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Interview: Trumpeter/Composer Michael Sarian

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Q: What are your goals as an artist?

A: Right now my goal is to keep busy: keep playing, keep composing, keep working. Working on new projects, teaching, working behind the scenes at a non-profit - everything affects the music, and the more I do, the more I’ll have to say musically. Long-term, my goal as an artist is something I think most artists share: to stay relevant. I feel like I have something to say musically, whether it's composing or playing, I feel that as long as I have something to say, and I’m able to evolve, I’ll be able to maintain my own interest and others people’s interest.

Q: Growing up, what kind of music did you listen to?

A: Growing up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I wasn’t exposed to jazz that much, mostly mainstream rock and pop, including Argentine rock. The first CD I ever bought was Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, but don’t let that fool you - I also had Ace Of Base. When I was about 13 I started playing trumpet in the high school band, and got interested in Louis Armstrong. In the school band we’d play all types of music: classical, pop, musicals, and jazz. That’s when I really started paying attention to jazz and began playing in the jazz band.

Q: What artists have had the most impact on you on a creative level?

A: The first artist that had a real impact on me was Jaco Pastorius. I heard some of the older kids in high school play “The Chicken," that obviously caught my attention. But his Word of Mouth and The Birthday Concert albums really made me look at jazz differently. It didn’t sound as foreign as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie’s old recordings, and his ‘punk jazz’ attitude was definitely more attractive to a teenager growing up in the late '90s/early 2000s. Then I started checking out Weather Report and Joe Zawinul. Later on I discovered Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, Maria Schneider, and the Argentina pianist/composer Guillermo Klein. All of a sudden Bird and Dizzy didn’t sound so foreign. And although I love Miles Davis and Chet Baker, I’ve always been more drawn to composers.

Q: What inspired you to become a musician?

A: I was always into the arts. I started playing piano at home when I was 6 and spent a lot of time writing and painting in school. I went for a liberal arts degree because at first I was unsure which of the three degrees (music, art, or literature) I wanted to pursue. Music quickly became the main focus, though. There was definitely a social aspect to it: I would get together with friends to do music - if I was writing or painting, that was something I did on my own. Then I started composing, and bringing charts in - once I saw that they actually made sense when we played them, that motivated me to dig deeper.

Q: How would you describe your artistic evolution since you began?

A: It took some time, definitely. I studied classical composition and theory in my undergrad, then moved back to Buenos Aires in 2008 where I worked at a K-12 school full time in the music department, where I taught band class and directed a bunch of ensembles, before moving to NYC to get a graduate degree in jazz studies. So I started out playing piano and trumpet as a kid, then was pretty much composing for a long time in my undergrad, then when I was in Buenos Aires I mostly played but never at a high level since I was working full time. I spent about a year and a half in a practice room in NYC until I finally started composing and playing simultaneously. It took me that long to find a balance between the two.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: Keep growing, in every aspect. Lots of projects for my septet in the next year, including a tour to Argentina and Uruguay, and a second album dedicated to the music of the Armenian priest and composer Komitas Vardapet. It’s also great to be a part of other people’s projects. I'm enjoying being a side man and not having to be in charge of a band; I’m a part of some other groups right now that I really feel have exiting things ahead of them. And someday, hopefully, a Big Band...I think that’s every band leader’s dream.

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