Music Man – My Father, In Memoriam

Today, March 8th, would have been my father’s 77th birthday. Tragically, he only lived to see 72. He left us suddenly, not long after he and I had a late night phone conversation. (I was the last person to speak to him). To this day, it pains me to think that just four hours later, he was collapsed on his bedroom floor, paralyzed and unconscious from a stroke, my mother frantically calling 911. It was a very bad, harrowing event for my family. None of us have recovered 😥

This post, however, commemorates my father’s life, not his death. I could write on and on about my father, but I assure you that one measly blog post couldn’t possibly convey the man’s complexity, character, and life story. He was so many things. He was, above all, a devoted husband and father. But a close second to those commitments was his role as a musician. A professional, working musician, who supported his family and put his children through college doing the thing he loved most: playing his trumpet.

Picasso’s Three Musicians:

picasso_3musicians

Born the second child of struggling Armenian immigrants, my father worked since he was 12 years old: repairing bikes in a bicycle shop, making shakes in a luncheonette, delivering newspapers. One day in public school band class, he picked up a trumpet, and it was love at first sight.

Dad graduated from college with a degree in economics, and planned to seek employment on Wall Street. But fairly steady work doing club dates around New York City encouraged him, and my father – a very practical man by nature – made the most impractical decision of his life. He would forgo a nine to five job and make a living as a musician. To his old-fashioned family the choice seemed crazy. Why would a man with a college education pass up regular employment in the mainstream work force in favor of the erratic, unreliable music business? Why? A deep-seated passion for music, that’s why. Dad went with his gut. He gambled. He felt in his soul, that a livelihood could be found in the music world. And he did find it.

This painting by Degas is a beautiful depiction of orchestra musicians. It’s also a great example of Degas’ exceptional talent for perspective and composition. Makes you feel like you’re right there, down in the pit with the guys:

A musician’s life means working nights and weekends, never spending New Year’s Eve with your spouse, and constantly staying in touch with bookers and bandleaders. And in my father’s case, it also meant being able to perform a range of musical styles. Throughout his five decade long career, Dad played popular music, jazz, Latin, standards, even traditional Jewish music for Hasidic weddings in Brooklyn. Whatever was required of him. Some of Dad’s gigs were truly exciting (backing up Frank Sinatra was one memorable highlight), others were less glamorous. But whether he was playing the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom or a Knights of Columbus hall, my father was just happy to be working and playing the trumpet. He considered no job beneath him. Plus he had a family to support.

German Expressionist Max Beckmann made himself a horn player in this bizarre self-portrait:

max_beckmanns_self-portrait_with_horn_1938-1940

With all due respect to Beckmann, I think my father was much more handsome holding his horn. Of course, I’m a little biased. Here’s a very young Dad on the bandstand, fresh out of a two year stint in the army. Circa mid-1950s:

img085

Dad’s big break came when he was hired by the Herman Stenzler Orchestra. They performed regularly at the old Taft Hotel on 51st Street. In 1959, Dad invited a beautiful young artist to come hear him play. Her name was Elaine, and Dad dazzled her with his melodious trumpeting. Within a year, they were married 🙂

My father posing proudly with his beloved horn:

img087

My father’s respect for the trumpet was profound. A difficult instrument to master, the trumpet’s rich tone is expressive and versatile unlike any other instrument, and is capable of vast musical range. Dad held great admiration for fellow trumpet players, and his list of favorites was diverse. It included such disparate players as Louis Armstrong, Harry James, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson, Freddie Hubbard, Arturo Sandoval, and Wynton Marsalis. (Two guys who left my father cold were Chet Baker and Chris Botti. Aww, sorry fellas!)

LeRoy Neiman’s work of Louis Armstrong captures the power and vibrant musical energy of trumpet playing. This is Satchmo from 1976:

leroy-neiman-satchmo

I had the toughest time selecting an mp3 file for this post. So many trumpet tracks could have made the cut. I decided to go with one of my Dad’s heroes, a hero to all trumpet players in fact – the phenomenal Dizzy Gillespie. Dad never stopped marveling at Dizzy’s mind-boggling technique, his virtuosity, his ability to generate excitement, play with high-speed velocity and hit thrilling high notes, all seemingly with ease. In his pre-bebop days, Dizzy Gillespie led a superb big band, and demonstrated the perfect combination of showmanship and musicianship. Dad loved that. He loved a showman who also possessed skill and artistry. Real “chops” as Dad used to put it.

This playful song is called “Cool Breeze”. Dizzy’s crisp, lively trumpet solos are a wonder. The track also contains a little scat singing, which my father always found hilarious. He liked to do his own scatting sometimes, laughing all the way through it. Wherever you are, Dad, I hope you’re listening . . . and playing along.

My father adored this old family photo. He smiled every time he saw it. A true Hajian family portrait, I scanned it specifically to post on Museworthy. (The print makes its permanent home on my refrigerator). From left to right, that’s Dad, Mom, me looking rather bewildered, and my brother Chris. The year is 1970, the occasion is my 2nd birthday, and the location is the southside of Queens. It’s very appropriate, and symbolic, that my father looms the largest of the four of us:

img088

There are no words to describe how deeply my father is missed. Our patriarch, our provider, our friend . . . a very Museworthy man.

Dad, this is my tribute to you. Happy Birthday big guy 🙂
Love always,
“Little Beeber”

26 thoughts on “Music Man – My Father, In Memoriam

  1. Ron says:

    What a beautiful post. You obviously loved your father very much and you clearly were influenced a lot by him. Every one of the illustrations, both the paintings and the photos, as well as the musical selection, are so well chosen. My favorite is the Nieman.

    I love that shot of you at age two. So cute.

    Consider yourself virtually hugged.

  2. Ray says:

    Claudia
    My deepest condolences and empathy for you and your family on remembering your dad on this day. He probably had a lot of stories to tell and like my dad, left us way to early.
    I see a lot of his looks in you. It’s coincidental today I was listening to Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass.
    Ray

  3. artmodel says:

    Ron,

    Thank you so much, friend. Your praise for this post really means a lot. Yes, I loved my father very, very much, and my lingering grief over his death will never go away, I’m afraid. We were (and still are) a very close family.

    The experience of writing this post was alternately enjoyable and painful. I went through a few drafts, and I purposely started working on it several days ago, knowing it would take me a while to finish it. Even now, I become emotional reading the final version.

    Love the virtual hug. Thanks! 🙂

    Claudia

  4. artmodel says:

    Ray,

    My Dad LOVED the Tijuana Brass! He used to play those records all the time. Thanks for mentioning them.

    Thanks also for your warm sentiments, and for noticing the resemblance between me and him. I’m generally a combination of my Dad and my Mom in looks, but I share some very distinct personality traits with my Dad. I’m like him, and my brother is more like my Mom.

    Good to hear from you, Ray.

    Claudia

  5. lkwinter says:

    I can really feel how much you loved this man. You were raised by a lifelong trumpet player, that’s just incredible.

    The more I read about you, the more I understand just what a blessed, and blessing of a person you are.

    scott

  6. swatch says:

    What a sad, beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your love and your pain. What a rich heritage you have. What a great story. Your father follows his passion rather than the pragmatic (and perhaps someone else’s passion for his life) And he provides for and loves his family. Where would we be without the music? And the art? The stuff of life.

    And here you are.

    Take care

    Stephen

  7. Just what I’d like my daughter to say about me someday-she’s a teenager right now, so I’m hoping she’ll appreciate me later!

  8. Stephanie says:

    Your post was beautiful. I couldn’t help crying while reading — for your loss, for your sadness, but also for beauty — the beauty of such a close-knit loving family and the beauty of your openness and willingness to share yourself. I was lucky enough to experience your lovely family and your openness firsthand so many years ago.

    The pictures of your dad are incredible. You’re right — he was very handsome. And I love the picture of your family. Mrs H., you look gorgeous!

    I think Inkwinter said it best in his comment above — that you are very blessed and you are a blessing. When we were kids, it was always such an amazing treat to sleep at your house. I thought your mom and dad were the coolest; your brother was so talented and so cute; and your house was unique and warm and always well-stocked with treats. Having all of you in my life was a real blessing.

    Keep writing, muse. Your dad must be so proud of you.

  9. Lin says:

    Claudia, that post made me all teary too. The similarities between your Dad and mine were striking. They would have been the same age, as well. Like you, I miss my Dad every day, even after all these years.

  10. Amanda says:

    What a beautiful family and a beautiful tribute. I too love Dizzy Gillespie and think that picking what made him happy to do for a living was probably one of the best most practical things he could have done. I lost my dad almost eleven years ago and he is still very much missed. Thanks for this post.

  11. Brian says:

    Claudia,

    That was an incredible tribute to your Dad. There is no doubt in my mind that he was equally proud to have you as a daughter.

    It’s interesting that you mention the family’s reaction to his choice of career…I remember wondering the same when I first met him…how does one make a living without a formal “job”?, I thought…later, I realized it was really just me and my limited, (midwestern) belief system causing me to think that way (a life lesson, it was)…your Dad’s choice to make a living doing what he loved was something I’ve always admired.

    One other thing…I remember that family picture like it was yesterday! Seeing it again made me smile.

    Brian

  12. artmodel says:

    lkwinter,

    I am at a loss . . . so profoundly touched by your words.

    Thank you, friend 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Claudia

  13. artmodel says:

    Swatch,

    You asked the big questions – where would we be without the art and music? A place devoid of inspiration and passion, I’d say.

    And yes, here I am . . . 🙂

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments!

    Claudia

  14. artmodel says:

    Raymond,

    I’m sure she will! I have no doubt about it. But the true appreciation and respect comes after the teenage years. Keep that in mind. Teenage girls are very preoccupied with their own lives. I, myself, didn’t fully appreciate my father until adulthood.

    Thanks for your comment!

    Claudia

  15. artmodel says:

    Lin,

    Thank you so much! We miss them every day, right? No matter how many years have passed. I loved reading that our fathers shared such similarities. That made me smile 🙂

    Great to hear from you always.

    Claudia

  16. artmodel says:

    Amanda,

    Wonderful to know that you’re a fellow Dizzy fan! He was masterful, a true giant of jazz. You have good taste.

    Very sorry to hear that your father passed away so many years ago. You must have been quite young.

    Thanks for noting that my father’s ostensibly “impractical” decision was, in fact, very practical. What a great way to look at it.

    Thanks so much for your comments. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Claudia

  17. artmodel says:

    Stephanie,

    First, my post made you cry, and now you’ve made me cry with your comments!! Everyone’s in tears! 😥

    Indeed, I’ve shared a lot on Museworthy and have been very open with my readers, but you too have shared a great deal here. I am so touched by your fond remembrances of my family. We spent a lot of time together, and it was great! Yes, the sleepovers were a blast! I’m so glad you recall my parents as “cool”. They were cooler than most, I’d say.

    I hope you know, Steph, that having YOU as my best friend meant just as much to us. Mom, Dad, and Chris absolutely loved you. I cherish the memories, and Dad would be so happy to know that we are in touch again.

    I was secretly hoping you’d write a comment on this post. And of course, you did. Because you’re awesome! Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you . . . 🙂

    Claudia

  18. artmodel says:

    Brian,

    So wonderful to read your thoughts on this post. I was thinking of you as I wrote it, and remembered how well you and Dad got along . . . and the many beers you two drank together! He was very fond of you Brian. You passed the “boyfriend test” with flying colors! That’s a great achievement when you’re dating a “daddy’s girl” like I was.

    I forgot that you had seen that family photo before. Yes, you loved it then! I’m happy you can see it again after all these years.

    Thank you for your comments about Dad.

    Claudia

  19. What a beautiful and amazing tribute.
    I was very touched by his life story and your love for him.
    It’s very sad that he is gone..

    Thank you for this post…

  20. artmodel says:

    Natasha,

    Thank you so much! It moves me that you were so touched by this post. I guess I did a good job expressing my love and admiration for my father. And yes, it’s very sad that he’s gone.

    I appreciate your sensitive and sincere comments. Nice to hear from you.

    Claudia

  21. Stephanie says:

    Claudia,

    One more thought… All of us loyal Museworthy readers would be remiss if we didn’t note the obvious similarity between you and your dad. He courageously eschewed the “practical” and pursued his passion, just as you have done.

    Love,
    Steph

  22. armen says:

    sooooo sweet of a description a great way of taking a semi painful/ semi joyful memory and turning it into a magnificent appreciation for music and art and eddie!
    i luv u cousin
    thanks soooo much!

  23. artmodel says:

    Stephanie,

    Such a beautiful point you make. It’s true, and feels especially poignant coming from you, a “loyal Museworthy reader”, and dear, dear friend 🙂

    Dad and I did have an awful lot in common. Thanks for your observation.

    Claudia

  24. artmodel says:

    Armen,

    Thank YOU cousin!! Love your comments. “Semi-painful/semi-joyful” sums it up perfectly. You know it as well as I.

    Love you, baby 🙂

    Claudia

  25. Hello,
    I was very moved by this beautiful tribute to your father but frustrated that I could not find his name in the tribute.
    I remember Herman Stenzler’s orchestra playing for school events when I was a student at Hempstead High School. Herman went to a school for the blind in the Bronx but lived on Thorne Avenue in Hempstead. We lost touch when I went to college.
    I believe that Paul Nagy played clarinet, the Hichborn twins, Jack and Bill, played bass and trumpet and Al Judson played drums.
    This was before Herman changed his name to Wayne Foster and moved to California
    When Herman was a teenager,his orchestra played every Friday and Saturday night at Anselmi’s restaurant in Bethpage,New York and I went there often to hear them.
    This must have been before your dad joined the orchestra but I wondered if any of these names might be familiar to you or your family.
    I would certainly love to exchange emails because I have many more memories but I don’t think we’re allowed to submit addresses on this site.
    The best to you always,
    Carol P.

    • artmodel says:

      Carol,

      I’m so glad you found this old tribute post to my father! His name was Eddie Hajian, and how could I have left that out in my post?! It seems I just referred to him as Dad throughout 🙂

      I really appreciate the info about Herman Stenzler and the other musicians. The names you mentioned might very well be familiar to my mother, and possibly my brother. I will check with them.

      And you can certainly email me at ClaudieLH@aol.com
      Happy to correspond! Thanks so much.

      Claudia

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