Interview with Jazz Musician Barry Danielian

Throughout his life, Barry Danielian has asked the truth-seeking questions that artists quite often do. While speaking with Barry one can gather that his underlying answer to those philosophical questions is music. Having grown up in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire the furthest idea of a jazz or otherwise musical Mecca, Barry was exposed to jazz at the early age of eight.

Hampton Beach’s proximity to New York City, and summertime beach action made it a convenient venue for the comings and goings of big bands such as Woody Herman, Harry James and Maynard Ferguson. It wasn’t until seeing Louis Armstrong on a live television show that Barry focused his attention on his ultimate instrument of choice, the trumpet.

Barry, 42, a graduate of Berkley’s revered College of Music, remembers his first sight and sound of one of his musical heroes: “He [Armstrong] caught my attention, the sound of the trumpet and his personaâÂ?¦ and vibe. There was something about it.” That certain something about the trumpet is an emotional attachment that hasn’t escaped Barry since.

His father, of Armenian ancestry and Italian mother, both second generation Americans, had a connection with their respective cultures, exposing Barry to both. As a child, living in the primarily Anglo environment of New Hampshire, Barry remembers his parents taking him to cultural events of both backgrounds. Realizing the musical eagerness of Barry, older cousins on both sides of the family turned Barry onto the R&B and Soul greats of the time; Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder.

This R&B influence can be found on the jazz-trumpeter’s release of his first solo album, Common Ground. Although the album has been available on the Internet for a year, Barry and his management team recently secured wide domestic distribution for its current release. Barry, along with countless other artists in today’s music scene, is opting for a non-traditional mode of promotion and distribution minus a record deal. “The business formula that is currently in place is so stacked in favor of the record companies, that it’s virtually impossible for a musician to make any money,” says Barry.

Numerous episodes of VH1’s hit television show “Behind the Music,” portrays musicians being bamboozled by the business model Danielian speaks of. This coupled with the fact that musicians traditionally haven’t been the savviest of businessmen, has given Barry and other musicians of present day a wake-up call. Danielian’s love of his instrument has given him patience to supercede these cutthroat aspects of the business.

Having worked with hip-hoppers within the last ten years as a studio sideman, Barry observes this business know-how exhibited particularly among members of today’s hip-hop community, “These guys built a multi-billion dollar industry from grass-roots marketing and selling CDs out of the back of their cars,” he said.

Danelian’s diverse collaboration list, includes notables as Queen Latifah, Celine Dion, Billy Joel, Elton John, Sting, jazz legend Little Jimmy Scott, and a touring gig directly after graduating from Berkley with jazz big band, “Blood Sweat & Tears”. During his twenty-year plus career as a sideman, Danielian has learned his current business sensibilities through other people’s mistakes, this being chief among the reasons for waiting so long to put out his own album, “I want to retain financial control of my product and most importantly retain creative control.

I don’t want to be put into a situation where I have a business major telling me what kind of music I should be playing,” he says. Following promotion of his current record release, Danielian expects to be on tour doing local jazz festivals with his back-up band by the spring of 2005.

Danielian’s smoothly poised persona doesn’t lend itself to getting ‘fired-up’ in the trivial sense, but when on the topic of art versus commodity one can sense a deep passion and idealistic disposition towards the issue, “This [music industry] is one of the negative aspects of capitalism. Oscar Wilde says, ‘We know the cost of everything but the value of nothing’, and unfortunately that has affected art,” says Danielian. He feels that a considerably sized segment of the American audience is searching for something with more substance, but realizes that the industry is image driven, and a lack of that marketable image, “[which] often times doesn’t make money,” explains Barry.

“Art is supposed to be something that elevates things and elevates people,” says the artist. Danielian attributes the lack of consciousness towards quality art to most schools wiping out their arts and humanities programs, consequently giving to, “a whole generation of people that don’t know the difference between something that’s quality and something that’s not.”

Having recognized the cyclical nature of the music industry Barry says, “I have faith that people are going to get so fed up with the emptiness of it [current popular music] that they’re going to want something that has some substanceâÂ?¦ people are hungry for music that actually speaks to something deeper than women’s body parts.”

The deeper issues which concern Danielian, who more than often listens to alternative-press political talk radio such as WPAI, NPR and Air America, are ones that are affecting the world population at large in our present global climate. Inspired by Jazz legend, Dizzy Gillespie whose mere spiritual presence was a life lesson to Barry, whom he met and played side-by-side at the now nonexistent New York club, Village Gate.

Gillespie did a state department tour in Africa and the mid-east, which incorporated collaboration with indigenous musicians who played traditional music. “He [Gillespie] saw that as being a role of a musician, to not only be a great musician, but that we were ambassadors and music has a power to transcend whatever barriers human beings create whether it’s cultural or religious and to break them [barriers] all down,” says Barry.

Motivated by past efforts, Danielian has taken a proactive measure in today’s world conflict by emailing the U.S. State Department and Embassies worldwide to set up a musical tour similar to the one done by Dizzy Gillespie in the 50’s. He has yet to receive any response.

“I think musicians have a duty to create an ambience where people might be able to talk to one another,” says Barry. Once on the topic of a musician’s role in today’s world conflict Barry demonstrates that he’s put some major thought into making a concerted effort to break these cultural barriers by utilizing music to transcend them.

“What makes discord change into harmony is human contact, and I think that musical human contact is like a balm that you put on a wound, whatever the wound is music makes it feel better,” claims Barry. Recounting a humorous story, which occurred while on a jazz festival tour with seven time Grammy award winner Eddie Palmieri in Finland, Barry saw first hand the universal language of music to transcend cultural barriers, “The Fins don’t have any cultural connection to Afro-Cuban music but the minute we hit they’re all up trying to dance and it’s actually funny to look at,” says Barry.

To Danielian, jazz’s role in today’s musical and otherwise world scene is a perfect and symbiotic fit as you can get, “Wynton Marsalis said, ‘Jazz is democratic music’, and on one level it’s because everyone is surrendering their individual ego to the greater good, but at the same time within the music there’s always space for an individual voice to be heard. And I think that’s what makes it American music,” says Danielian.

The irony is that jazz has a greater appreciation throughout Europe and Asia, which he attributes this appreciation of jazz due to arts and humanities being a fundamental part of their education system, whereas America’s lack of education is manifesting itself and, “bearing fruit to the current social and violent ramifications we are witnessing today,” says the passionate trumpeter.

Danielian’s interests outside of music are his daily source of inspiration drawing upon them to write. An avid reader and a student of spirituality and philosophy, Barry cites Descartes, Nietzsche, Al-Ghazali of Baghdad, and Sufi poet and philosopher Rumi as some of his influences, “Basically anyone talking about seeing the oneness in humanityâÂ?¦ I’m into that,” he says.

Danielian sees this underlying theme of spirituality in his musical influences as well, “The musicians that influenced me the most weren’t shallow people, they were constantly questioning and asking the deeper questions and I think that you can hear that in their music.”

These deeper spiritual and philosophical elements can be found in Barry’s latest album, Common Ground, but his collaborative work in hip-hop and R&B are also evident, “When I did this record the underlying thread running through it was to try and make music that had depth and sophistication to it but also had a rhythmic base that younger people were going to be able to get with,” says Danielian.

The rhythmic base materializes itself through hip-hop oriented production elements as well as world beats from other cultures, which gives way to a melodic fusion sure to find an audience in search of a common ground.

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