LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.
(Soundbite of music)
HANSEN: Pianist Eldar Djangirov plays music that one would expect from a seasoned jazz artist, but he's just 18 years old. He moved to the United States from his native Kyrgyzstan in 1998, and he's been performing since. His latest CD is called "Eldar," and he's here in NPR Studio 4A to play for us.
Welcome. What a pleasure to meet you.
Mr. ELDAR DJANGIROV (Pianist): Well, thank you so much. It's an honor for me to be here with you.
HANSEN: You have such a fascinating story.
Mr. DJANGIROV: Oh.
HANSEN: You do. I mean, being born in former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan, and you moved to the United States when you were young. And I read that you had taken classical piano lessons, but why did you end up playing jazz?
Mr. DJANGIROV: It's funny. My mom is a college piano teacher, and she started me off with classical background when I was about five. You know, she taught me the basic things about music and, you know, sensitivity, technique and discipline. And my dad was the one who really introduced jazz to me because he loved playing jazz records in our house. But, you know, at five, I really started playing jazz and classical really at the same time.
HANSEN: At five.
Mr. DJANGIROV: So it was--yeah, that's the starting point. That's when I started, you know, taking lessons and really--you know, my mom sat me down, and she said, `Maybe this is'--you know, `Let's get serious about this.'
HANSEN: You're going to play something for us, and this is a tune that's on your new recording. It's your arrangement of the Thelonious Monk tune "Ask Me Now."
Mr. DJANGIROV: Yeah.
HANSEN: First, what is it that you like about this tune? And what did you want to accomplish with your own arrangement of it?
Mr. DJANGIROV: I think it's--you know, it's a great tune, you know? Thelonious Monk, you know, really pushed the music a lot in so many different directions and definitely influenced every jazz musician who is out there today. And I think I just want to give the listener something to tap his foot to and listen to the lines that I'm playing, you know, I mean, around the melody. So here it is.
(Soundbite of "Ask Me Now")
HANSEN: Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now" performed by Eldar in NPR Studio 4A. You can also hear it on his new CD on Sony Classical Records.
Man, I'm surprised I didn't seen sparks coming out of your fingers when you were playing this. You were discovered--What?--at the age of nine by a gentleman, Charles McWhorter at a Siberian jazz festival?
Mr. DJANGIROV: Yeah. Yeah. It was a great opportunity for me, and it was one of the first things that I ever did musically and publicly, you know? He was a great jazz fan. It was just--I was just lucky that he was there...
Mr. DJANGIROV: ...and he liked my playing enough, you know? And he just gave me a new chance, you know?
HANSEN: Yeah. He arranged for you and your parents to settle here.
Mr. DJANGIROV: Exactly.
HANSEN: Now you settled in Kansas City.
Mr. DJANGIROV: In Kansas City, yeah. A great jazz town, great jazz traditions and a place where you don't get lost, you know? A place that we don't get lost. New York we thought was too big, you know?
Mr. DJANGIROV: And it was just a great jazz community and beautiful people, you know?
HANSEN: Hmm. And the history of jazz there, too.
Mr. DJANGIROV: And the history of course. It was a great place to grow up.
HANSEN: Now was it difficult for you to adjust. I mean, first of all, here you are a 10-year-old kid who's sort of been displaced from your home, and you have this incredible talent. But on the other hand, you've got to live a life here.
Mr. DJANGIROV: Sure. You know, the adjustment was great.
Mr. DJANGIROV: The adjustment was very easy. I was young. The language barrier was crossed in a matter of months. People made it great. It's all about the people, you know, not the location where you are.
HANSEN: What was it like for you in school? I mean, did classmates know how well you played the piano? Did you have hobbies? Did you do sports?
Mr. DJANGIROV: I never did sports. You know, my hobby is kind of playing the piano, you know? You know, school was cool, you know?
Mr. DJANGIROV: School was cool, especially when I started going to, you know, middle school, you know? That was fun. But now I'm in 12th grade, you know, and we're going to graduate next month. So I'm done with high school, which is, I guess, a big chapter in my life.
Mr. DJANGIROV: But I just got to do what I'm doing.
HANSEN: You do have this reputation as somebody who produces these pyrotechnics. And I'm watching your hands on the keyboard, and it's amazing that there aren't two more of them there. But musicians have told me in the past that up-tempo tunes, fast tunes, are actually easier than ballads, than the slow ones. And you play some lovely, sensitive ballads--We're going to hear one in just a minute, the classic "Nature Boy"--but would you agree that ballads are more difficult?
Mr. DJANGIROV: It's definitely more true, you know? Of course, emotionally, playing a ballad is definitely harder, much, much harder. It's done at a different level, and you're really doing something that's really your personal expression. And "Nature Boy," you know, it has a great story behind it when you listen to the lyrics. And it's a love story. I mean, that's what it is, you know? And that's what this whole tune is about, you know?
HANSEN: All right. "Nature Boy."
(Soundbite of "Nature Boy")
HANSEN: That's Eldar here in Studio 4A playing "Nature Boy."
Beautiful tune, beautiful interpretation of it. Who are your heroes? I mean, I'm hearing Bill Evans in there.
Mr. DJANGIROV: Yeah. Of course. You know, when my dad would play records, you know, Oscar was the first one.
HANSEN: Oscar Peterson.
Mr. DJANGIROV: Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Marian McPartland, Billy Taylor, Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner. I think I got to a point right now where I really don't have a favorite.
Mr. DJANGIROV: As far as piano players go, I listen to everybody. Benny Green, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Bill Charlap, there's everybody. And I definitely don't limit myself to piano players. I mean, I listen to horn players, Michael Brecker, who appeared on the record.
Mr. DJANGIROV: Roy Hargrove, you know, Pat Metheny, Pat Martino. And I really listen to everything not just jazz.
HANSEN: I hear you like Radiohead.
Mr. DJANGIROV: I definitely like Radiohead.
HANSEN: You take it all in and then you process it.
Mr. DJANGIROV: Yeah. I mean, it goes everything from classical to bluegrass, rock, hip-hop, everything.
HANSEN: What's on your CD player now?
Mr. DJANGIROV: Let's see, what was I--I was actually listening to--I got the new Ravi Coltrane record, so I was listening to that. So, I mean, it sounds good, but...
HANSEN: What goals do you have for yourself now?
Mr. DJANGIROV: I want to continue playing, keep recording, go to school, finish high school, and just see what happens then.
HANSEN: Yeah. Do you have dreams about, like, places you'd like to play? People you...
Mr. DJANGIROV: I want to play as many places as I can for as many people as I can. Yeah.
HANSEN: Mm-hmm. And you've got a series of concerts that'll be coming up this summer. In June, you've got quite a few.
Mr. DJANGIROV: Yeah. In June, we're doing a tour in June on the West Coast and the East Coast, and this one's pretty extensive.
HANSEN: Yeah. You're going to leave us with a classic.
Mr. DJANGIROV: Yeah.
HANSEN: A Duke Ellington tune.
Mr. DJANGIROV: Yeah.
HANSEN: "Take the A Train."
Mr. DJANGIROV: Exactly.
HANSEN: You can say anything you want about it. What...
Mr. DJANGIROV: I don't think there's anything that needs to be said about that.
(Soundbite of "Take the A Train")
HANSEN: Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train" performed by Eldar Djangirov in NPR Studio 4A. His new CD called "Eldar," that's E-L-D-A-R, is on the Sony Classical label. There's more information and audio on our Website npr.org.
HANSEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.