Interview: Alex Baboian

Dan McAvinchey: Alex, let me say congratulations on releasing your debut album. When did you start working on the tracks for "Curiosity", and what were your goals for the project?

Alex Baboian: There was no goal or idea to create an album initially. The music on the album was gathered from many musical ideas that I had had over the last two years or so and were composed in many different places; some of it was written in Europe, some in Asia, some in my hometown in Boston. It hadn't occurred to me to do anything with it besides incorporate it into live shows whenever possible, but after a while there was just so much good material collected and the timing worked out with some of the most talented people I know to bring it to life. So it all came together very organically over a period of several years and several continents.

Dan McAvinchey: Did you consciously do anything differently on "Curiosity" compared to other albums in the genre you were familiar with?

Alex Baboian: The thing is I don't think I could say most of this music was made "consciously", I would say much of it was made unconsciously. I remember the melody to "Mysteries" coming to me while lying in bed one morning half asleep, "Streetlights" evolved out of a musical idea I had one day while I was riding my bike, "Mulatu" came to me in a shower in Korea. So the raw musical ideas came that way very naurally and then I worked with them on paper and with my instrument to get them to the stage you hear on the album. Maybe that entire process is one way in which the album is different from other jazz albums. I do think it is unique in other ways from most mainstream jazz music in the sense that the improvising is rarely on "changes", meaning that the harmony was not predetermined, only in a couple of cases. For the most part we play the melody, improvise freely in the mood of the tune, and then return to the melody.

Dan McAvinchey: What is your approach to constructing a great solo?

Alex Baboian: I wouldn't describe it as constructing. When I am soloing I don't think so methodically about what notes I am playing. I do things like that when I am practicing, but in the moment of the solo I am listening to the sound the musicians are creating, feeling the spirit of the music, and reacting with my instincts.

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Dan McAvinchey: Does traditional media (print, radio) play any part for you in getting the word out there about your new album?

Alex Baboian: I just released it and am in the beginning stages of spreading the word, so i think time will tell how helpful those resources will be. The music industry has changed so much in such a short period of time it's hard to know what is best, but I am doing everything I can think of.

Dan McAvinchey: Are you using social media sites to attract attention to your music?

Alex Baboian: There is a definite online presence for the album, on CD Baby, Bandcamp, Itunes, Amazon and Spotify, as well as my own website, but i'm not relying only on online promotion.

Dan McAvinchey: Have you gotten the opportunity to perform these new tracks in front of an audience?

Alex Baboian: We did some performances at art galleries in Boston while we were recording, but I am organizing some concerts in Europe for the spring and I think there will be some exciting opportunities to perform the music then.

Dan McAvinchey: Beyond what you've accomplished on your solo album, do you find work in other musical styles, or collaborations with other artists?

Alex Baboian: Yes, I am often performing with singers in many styles; soul music, American songbook tunes, different folk musics. I Also lead a group called Piano Bench that takes classical piano compositions and arranges them for jazz trio.

Dan McAvinchey: Does the concept of an album have the meaning it once did, when an artist can release a couple of tracks at any time?

Alex Baboian: I think of an album like a novel or a painting, a complete work of art. To download one or two tracks and not hear the whole thing would be like reading just a few pages of a novel and not the rest, or looking at just the right side of a painting and not the left. It's incomplete. I created the music to all go together in one total artistic statement, so I guess I side with the traditional idea of an album in that sense despite the modern methods of consumption.

Dan McAvinchey: What are the two or three tracks off of "Curiosity" that you'd recommend to a new listener or fan?

Alex Baboian: Some of my favorite moments on the album are my compositions "Streetlights" and "Tree Rings" which feature Michael Sachs and Rafael Aguilar on woodwinds, as well as our rendition of The Beatles' "Girl."

Dan McAvinchey: Finally, what are you working on for 2015?

Alex Baboian: Well, right now I'm in Armenia performing, studying folk music, and generally enjoying myself, and as I mentioned before we are organizing some concerts in Europe for the spring which I am looking forward to very much.

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Climbing the branches of the tree of jazz with his new release "Curiosity", guitarist and teacher Alex Baboian will soon be touring Europe in support of the album. He is an Armenian-American musician living in Boston and has been described by music educator Hal Crook as a "future major voice in jazz".

Dan McAvinchey was able to get Baboian to open up on a series of questions about his guitar playing, his compositional method, and promotional efforts for his new album.