Jazz Pianist David Azarian Dies

BOSTON (Boston Globe)–David Azarian–51–was replacing a driver-side tire on his minivan in the breakdown lane when the SUV plowed into his car. Azarian’s wife and two daughters–ages 4 and 9–witnessed the crash–State Police said.

Azarian–a native of Armenia who came to the United States on a 10-day visa in 1989 and never left–died at the scene.

”Once in a lifetime–we get the opportunity to see something so wonderful–so good that you’ll do anything you can to help that person do their art,” said Manoog Kaprielian–53–a psychologist who met Azarian on a trip to Armenia and later shared his apartment with him in Providence. ”David was a musician’s musician.”

State Police said heavy rains had cut visibility shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday when a 2002 Lexus sport utility vehicle driven by Angela Ansara ran into Azarian’s 1999 Honda–trapping him beneath the SUV.

No charges had been filed yesterday–but State Police Lieutenant Ronald Sieberg said Ansara–34–may be charged with motor vehicle homicide–negligent operation of a motor vehicle–failure to stay within marked lanes–and speeding. Ansara did not return a message left with her father yesterday.

Azarian–of Belmont–played regularly in clubs in and around Boston–including the Regattabar in Cambridge–where he last performed on Tuesday. He had performed at some of New York’s best-known venues–including Carnegie Hall–Birdland–and the Blue Note–and he taught piano at Berklee College of Music.

John Lockwood–a bass player who had performed with Azarian for a decade–said Azarian’s musical style was very original–influenced by his Armenian upbringing and the warm–outgoing persona that made him an easy partner.

”His personality came through in his playing,” said Lockwood. ”There was a bubble that you’d slide into when you played with him. He was unique.”

Azarian–whose father was a music teacher and reed player–began studying piano in Yerevan–the Armenian capital–at age 7. He won his first prize for piano playing at age 12 and soon discovered American jazz–which was considered taboo in the Cold War-Soviet Union–by listening to Willis Conover’s jazz show on Voice of America radio.

In his early 20s–Azarian was admitted to the prestigious Soviet Union Composers’ Union. He formed a jazz trio that toured Europe and the Soviet Union–and when the opportunity arose to visit the United States–birthplace of jazz–Azarian jumped at the chance.

In 1989–he came to Cambridge–for what was supposed to be five concerts in 10 days. Instead–a Providence church invited him to play a series of benefits for victims of recent earthquakes in Armenia and San Francisco–so he extended his visa. An Armenian-American lawyer helped him draft papers to make the stay permanent.

It was while living in Providence–staying up every night in Kaprielian’s apartment composing music on a donated Yamaha keyboard–that Azarian met Vickie Alani–an architect–whom he would eventually marry.

The two moved to Belmont together and started a family. On Saturday night–Alani waited in the family’s minivan with the couple’s daughters–Christina and Nicole–when Azarian got out to fix the tire. Dennis Azarian–26–Azarian’s son from a previous relationship in Armenia–said his father helped him come to the United States a decade ago. Before Dennis’s arrival–the elder Azarian had composed a waltz for him–”Longing for My Son–Dennis.”

Dennis Azarian said yesterday that witnessing the accident was a brutal blow to his stepmother and two young stepsisters.

”The little one is 4. She doesn’t understand–but Christina is 9. She cries. She knows.”

Azarian had released several compact discs–including his best known–”Stairway to Seventh Heaven,” and his most recent–”Hope,” a compilation of live performances broadcast by WGBH in Boston.

Another CD–”Living in Jazzland,” was released a decade after Azarian came to live in America. On his website–Azarian had posted photos of himself with a flurry of American jazz legends–including Wynton Marsalis–Herbie Hancock–and Al Jarreau.

You might think that I chose these photos to impress you with the company I’m with and to show off. But this is not true. These are special momen’s in my life–which I had the wonderful opportunity to document with a camera–and I don’t take any of this for granted. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to meet the people you may recognize below–because most of them are legends to the jazz community and beyond. Many of them are my heroes. For someone who came from behind the "iron curtain," to see these great musicians–and even more–to have the chance to shake their hands and express the love and admiration for their music is something I would have never imagined possible. These were dreams that came true–and of course I am proud I had these momen’s. I wanted to share this with you–wrote Azarian on his website.

In addition to his family in Belmont–Mr. Azarian leaves his sister–Paran’sem–his mother–Oktyabrina Mikelian–and his father–Vruir–all of Armenia.

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