A master of jazz piano, Tigran Hamasyan is loved around the world for his flights of musical fancy and blending of styles. But the Armenian composer and musician admits his career could have ended up very differently indeed, as his first ambition was to be a heavy metal guitarist.

“I was born and raised in a town which was, at the time, part of the Soviet Union,” he recalls.

“As a toddler I was exposed to a lot of classic hard rock bands that my father listened to. He was really passionate about rock and would pay a fortune for a number of records that were smuggled into Soviet Armenia.

“He would pay his entire month’s salary to get the new Led Zeppelin album and there is this story that he was once taken in by the KGB because he played a Black Sabbath song at a party!”

Metal’s loss was jazz’s gain, however. Under the guidance of his funk and soul-loving uncle, and with the help of a piano at his grandparents’ home, he was initiated in the magic of James Brown, Al Jarreau and Curtis Mayfield as well as jazz stars like Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and Chick Corea.

Tigran recalls: “I remember being so into Herbie that I even transcribed Chameleon.

“As a child, I would also pick up songs by Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and try to imitate them on the piano – I loved improvising around what I was listening to.

“At the age of 11, I had an incredible jazz teacher named Vahagn Hayrapetyan, who finally taught me how to improvise within structure, through teaching me bebop.”

Tomorrow Tigran returns to Oxford for a show at St John the Evangelist in Iffley Road. The gig will see him performing favourites from his surprisingly lengthy repertoire (given that he is still only 30) along with tunes from 2017’s An Ancient Observer – in which he reflects on his return to Armenia after more than a decade of living in the United States.

Tigran left his hometown of Gyumri and moved to Los Angeles as a teenager, acquiring his own piano – an upright Yamaha – at the age of 16. There he developed his unique style of Armenian-accented jazz.

He has released eight studio albums and fans include jazz legends Brad Mehldau, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock.

“The category of my music is called Armenian independent soulful punk jazz,” he says. “With a bit of classical and thrash metal spice!”

The Oxford Times:

And what inspires him? “Human beings.” he says.

Tigran has been back in independent Armenia for five years and is one of its greatest cultural ambassadors. His journey inspired latest album An Ancient Observer – on which he reflects on his return to Armenia after more than a decade of living in America. the album will form the basis for tomorrow’s concert.

“Armenia is Eden on earth,” he waxes. “It’s a mountainous country with rich nature from high altitude desert-like places to lush green mountainous regions.

“It is full of ancient and new culture. It’s a place where, up until industrialisation, every single bit of daily life was accompanied by music. It’s the place where people first embraced Christianity – it’s the state religion.

“It is also a country where there are water fountains everywhere for people to drink spring water; a place where numerous poets, musicians and architects created masterpieces that are still standing and are part of our daily life; a place where monasteries were built on unreachable mountain tops and where a poor person will invite a stranger in and offer all he has.

“It’s the place where Noah’s ark landed.”

So is he proud to be putting the country on the musical map?

“I am not putting Armenia on the musical map,” he answers. “It’s the country that’s putting me on the map.”

And that map covers the world. The pianist admits he loves touring and has plenty of stories of life on the road.

So, are there any amusing tales he might care to share? “Well, there are a lot of them,” he says.

“I am the type of person that always spills or drops something. I frequently injure myself accidentally. Really dumb stuff happens to me all the time.

“My band members call it ‘having a Tigran moment’.

“The worst one I can remember now is the occasion that I was so into the moment during one concert with my trio, that I hit my head on the edge of the piano. I started getting light-headed and this giant bump appeared on my head during the song.”

He goes on: “I try to explore on tour too, but the concert the most important thing; that is the reason I travel. I always have to make sure I don’t get too tired and explore too much.

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“Unfortunately, I have not yet had a chance to really explore Oxford. I am looking forward to it though.”

So what little luxuries does he bring with him to make life on the road a little smoother? “Dark chocolate, a computer, some books and my phone – so I can record new ideas and compositions,” he says.

“And every once in a while, some Armenian brandy!”

The Oxford Times:

So does he still daydream about becoming a hard rocker?

“I would love to play the guitar, but I still have so much to figure out on the piano,” he says.

“I love certain metal bands – not just any metal band though.

“I love the that sound; I love metal, but it’s unlikely you’ll get a metal record from me – although I have made several records that have metal influences.”

  • Tigran Hamasyan plays St John the Evangelist, Iffley Road, Oxford, tomorrow (Friday, January 25).
  • Tickets from sje-oxford.org