anything else part time. But most importantly, just be yourself and pursue music because you love the music, do not pursue it for any other reason.”

Keep up with Noah's musical projects at

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