Aug 192011
 
John Bilezikjian and the Halehs in 1963

Early 1963 photo of John Bilezikjian’s first band, The Halehs. The young band was performing at Milliken Junior High School in Van Nuys, CA. From the left, John Belezikjian on the oud, his brother Edward Bilezikjian on clarinet and Michael Tolegian on dumbeg.

1963. Four boys stepped on the Milliken Junior High School stage in Van Nuys, California and took their positions, shyly grinning at their friends scattered about the auditorium. John Bilezikjian, set his strange looking instrument firmly on his lap, nodded at his buddies, and the music began.

2011. The music continues

It began as the dream of a 10-year-old Valley boy when he created his first band, The Halehs. The boy never looked back and for nearly 50 years, John Bilezikjian has set his unique instrument, the oud, on his lap and entertained audiences worldwide – on stage, cabaret, in concert halls, recordings and movie soundtracks.

Bilezikijian chuckles as he recalls his early days.

In 1963, at St. James Armenian Church in Los Angeles we were so happy and excited that we were hired to perform. We each earned $8.00 plus a Shish Kebab Dinner.”

He never lost that early thrill, the excitement in the moment before his fingers settled on the strings of his instrument. An ancient folk instrument of the Middle East, the oud’s Persian roots reach back 2,000 years.

Bilezikijian has taken the instrument beyond its traditional audience and repertoire into areas as disparate as music of the Sephardim and Russia. He has transcribed and performed classical European pieces whose writers had never even heard of the oud.  He has also ventured into the other end of the musical spectrum by performing with Little Richard, Robert Palmer and Leonard Cohen.

Filmgoers have been listening to him for years. Blackhawk Down, Must Love Dogs, Beowulf, The Mummy, Hidalgo, Aladdin, and Schindler’s List are just a few of the soundtracks to which he has contributed.

John Bilezikjian in concert 2011On August 21, 2011, John Bilezikjian will be performing in concert at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center.  In celebration of the 50 years he has dedicated to music, the concert will include friends with whom he has performed over the years, including members of his first band, the Halehs, formed when he was 10 years old.

For information on the upcoming concert, please visit FriendsOfJohnBilezikjian.com or call 1-855-OUD-DIST (1-855-683-3478).

Aug 112011
 
John Bilezikjian backstage before his Oud Concert at Wilshire Ebell Theatre, LA 1974.

John Bilezikjian backstage just before his Oud Concert at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, Los Angeles, in 1974. Photo by Don Hagopian.

From the day he found his grandfather’s instrument, life and playing the oud have never been the same.  John Bilezikjian has devoted his life to music. He took an ancient folk instrument, the oud, and expanded its range into areas never before explored.

In this country, most people are only aware of the oud as the strange looking instrument that often backs up a belly dancer. Bilezikjian’s talent expanded far beyond smoky cabarets onto concert stages worldwide making him the most distinguished oudist of his generation. His hard work has earned him the title of “America’s Oud Virtuoso”.

The oud is an ancient eleven-stringed, fretless Persian instrument dating back more than 2000 years. It is played with an eagle’s feather. It is the precursor of the lute, guitar and other western stringed instruments, having been brought back to Europe by returning crusaders.

Bilezikjian has given command performances for heads of state, appeared on concert tours with Leonard Cohen, performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Pacific Symphony, the Pasadena Pops Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Mandolin orchestra, among others. In June 2005, he debuted with the Boston Pops Orchestra as featured soloist, marking the first time the oud was presented in a solo capacity in a classical concert setting.

Although they weren’t aware of it, movie lovers have heard his music for many years. Bilezikjian has recorded sound tracks for more than fifty films, including “Prince of Egypt”, “Spy Game”, “Siriana”, “Must Love Dogs”, and “Beowulf”.  His music can be heard on many PBS documentaries. His first job for the film industry was for the sound track of the “Mission Impossible” series on television when was 19 years old.

Bilezikjian’s record company, Dantz Records, located in Laguna Hills, CA, has produced more than 25 recordings encompassing folk, pop and classical genres.  They are available through his website DantzRecords.com.

John Bilezikjian

On August 21, 2011, John Bilezikjian will be performing in concert at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center.  In celebration of the 50 years he has dedicated to music, the concert will include friends with whom he has performed over the years, including members of his first band, the Halehs, formed when he was 10 years old.

For information on the upcoming concert, please visit FriendsOfJohnBilezikjian.com or call 1-855-OUD-DIST (1-855-683-3478).

Aug 052011
 

Chances are you have never heard his name. Odds are even higher you have never heard of the instrument he plays. Nevertheless, the Southland is home to a master musician who has spent the last 50 years performing worldwide on stages large and small. From intimate nightclubs, to European appearances before royalty, John Bilezikjian has become the foremost oudist in America.

Bilezikjian’s 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 family recordings brought from Turkey when his parents had immigrated to the United States. In particular, the young musician was fascinated by the sound of the oud, an ancient Persian instrument popular on the old albums.

“What instrument is that?” he asked.

John Bilezikjian with new Onnik Karibyan oud 1966

John Bilezikjian photo was taken by his father Andrew Bilezikjian in 1966. John had just received a new Onnik Karibyan oud from his father. John’s Aunt Sona Dardarian, had brought it from Istanbul, Turkey, holding it on her lap during the flight from Turkey. He still has possession of this marvelous instrument.

In answer, his mother went upstairs to his grandfather’s room to get the elder’s oud. The boy held the instrument in his lap, unaware of its roots that reach back 2,500 years. As he experimented with its 11 strings, he didn’t care that it was the forerunner to the lute or that it had no frets. He just wanted to make the wonderful sounds he heard on the scratchy albums. After that, it’s likely his grandfather didn’t get much playing time as his grandson seldom put it down.

By the time he had celebrated his eleventh birthday, John Bilezikjian formed his first band, the Halehs, with other musical buddies from church. They quickly found themselves in demand for all sorts of events within the Armenian community, keeping their parents busy driving them to these jobs.

Before he graduated from CSUN, Bilezikjian was a working musician, regularly performing on TV and motion picture soundtracks, and cabarets. During this time of professional growth, his presentations of classical and folkloric music skyrocketed in skill and repertoire.

With half a century of musical experience under his belt, Bilezikjian has become adept at creating complex note progressions, thus moving uncomplicated melodies into dramatically rich musical passages. This expertise, coupled with his encyclopedic knowledge of many ethnic music genres, in all their intricacies, has made him the first choice for all manner of performance and musical education opportunities.

Mr. Bilezikjian has his own record company, DantzRecords.com where he has more than 25 recordings available.

John Bilezikjian, "America's Oud Virtuoso"

On August 21, 2011, John Bilezikjian will be performing in concert at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center.  In celebration of the 50 years he has dedicated to music, the concert will include friends with whom he has performed over the years, including members of his first band, the Halehs, formed when he was 10 years old.

For information on the upcoming concert, please visit JohnBilezikjianFoundation.com or call 1-855-OUD-DIST (1-855-683-3478).

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 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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