by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
ANTWERP, Belgium, April 21, 2022 – “It was a really cool experience to work with him and perform, especially after a hard isolating winter!” That is how Alexander Baboian described a musical event he participated in, together with colleagues in Belgium and a special guest from Africa. The event was a concert on March 22 at a jazz club called De Singer, in Rijkevorsel, not far from Antwerp. And the special guest was a “unique and outstanding jazz guitarist from West Africa,” Lionel Loueke.
Alexander Baboian is an Armenian-American jazz guitarist and composer from Belmont, Mass., currently studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp. As part of its “Breathing Project,” a program launched 10 years ago, the Conservatory has provided artistic and logistical support for jazz students, and in this context, invites international artists to come and coach students.
The renowned guitarist Lionel Loueke was born in 1973 in Benin and studied in France as well as in the US at the Berklee College of Music in Boston (where Baboian’s father, John Baboian has long taught guitar) and the Thelonious Monk Institute. He has worked with major jazz artists such as Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard and is known for a unique blend of African and Jazz elements in his music. His mentor, Herbie Hancock, called him “a musical painter.” A group of students in Antwerp were invited to prepare a set of his original compositions under his direction, in a series of master classes. After studying and rehearsing intensively for a week with him, they went on stage together and performed in concert.
The featured composer, vocalist and guitarist Lionel Loueke was joined by Milan Verbist on the piano, Jef Manderveld, Double Bass, Drummer Simon Van Brandt, Trumpeter Cedric de Lat and guitarist Alexander Baboian.
From Boston to Berlin … and Yerevan
Alexander Baboian was born in Boston, into a 3rd/4th generation family. His father and grandfather introduced him to the world of music at an early age, and he completed his undergraduate studies at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He majored in performance as a guitarist there, focusing mainly on Jazz and developing as an instrumentalist. He graduated Magna Cum Laude, and received the Guitar Department Achievement Award twice.
His contact at Berklee with classmates from abroad, combined with opportunities to perform internationally during his time as a student inspired him to make a big move to Berlin after graduating in 2015. In the German capital he worked freelance teaching and performing in a variety of artistic projects. It was there that he met members of the German-Armenian community, like artist Archi Galentz, musician Nesin Howhannesijan and actor/songwriter/singer Stepan Gantralyan. (It was in Galentz’s atelier, during an exhibition, that he first became acquainted with the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, through me.)
Three years later, Baboian decided to move again, this time to Armenia. His experience living and working in a foreign country had led him to explore questions about his own identity, while his sensibilities as an artist were maturing and developing in new directions. As a result, in 2018 he decided to pursue further studies in Armenia, beginning his graduate studies at Yerevan State Conservatory as a Composition student with Artur Avanesov. He felt honored to be invited to teach a course on Jazz improvisation and enjoyed having the opportunity to share his knowledge of Jazz with Bachelors students at the Conservatory in 2020. That year proved to be tumultuous, with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Nagorno Karabakh. These developments, combined with his deepening aspirations in the area of music technology, motivated him to continue graduate studies in Europe.
Offered the opportunity to study in Switzerland and Belgium, he chose the latter and is now studying electronic music at the Royal Conservatoire in Antwerp, with Andrew Claes and Bert Cools. He plans to graduate in the summer of 2023 and hopes to continue in Europe as a teacher, composer and performer.
The experience with artist Loueke and his Conservatory colleagues shows he has gotten off to a good start. In concluding his report on the concert, he added that in April, “We have another special guest coming from the US, saxophonist Chris Potter.” In preparation, Baboian is working on writing a big band arrangement which should be performed at the famous jazz club Bimhuis in Amsterdam. “That will be exciting!”