Rémi’s Panossian performing. Photo by Jean-Paul Marti

Rémi Panossian: ‘Jazz is my religion!’

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YEREVAN / TOULOUSE — Jazz pianist Rémi Panossian was born in 1983, in Montpellier, France, to an Armenian father and a French mother and started playing piano at 7. He studied at the Lycée Jean Monnet in Montpellier, as well as Montpellier Jazz School and the Toulouse College of Music, where he received a National School of Music Certificate in Jazz and Improvised Music. Panossian taught jazz piano at the Enfants du Jazz Workshop and International Trio Session in Cape Breton. In 2009 he founded the Rémi Panossian Trio with Maxime Delporte (double bass) and Frederic Petitprez (drums). In 2011, the trio released its first album, “Add fiction,” and has released seven more. The trio has performed more than 500 concerts in countries including France, Japan, South Korea, China, India, Taiwan, Canada, Norway, Brazil, Germany, Venezuela, Portugal and Germany.

Last February 27, the Rémi Panossian Trio held a concert in Yerevan, their first time in Armenia. The enthusiasm of the audience was indescribable, not only for enjoying a high-class jazz concert, but also for discovering another talented compatriot…

Rémi, the performance of your trio is just bewitching. Where do you find inspiration for your bottomless drive and passion?

I think mostly in travelling and meeting different people, cultures, food. It is really inspiring when you are discovering new things.

Remi Panossian. Photo by Jesse Overman

I can see that with Maxime and Frederic you are not only colleagues, but also close friends, am I right?

Yes, we have known each other for 20 years and we were friends even before we built this trio 13 years ago. We live very close to each other. It is like a family!

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Let’s talk a little about jazz. For some people jazz is an endless musical expression, for some it is just musical garrulity.

Jazz is my religion! People always struggling to describe what jazz is! For some people jazz stopped in 1959; for others it is infinite. I don’t really know. For me jazz is freedom. I try to play good music with a lot of influence and a lot of freedom.

Some people blame jazz in various “sins.” American singer Cathy Berberian once said that jazz is the root of all mischiefs of the 20th century. With all my respect and admiration to Berberian, I found her opinion quite misleading.

I would say the opposite. Jazz is the root of all the wonders of the 20th century: soul funk, rock, hip hop, etc. When the music is good, no matter what is the name on it.

Very few people know that an Armenian musician, Gregor or Krikor Kélékian (1898-1971) was one of the founders of French jazz. And one of your teachers was jazz pianist Stéphane Kochoyan.

I met Stephane when I was 14 years old; he taught me a lot of things and a few years after he give a job as a teacher in a workshop, he always follows my works. He is a great musician and wonderful human being.

Topics: Jazz, Music

Are you from a musical family?

Not really. My mom was a social worker and my father a psychologist. They are now retired, but they always loved music and arts and they supported me a lot.

At the concert you said you know only few words in Armenian from your grandfather. What are they? And please tell us about everything Armenian you have had in your family.

It is difficult to know where my Armenian ancestors were really born. My grandfather Kamer Panossian was a survivor of the genocide; he had been through so many difficulties before arriving in France. I had the chance to spend a lot of time with him. He was an incredible source of inspiration. The words he told me often were gamatz (calm), nesté (sit down) and achkapatz (smart). My father is a great cook. I used to eat a lot of Armenian food in France: kefté, beureks, soudjouk, pasterma, etc. Also my grandmother Marie Baronian used to sing a lot of Armenian folk songs. I especially remember of one song named Yeraz (Dream). I played it also with duduk player Levon Minassian.

There is an opinion that Armenian traditional music has elements of jazz, that’s why folk jazz has been so popular in Armenia since 1930s. What is your impression?

I totally agree with it. I used to play a few Armenian folk songs and for sure I could feel some links between these two music. It is really great to improvise on Armenian folk songs!

Have you ever cooperated with other Armenian musicians?

I have known pianist Tigran Hamasyan for a long time; we have had a tour in Japan together. And now I know cellist Artyom Manukyan; we played together a few songs, he is just amazing.

How would you describe you trip to Armenia and concert in Yerevan?

It was really special, it was like I was at home: it was my first time, but I felt like I have already been there. I cannot wait to come back.

And we cannot wait to listen you again! Is there also something unusual that happened to you in Armenia you would like to mention?

Not really, maybe that I cried during my dinner at Yerevan Tavern listening to beautiful Armenian duduk music.

Rémi, I wish to see you often in Armenia and Armenian stages. And one day to listen your own jazz interpretations of Armenian music!

Thanks a lot! It will be my pleasure!

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