The Gentleman of Jazz

George Avakian

Life cast George Avakian in many roles: record producer, critic, educator, talent scout, manager, impresario. When he passed away last week at the age of 98, the entire music world—especially jazz artists and the recording industry—mourned the loss of true visionary, who blazed a pioneering trail through American music, but never lost touch with the gentlemanly virtues of his Old-World heritage.

Avakian started life in Armavir, historic Armenia. But having arrived in this country as a child, he embraced America and its culture with his whole heart. Still in his early 20s, Avakian became the sole force responsible for promoting and preserving the most “American” style of music: jazz. He later branched out to discover new voices in American humor.

Coming from an accomplished but little-known heritage, Avakian had a special instinct for the “overlooked” talent: for the distinctive musical style that was not being heard in the broader culture; or the great artist whose legacy was in danger of being forgotten. So it was that he came to be associated with many of the greatest names in 20th-century American culture: Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Keith Jarrett, Johnny Mathis, Bob Newhart, Duke Elington. The list goes on and on.

For 68 years he was married to another great musical visionary: violinist Anahid Ajemian, who predeceased George in 2016. The two were early enthusiasts and lifelong supporters of St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York.

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian expressed his condolences during a memorial service in New York this week. “Both George and Anahid generously gave of their talent and counsel, to my own personal benefit, and to the benefit of my predecessor, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian. Both felt that their own vocations in life were an extension of the great creative legacy of their Armenian ancestors. And now, their names, too, will be immortal among their countrymen.”

Take a moment to read the accounts of George Avakian’s life published last week in the New York Times and Washington Post. The Eastern Diocese notes his passing with deep regret, and prays for his peaceful repose in our Lord’s kingdom.

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