Udi Alan Shavarsh Bardezbanian
Okbari inherited the tradition of Armenian and Anatolian folk music from our beloved teacher and friend, the late oud master and composer Alan Shavarsh Bardezbanian. The Master Bardezbanian generously taught us this music over the years that we were fortunate enough to know him, and Al’s memory is foremost in our minds as we continue to study and perform the rich tradition to which Al dedicated his life. Al's shining brilliance as a musician and scholar, combined with his kindness, uplifting wit, and generosity of spirit made every moment with him a treasure. The Master Bardezbanian will be in our hearts forever.
Alan Shavarsh Bardezbanian was born into an Armenian family in the thriving ethnic community of Watertown , Massachusetts, in 1950. His grandparents were born during the Ottoman Empire in Anatolia and Syria. Musically gifted from an early age, Al began playing the oud as a child, modeling his playing on the versatile dance band musicians like George Mgrditchian and Richard Hagopian who performed in the local clubs every weekend. By his teens, Al had already mastered the Armenian dance hall repertoire, which he continued to perform for the rest of his life, and began exploring a wide range of other musical idioms, particularly the contemporary jazz scene of the 1960s. Possessed of a voracious musical appetite, Al took up several other instruments, particularly excelling on woodwinds, which he played ferociously in several different ensembles. He ultimately studied jazz theory and composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Simultaneously, Al was holding down a steady gig playing at a Greek taverna, during which time he absorbed a large portion of the pan-Hellenic dance repertoire as well.
In 1977, in a move highly unusual for an Armenian, Al began studies of the complex Turkish makam system, under the direction of his mentor, the great kanun master Esber Köprücü, a relationship that continued until Köprücü’s death in 2002. While the acquisition of this enormous body of theory and repertoire added substantially to his depth as a musician, Al was not satisfied to stop there, but continued his pursuits, continuously adding new instruments to his arsenal and exploring Arabic classical maqam, Persian dastgah, and several other idioms. In 2002, through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Al was commissioned to compose a musical suite for the multimedia stage production of ReOrientalism, a performance that also featured poet Suheir Hammad and percussionist Karim Nagi Mohammed. In the last years of his life, Al was invited to teach at the annual Arabic Music Retreat at Mt Holyoke College.
Alan Bardezbanian was a consummate musician, combining unmatched technical prowess with an improvisatory genius that continually astonished those who had the pleasure of hearing him play. His right hand picking technique was extraordinary – he could do virtually anything. But his technical brilliance was always in the service of a deep pool of knowledge that allowed him to be expressive of the most profound subtlety and nuance of the music that he loved.
We love you Al. Your legacy will continue to inspire us throughout our lives. We miss you.