The Relationship: Hachig Kazarian and John Berberian

By Harry Derderian

For years, artists Hachig Kazarian and John Berberian have provided pure listening and dancing pleasure to audiences at various venues. Hachig and John’s relationship goes back to college in New York City, in the early 1960’s. This is their story.

Hachig Kazarian, son of Yenook and Varsenig Kazarian, grew up in Detroit with brother Kazar and sister Sarah. “Mom and dad always supported my interest in music,” Hachig says with pride. “Mom was so creative with sewing, crocheting and cooking… Dad loved Armenian music and loved to dance…”

John and Hachig's first band, the Arax Band
John and Hachig’s first band, the Arax Band

Yenook truly loved to dance and when Hachig’s band or any other band played a “Vanetsi Bar,” the floor would clear for Yenook to lead, handkerchief in hand and smile on his face.

As a child, Hachig would constantly hear his father tell stories of how wonderful everything was in the city of Van, in Historic Armenia. He would say, “The lake water was the bluest, Lake Van was saltier than the ocean, the fruit was the largest and sweetest, there were cats that loved water and swam in the lake, and the cats had different color eyes, one yellow and one blue.” Hachig says, “This was hard to believe.”

In 2005, Hachig visited Van and saw what he had heard growing up: the beauty and detail of Van and the Van cat (Vanagadoo) statues. “My father did not exaggerate: it was an unbelieveable experience,” Hachig says.

Hachig was always interested in music, beginning in the second and third grade. At age 10, Haig Krikorian was his first clarinet teacher and mentor. He taught Hachig Armenian folk music, the various village dances and songs. Krikorian was actually too old at that time to even play. He sang the melodies and Hachig learned them by ear.

Dr. Harry Begian was his next musical mentor. He was the band director at Hachig’s Cass Technical High School. Begian, now deceased, was a world-class musician and famous symphonic band conductor. “Few Armenians knew of him,” Hachig recalls. While studying and practicing classical music, “Armenian music was what I played for fun,” he says, “not realizing that this form of music is what I would dedicate my musical life to. Music has been my vocation and avocation.”

Hachig Kazarian and John Berberian
Hachig Kazarian and John Berberian

Hachig played his first Olympics in 1957, in Niagara Falls. “I would sit in to play, if they would let me… Otherwise I would play all the after-hours ‘hook-ups,’” he remembers. Ultimately, Hachig led the “Hye Tones” band, which gradually evolved. Hachig and Kelly Kuchukian (oud) started making music together in1956, and later found a dumbeg player in John (Jiggy Jiggy) Sarkissian.

The trio later added Cory Tosoian (tenor saxophone) and Adam (Aram) Manoogian (Congo drum), and played together from 1957-72. The Hye Tones and later others joined to make countless records. His professional credentials are: bachelor’s and master’s degrees in performance from the Juilliard School of Music, and a bachelor of education and master of arts in ethnomusicology from Eastern Michigan University.

Hachig retired from a career of teaching high school and middle school instrumental music in Michigan and moved to Las Vegas, where he taught band in the Las Vegas middle schools for 14 years. Having taught instrumental music since 1968, he “fully” retired with 46 years of dedication to public school instrumental music education. Hachig and wife Christine have since moved back to Michigan. “I collect old Armenian books, Middle-Eastern records, and classical clarinet recordings,” he says. “I am proud of my large musical library of Armenian church music and books.”

On another “note,” son Michael and his sisters refer to their dad as “Tim the Toolman,” as Hachig is skilled with a router and wood and can repair just about anything.

Speaking of Michael, Hachig feels a great deal of pride making music with his son, who plays dumbeg with a local Armenian band.

Hachig at the 2014 AYF Olympics in Detroit (Photo by Ara Topouzian)
Hachig at the 2014 AYF Olympics in Detroit (Photo by Ara Topouzian)

In 1965, Hachig married the former Christine Aranosian. The couple has four children: Laurie (Harry) Dakesian and children Ani, Harry Jr., and Nina; Melanie (Christopher) Keosian and children Sarin, Tamar, Armand, and Maral; Michelle (Peter) Keylian and children Christine, Haig, Armen, and Sona; Michael (Karen) and children Sophia, Marissa, and Alexan.

***

John Berberian, son of Yervant and Sirpouhi, was born in New York City and graduated from Columbia University in New York with a bachelor’s degree in business and a minor in music. Although his father played the oud, he wanted John to study what he considered to be a more respectable, western instrument. So John started his musical career taking classical violin lessons. But it soon became evident that John’s passion was the oud and he began imitating his father, as best he could, at the age of 10.

In the back room of his father’s dry cleaning store was a workshop where Yervant repaired ouds. John learned valuable skills about oud repair there, watching his father. Over the years, he also had the opportunity to meet accomplished oud players who brought their instruments to Yervant for repair and also visited him in his home—musicians such as Oudi Hrant, Chick Ganimian, Marko Melkon, George Mgrdichian, and many others. The Berberian home was always filled with music. For John, it was like being a kid in a candy store, seeing and hearing these famous oud masters.

When John was 16 years old, he played his first professional band job as an oudist with the Vanites Band in Whitinsville, Mass. So ironic as John and Barbara, later in their marriage, moved to Massachusetts and are now very active in the Whitinsville church.

While attending college in the early 1960’s, John worked for three or four years, three nights a week at the Golden Horn restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Although his work/study schedule was demanding, it was by playing at this restaurant and other band jobs that he managed to pay his tuition at Columbia University.

While he was appearing at the Golden Horn, he was approached by a talent scout for Mainstream Records who signed him on for his first recording contract.

John exploded into the ethnic music world in his early 20’s as the featured oudist on a series of highly successful recordings, with such major companies as MGM, RCA, Roulette, Verve, and Mainstream records. His “Middle Eastern Rock” album on the Verve label in the late 60’s defined generations of world music enthusiasts and is known as one the first Middle-Eastern fusion albums. This innovative recording, 40 years after its introduction, is still in demand and highly acclaimed.

In 1973, John established a home recording studio and his own record label, Olympia Records, through which he continued to release best-selling recordings, such as “A Mid Eastern Odyssey,” “Echoes of Armenia,” and “The Dance Album.” He also recorded albums for other artists.

John chose to make music the “spice of his life” and not his main livelihood. He worked until retirement as a purchasing agent in New York City during the day, and enjoyed music jobs on weekends and special occasions.

John has been the featured artist in major concert halls such as Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall and New York City’s Town Hall. As we all know, he has been featured in countless dances and festive events throughout the United States and Canada for years.

He completed three highly successful concert tours throughout South America with his friend and musical collaborator, famed vocalist Onnik Dinkjian. Going further, the World Music Institute and Ethnic Folk Arts Center of New York have jointly sponsored lecture/concert series where he has been the featured artist.

Awarded the prestigious “Master and Apprentice” Grant, first by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts in 1996 and then again in 2004 by the Massachusetts Cultural Arts Council, he has taught oud at Hart College of Music in Hartford, Conn., as well as at other colleges. He has also been teaching the oud since the early 70’s in his home studio, and continues to do so today.

John is a respected and active member of the Armenian community, serving as a long-time member of his church choir, Board of Trustee member and delegate to the National Representative Assembly of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

John and the former Barbara Goshgarian (Worcester)—now living in Shrewsbury, Mass.— have 3 children, Nicole, Kristen, and Adam…and 6 grandchildren ages 9-14.

 

John and Hachig: The relationship

John first heard Hachig play with the Hye Tones at the 1959 Olympic dance at the Rhodes in Providence. They were both teenagers at the time.

While John was at Columbia University, Hachig was attending the Julliard School of Music, which was across the street. The two frequently met for lunch—at Broadway and Claremount—and in 1961 they formed the Arax band with singer/dumbeg player Bob Tashjian, another accomplished musician. They “found each other” and began rehearsing and played many jobs together. Often after jobs, they went down to Greek Town together and listened to some of the older established musicians of the time.

At one time, the two of them recorded a tape in John’s parent’s apartment bathroom (because the acoustics were good). They sent that tape to clarinet legend Benny Goodman with hopes that they’d be “discovered,” but unfortunately nothing came of it. They had a lot of fun recording it, though, and John still has that tape.

They stayed and played together until Hachig finished Julliard and moved back to Detroit. Even though there was now a distance, they still managed to play jobs together, and they played on each other’s albums too. They were soul brothers. They played countless Olympics together. To say the least, John and Hachig have respected and admired each other’s skills for years.

John and Hachig have always stated comparable thoughts:

“If music becomes just a job, then it’s time to retire. … We truly enjoy our audience and what inspires us the most is playing and seeing that people enjoy themselves…”

Generations have had fun because John and Hachig work hard at their artistry, producing a superb product.

John and Hachig, Hachig and John: a relationship, not just a gig.

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles written and submitted by members of the community, which make up our community bulletin board.

15 Comments

  1. What a beautiful and enlightening article how two young men grew in their Armenian heritage became friends and gave us all so much joy!

  2. John Berberian is an electrifying musician, a gift to anyone who appreciates Armenian/Turkish/ Anatolian Greek Music, Thanks for this wonderful article about him. He is amazing.

    I so much enjoyed this article esp. regarding the fact that he learned at his father’s knee and could count such luminaries as Udi Hrant and George Mgrdichian (whose record I grew up listening to) and Marko Melkon as his “theos”. Thanks do much for this great article. John needs more recognition for his work from the wider musical community.

  3. I remember listening to Johnny Berberian as a young man. Mostly in the Catskills during the summers in the ’60’s. My cousins, the Varjabedians would take me to see him play. He was amazing then and gave me a true appreciation for my Armenian roots.

  4. Thank you for a fine article. These are two of the icons of our music, I am very pleased to see them recognized, it is so richly deserved.

  5. Hachig Kazarian, or “Mr. K.”, was my most favorite teacher in both junior high and high school. Wonderful to read more about his life and accomplishments.

  6. Mr Kazarian taught me the beauty of music for many years. He has truly touched my soul! Decades later I still remember him, his music, his passion, and mostly his jokes! He is a blessing from God! This article has just made my day. I’m so proud to have been a student of this great fella!

  7. I had the honor of having Mr. Kazarian as my teacher and mentor through middle school and high school. Because of his passion for music, he pulled the out of of his students. He is the reason I chose to pursue a career in music education. I can only hope one day to make one tenth of the impact he made on me as well as the rest of the students of the Melvindale Northern-Allen Park school district.

  8. Such an awesome read of an icon in my life growing up..I had Mr K as a mentor from 4th grade up until the day I left Melvindale High. To this day my friends that I ve had since middle and high school still tell stories of Mr K. That right there tells you what an impact he had on our lives. Thank you Mr K for everything…so glad to hear how well things are going..if you do happen to travel somewhere in the Midwest, please let us know!

  9. As with a lot of these posts, I am a Melvindale alumnus. Mr K was without a doubt the most caring and inventive teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure of being taught by. I have his picture on my wall still as motivation to do what’s right and to express myself through my music. Not a day goes by that I don’t appreciate what this man has done for himself, his people and his students.

  10. I had the honor of having been taught music under the great Mr. Kazarian. I truly had no idea how accomplished he was in the field, but this revelation does not surprise me in the least bit. He is one of those people whose lessons will stay with you for a lifetime. God bless him and his family.

  11. I am touched by all of the responses I’ve read regarding Hachig. I’ve heard he was an amazing teacher, musician, mentor and friend. But I can tell you he is an awesome Dad and Grandfather as well.

  12. I played second clarinet with Hachig at Cass Tech under Maestro Misha Bistritzsky. Hachig was a year older and was a wonderful mentor. At Cass we performed the first all-contemporary concert in Detroit history, including Bartok’s Viola Concerto; Prokofiev’s 2nd Violin Concerto, and Hindemith’s Symphony Metamorphis. Hachig was and is the greatest clarinetist known to me.
    Steven Brooke
    steven@stevenbrooke.com

  13. Mr. Kazarian had an incredible positive impact on me. I kept playing after High school because of his great influence as so many others did.

  14. My mother in law knew Mr.Kazaian very well. She grew up in the Armenian community of Detroit, MI. I am told he was almost named the Godfather of my husband. I am an Irish girl who married into people of Armenian heritage. God Bless the Armenians. I am the mother of a beautiful daughter whose great grandmother was a genocide survivor.

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