February 14, 2008


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20-year-old jazz prodigy tours
From Kyrgyzstan to K.C., music is common thread
By Alec O’Meara aomeara@hippopress.com

After growing up in the former Soviet Union listening to his father’s jazz albums, pianist Eldar Djangirov has taken the American jazz world by storm and will appear at the Dana Center on Thursday, Feb. 28.

This past weekend, Eldar (who is credited on albums and at performances with just his first name) performed a tribute to Oscar Peterson at the Grammys, where his 2007 album, Re-Imagination, was nominated for best contemporary jazz album. It was the second time that he has performed on the industry’s largest stage, and at 20 the artist appears to be settling into a distinguished career among the elite jazz artists of the world.

At 10, Eldar left his home country of Kyrgyzstan with his family to move to Kansas City, but his love for the decidedly American style of music had already been burned into his soul by his father’s record collection.

“It was crazy to do that,” Eldar said of his dad’s records, which he credits to his love of jazz. “It wasn’t like you could go into Borders and buy this music there. My mother was like the quintessential classical piano teacher, and that was how I learned to play. The transition from classical to jazz was an easy one for me.”

By the age of 13, Eldar had built a reputation as a jazz prodigy, and in some ways Re-Imagination is the culmination of his work to date. Eldar calls the album his most personal work, as it includes many original compositions. Eldar was also deeply involved in the production of the record as well. He is proud of the album, but admits that he is already moving beyond it and is likely to present a few new pieces when he plays at the Dana Center.

The show will feature Eldar playing as part of a bass and drum trio. Aside from his original work, Eldar has also built a reputation for putting his own stamp on jazz standards, and he will be mixing the old with the new in the upcoming show. Influences including everything from The Beatles to Radiohead have been known to creep into his work.

“I’m sure it’s like this for many musicians, where by the time the record comes out, the artist is on to something else and wants to continue moving,”

Speaking of moving, Eldar’s life is spent mainly on the road these days, a tiring lifestyle that may allow him to see the world but none of it especially well. Still, he calls the opportunity to tour and to share his music “one of the most satisfying experiences.”

“I play music,” he said, “and I’m not doing a 9-to-5 job that I don’t like. Being on the road may be like a 24-hour job, but the time spent on the stage, it doesn’t feel like work at all.”

Eldar didn’t win his Grammy; he wasn’t a favorite in the category. However, the opportunity to pay tribute to the work of Peterson more than made up for that.

“Oscar Peterson was literally one of the records I heard in my father’s collection,” Eldar said.

Where: The Dana Center, 100 Saint Anselm Drive, Manchester
When: Thursday, Feb. 28, at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $29.50
More info: anselm.edu/dana/events/eldar.