Jul 222011
 

Even during their studies with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, The Beatles probably had no idea an instrument called an oud existed. On the other hand, oudist John Bilezikjian had no idea who they were.

“When I first started out, I had no idea who The Beatles were, or Simon and Garfunkel. Then one day I heard ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and I started crying. I asked my wife, ‘what is that song?’ and I couldn’t believe she had the record and played it for me. My whole life until then had been classical music and Turkish 78s.”

The Halehs 1965

In this 1965 photo of The Halehs, John Bilezikjian was 15 years old. This photo was taken at St. James Armenian Church in Los Angeles where the group had been hired to perform for a dance in the church hall. Each young musician earned $8.00 and a shish kebab dinner for their efforts. From left: John Bilezikjian on oud, Ray Mangigian on tenor saxophone, Edward Bilezikjian (John’s brother) on clarinet, Michael Tolegian on dumbeg, and Don Hagopian on tambourine.

Bilezikjian had grown up in the San Fernando Valley in a large family with strong traditions in music and its Armenian heritage. His musical life began at age five with violin lessons from his father, Andrew, himself a classical violinist. During these early years, the boy listened to 78 RPM recordings brought from Turkey. In particular, he was fascinated by the sound of the oud, an ancient Persian instrument popular on the old albums.

“What instrument is that?” he asked his mother.

She brought out his grandfather’s oud and placed it on the boy’s lap. As he experimented with its 11 strings, he was unaware of its roots that reach back 2,500 years. He didn’t care that it was the forerunner to the lute or that it had no frets. He just wanted to play the wonderful sounds he heard on the scratchy albums and in his home every weekend.

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Jul 162011
 
John Bilezikjian oud 1960s

John Bilezikjian 1960s

Some of John Bilezikjian’s earliest memories are of Sunday afternoons when his house filled with scores of friends and family who often brought their instruments for a day of fellowship and the songs they loved. In a home imbued with Armenian tradition and music, Bilezikjian became fascinated with a strange looking instrument in his grandfather’s bedroom.

As the boy held the instrument in his lap and experimented with its 11 strings, he didn’t care that it was the forerunner to the lute or that its history reached back 2,500 years. He just wanted to make the wonderful music he saw others performing in his living room.

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Jul 152011
 

It began with violin lessons at the age of five from his father, Andrew. It continued in a home imbued with Armenian tradition and music where, on Sundays, scores of friends and family gathered after church, often bringing their instruments for a day of fellowship and the songs they loved. Wrapped in familial love, the boy could never have imagined the experiences that lay ahead of him, all because of his childish curiosity about a strange looking instrument in his grandfather’s bedroom.

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