Eldar Djangirov Redefines Jazz



Eldar Djangirov found his passion at the age of three, which is something that not many people can say. Djangirov, 24, who was born in Kyrgyzstan, grew up in Kansas City, where he found his penchant for music through his mother, a music teacher, and his father, who has an expansive jazz collection. Growing up surrounded by music, Djangirov spent his time listening to the sounds of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans, just to name a few. Djangirov was signed to Sony Classical at the age of 17, which has allowed him to work with the “masters” of jazz whom he grew up listening to in the Midwest. The success of his album, Re-imagination, even resulted in a Grammy nomination in 2008. He has spent the years traveling the world and playing jazz festivals throughout a variety of countries. Currently, Djangirov lives in New York City, when he’s not touring the world. His current album Three Stories has been a central focus this year.

We caught up with Djangirov in advance of his show at New York’s 92nd Street Y this weekend, discussing his passion for piano, working with masters, and growing up a wunderkind.

ILANA KAPLAN: What inspired you to start playing piano?

ELDAR DJANGIROV: Basically, my mother is a piano teacher, and she actually teaches piano at Yamaha School of Music today. She’s a really, really amazing human being and is very patient. She had enough patience for me, as a kid, which I’m very thankful for. She made sure that music was a part of my general education as well. My dad, was, by trade, he had a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. He’s a huge, huge jazz fan. He used to travel all the time for projects, and he used to collect jazz records. He used to collect hundreds and hundreds of jazz records because he had this passion for it. That’s kind of how they had certain hobbies together. My mom was a musician, and my dad had this passion for music. That’s kind of how a lot of their relationship was built. When I came around, I was constantly exposed to music. My dad would play me all of these records: Miles Davis records, John Coltrane records, Bill Evans records, a lot of jazz records. My first exposure to music was listening to jazz records. When I was four, I started taking lessons from my mom. That’s pretty much how I started.

KAPLAN: Can you tell me a little bit about being signed to Sony at such a young age?

DJANGIROV: I grew up in Kansas City [from] when I was about two years old to my mid-teens. Kansas City at the time was an amazing place, because there was so much music going on there. As a kid, I was playing there all the time and learning a lot about music. There, I actually made two records on an independent label there. I was 15 and 16 at the time. When I made those records, I was in school. It was a gradual progression, because I was playing music for so long. I had an opportunity to start going around the world when I was about 18 years old. So, I did. That’s one of the things that I was doing.

KAPLAN: Who have been some of the most inspiring musicians for you?

DJANGIROV: So many! All of those people that my dad had in my collection were definitely the first people that painted the picture. Hearing Oscar Peterson was something that resonated within me. Hearing Chick Corea. Hearing Bill Evans. Hearing people like Miles, Coltrane. There are so many musicians I’ve been fortunate to play with. The people that inspire me are the people I play with. The masters and the people that are your heroes when you’re a kid… you can have a strong relationship with them. As far as the people that have inspired me, they’re the people that I have played with the most. For example, the record that I made a few years ago, called Virtue, there was a wonderful band and a wonderful drummer by the name of Ludwig Afonso and a wonderful bass player by the name of Armando Gola. We spent several years touring in that particular trio. There was a certain satisfaction that makes you proud to do those things. Also, that particular record had some great musicians: Joshua Redman and Nicholas Payton. I’ve had a chance to play with beautiful musicians as well on my other record, called Live at the Blue Note. Roy Harper and I had a chance to play on another record. Being a musician has been a great experience.

KAPLAN: What specifically made you want to play jazz music? Why not a different genre?

DJANGIROV: “Jazz” to begin with, is a really bad word… all the true musicians that really play jazz, jazz is the worst word for it. Jazz is a process. Jazz is a creative process. It’s not so much a genre, but a way of expression. As far as the music is concerned, the music has taken a certain level of evolution. There are so many musicians that have brought so much of their own to that genre. As far as genre, more like you’re playing things. You’re trying to play things that you’ve been exposed to, and then you’re trying to say it in your own words. You’re trying to say it from your own experience. That’s kind of the most important thing, because you learn things from the past. You learn things from the present. You soak it up. The main objective is to save things from your experience. The main thing about the word jazz, is that it’s very limiting to what people are doing.

KAPLAN: What has the meaning of jazz become for you?

DJANGIROV: I’d rather call it “instrumental creative music,” especially the music that I’ve been doing recently. There are so many things in it that are relevant to today. If a person would hear that music, they would undoubtedly call it “jazz.” There is this whole generation of musicians that are playing and thinking critically for themselves and making music that’s relevant to today. I hope that’s the objective of a lot of musicians. I started playing classical music, and I still do. This year, I had a chance to play with the Russian National Orchestra in Moscow at the Tchaikovsky Hall in the beginning of this year. I think music ultimately is kind of on a theoretical level, is about collecting and learning as much vocabulary as possible. It’s kind of like writing. It’s kind of like writing because the more you read, the more you hear people describe things. The more you soak in, as far as vocabulary, the more access you have in order to express yourself accurately and vividly. Music is a thing where, the more vocabulary you gather, the more you can express yourself. I guess a very important concept is to try to use that vocabulary to express God or emotion or God or love in the end.