Sunday, October 19, 2014

Being Armenian in the Jazz (and Not So Jazz) World of the Past . . .

"Many years ago in Boston, there was a really great tenor sax player named Varty Haroutunian.  He was superb and played nightly at the jazz club downtown called the Stables.  He and Herb Pomeroy were co-leaders and later had a wonderful big band.  I was honored one evening to be asked to sit in with the quintet and had a great time.  The jazz world knew Herb and Vardy, but the two musicians didn't want a life on the road, so they stayed in Boston and played the Stables for years.  As a joke we would sing to Vardy a version of My Wild Irish Rose.  Only we sang, "My wild Armenian nose, how it grows and grows and grows"  He had a bit of a large nose, of course, and in the jazz world we were not particularly kind to one another."
Above is a memory sent to Brother James by musician Phil Welch, now in his eighties.  Having never heard of Varty, Marash Girl looked up the name on the internet and found

N.B. It wasn't only the jazz world that sang the song; Marash Girl remembers George Bedirian, Nevdon Kupelian and Raffi Yeghiayan, all members of the Harvard Armenian Club, laughing and singing at the top of their lungs, "My Wild Armenian Nose",  as they drove through Cambridge and Watertown (Massachusetts) in Raffi's convertible Volkswagon bug, with the top down, of course!


  1. Thank you so much. I didn't know any of this because I had left Boston in 1963 to go to NYC. I agree with Herb that Varty was indeed under recognized. Thank your sister for me. I truly am grateful to know the history of Varty. I would say playing with Varty was a musical challenge and it was an evening of sheer education. That was before my time with Duke Ellington.

  2. The jazz world is somewhat a closed society. Not, certainly, by choice, but because so few people understand what is happening. They are hearing instant composition of music. You, of course, would know that. The only restrictions are the harmonics and rhythm. So many people say things like, "I like jazz," or "it sounds undisciplined" or some other ignorant comment. So I don't talk about it with "civilians."

    While I was in NYC , my close friend Clark Terry asked me if I would sub for him with the "summer" Duke Ellington Orchestra at the Howard theater in Washington DC for two weeks in May 1963. Summer meant that Duke himself would not be leading the band, but his son would. Those two weeks was more of an education in jazz than the 4 years I studied at Berklee College. I majored in composition and trumpet. I studied trumpet with the worlds greatest (some say second greatest) classical trumpeter, Armando Ghitala, who at the time was the principle trumpet and soloist with the BSO.