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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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 🙂