Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Donelian, Armen (Hrant)
Donelian, Armen (Hrant), piano; b. Jackson Heights, Queens, NY, 1 December 1950. His father's father was Ohannes Donelian (b. 1879 Bourdour, Turkey-d. 1967, Hasbrouk Heights, NJ), a designer, manufacturer and importer of oriental carpets. Left Turkey in 1916 during Armenian massacres in which 27 family members perished. His father's mother was Elizabeth (Yeghiaian) Donelian (b.1895, Bourdour, Turkey-d. 1991, Hackensack, NJ of old age). His mother's parents are Kapriel Sarkisian (b. 1881 Damascus, Syria-d. 1944, NJ) and Makrouhy (Aprahamian) Sarkisian (b.unknown year, Damascus, Syria-d. 1969, NJ of old age). Armen's father was Khatchik Ohannes Donelian (b. 1914, Bourdour, Turkey-d. 1991, New Smyrna Beach, FL). He grew up in Mount Vernon, NY and studied classical violin as a child. Attended Columbia University (BS in Electrical Engineering, 1936; MS 1937). Employed by NY Telegraph & Telephone, designing signaling and detection devices; invented first smoke detector now in widespread use today, then worked on the Manhattan Project on the atomic bomb and later was employed by the Atomic Energy Commission. His mother was Lillian (Sarkisian) Donelian (b. 1918, West New York, NJ-d. 1978, New Smyrna Beach, FL). She was a housewife and had studied piano in her youth. His siblings are Gary Stephen Donelian (b. 1945, Jackson Heights, Queens, NY), Margaret Elizabeth (Donelian) Ericson (b. 1953, New York, NY) and John Gabriel Donelian (b. 1944, Jackson Heights, Queens, NY). The latter is married to Lucy Mukhtarian, 1972, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He has two children, Lydia Donelian (b. 1974, Oakville, Ontario, Canada) and Gomidas Donelian (b. 1976, Oakville, Ontario, Canada). All are good amateur musicians. His uncle (mother's sister's husband), Diran Akmajian (b. unknown-d. ca. 1975, Tucson, AZ) was a professional operatic tenor including work in the Metropolitan Opera in the late 1940s-early 1950s. Another uncle (mother's brother), Vartan (Bart) Sarkisian (b.ca. 1918, West New York, NJ) is an amateur club date pianist.
Armen began playing piano by ear at 6, began piano studies at 7 1/2 years of age with a local public school music teacher, then a year later enrolled at the Westchester Conservatory of Music where he studied classical piano, first with Thomas Lishman for 3 years, and then changing to Michael Pollon, an important mentor, for the next 9 years, as well as theory with Graham Collier and others. His brother John played clarinet in a dixieland band led by CBS Studio guitarist/arranger Arthur Ryerson, Sr. in the town where they grew up (Armonk, NY), and through that Armen became exposed to jazz around 10 years of age and went on to play in that same band about 3 years later. One of his first professional engagements was a performance with this band in the 1964 World's Fair in New York at 14, the same age at which he started giving piano lessons to earn money.In his senior year in high school he also took a year of jazz piano with Irwin Stahl.
He attended Columbia University from the fall of 1968 (BA in Music, 1972). A talented upper-classman and then-saxophonist, Marc Copland (Cohen at that time), directed an informal jazz band a couple of times a week in which Donelian occasionally played. It also included Sam Morrison, another Columbian who later joined Miles Davis for a brief stint. After college, Donelian moved permanently into New York City and, on Copland's recommendation, studied from 1972-4 with pianist Richard Beirach, who was a pivotal influence.
In 1975 Donelian received his first major engagement touring with Mongo Santamaria. As a member of Santamaria's unit, Donelian performed with Tito Puente, Willi Bobo and Cal Tjader. Donelian left Santamaria in 1976, and became involved in Brazilian music through playing with Brazilians Dom Salvador (piano), Claudio Roditi (trumpet) and Portinho (drums). He freelanced in New York City for about a year with a number of other well-known artists, including Chet Baker, Lionel Hampton, and Ted Curson.
Then, in 1977, Donelian joined the band of Sonny Rollins, with whom he toured for six months. Back in New York he began playing with a band called Essence he formed with drummer Jeff Williams, and he worked with other musicians including Dick Oatts, Keith Copeland, Victor Lewis and Harvie S.
In 1979 Donelian joined the quintet of Billy Harper, with whom he toured for four years. Meanwhile he tried to develop a career as a leader. With Eddie Gomez and Billy Hart, Donelian performed at Carnegie Recital Hall in NYC in the Fall of 1982. However, he was not yet succesful on his own, so he considered leaving music and returning to Columbia University to pursue a degree in computer studies. He left Harper's band in 1983 and married a woman from Norway he had met while touring there with Harper; they divorced in 1985. In 1990, he married his second wife, but in 1991 he suffered a traumatic accident to his hands as a result of a domestic dispute with his wife, and they were divorced about a year later. In 1984-86 and again in 87-88 Donelian studied with composer Harold Seletsky.
Donelian has always sought to combine jazz with his Armenian roots. As a member of the Middle Eastern-jazz ensemble Night Ark, led by oudist Ara Dinkjian, Donelian continues to search for a synthesis of Armenian and non-Armenian sounds. Since 1986, Donelian has taught in the Mannes/New School Jazz Program in Manhattan.
As a pianist, Donelian has worked with singers, especially Anne Marie Moss since 1979. Since 1988, Donelian has co-taught jazz vocal accompaniment with Moss at the Manhattan School of Music, and in summer clinics there and at the Mannes/New School Jazz Program.
Over the years he has received six NEA Jazz Performance Fellowship Grants to present performances and a program of master classes dubbed The Rhythm Section + 1 Series with Jim Hall, Lee Konitz, Paquito D'Rivera, Joe Lovano, and many others. Donelian has also led workshops at the Berkelee College of Music, the Vermont Jazz Center, the Artist-Teacher Institute (NJ), the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE), the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ) and the Hot Clube de Jazz in Lisbon.
Donelian has been to Armenia several times since 1998 to perform and present master classes. To promote jazz education in his homeland, he founded the Jazz in Armenia Project, a master class residency by invitation of the Yerevan Conservatory and NAB Artists Management. As a Fulbright Lecturer he taught for three months at the Yerevan State Conservatory beginning in March 2002.
The practice of yoga and Buddhist meditation has been central to Donelian's life.
Grand Ideas Vol. 1: Wave
Grand Ideas Vol. 2: Mystic Heights
A Reverie: Solo Piano
Unissued tapes from age 14 or 15 onward.
Roy Ayers , Step Into Our Life
Billy Harper, The Believer
Billy Harper, The Billy Harper Quintet
Billy Harper, Trying to Make Heaven My Home
Datevik Hovanesian, Listen to My Heart
Julie Lyonn Lieberman, Mixing America
Night Ark, Petals on Your Path
Night Ark, In Wonderland
Night Ark, Moments
Bobby Vince Paunetto, Reconstituted
Bobby Vince Paunetto, Commit To Memory
Bobby Vince Paunetto, Composer in Public
Mongo Santamaria, Sofrito
Mongo Santamaria, Mongo and Justo
Mongo Santamaria, A La Carte
Mongo Santamaria, Afro Indio (1975; Donelian's first issued recording)
Rory Stuart, Hurricane
Rory Stuart, Nightwork
The National Endowment for the Arts, six Jazz Performance Fellowship grants
Three Meet the Composer grants.
Best Original Film Score for Passion City by director Ken Brady, New York University Tisch School of the Arts
Books/Articles by Donelian
-Training the Ear (Advance Music, 1992), a jazz ear training book with 2 CDs.The most clearly organized and comprehensive package of its typeRutgers Annual Review of Jazz Studies-Hearing Chords, Rutgers Annual Review of Jazz Studies #8, 1996 (Scarecrow Press, 1997)
-Woodshed Pro Session: Hearing Jazz Chords (I-V), Downbeat Magazine (Maher Publications, June, Aug., Oct., Dec. 1997 and Jan. 1998)
-Master Class: Chord Voicings, Keyboard Magazine (Miller Freeman Publications, Aug. 1997)
About the artist:
In The Moment by Francis Davis (Oxford University Press)
Radio, television broadcasts:
Numerous radio and some TV appearances with Rollins, Santamaria, Harper, D'Rivera and others, and some as a leader, and numerous radio interviews.