Eldar Djangirov: All Jazzed Up—and Going Somewhere

by Emily Lucas, Newsweek Magazine
July 1, 2008

Eldar Djangirov was just nine years old and still living in Kyrgyzstan when the late New York City jazz aficionado Charles McWhorter first saw him perform at a jazz festival in Novosibirsk, Russia. Struck by his mature talent on the piano, McWhorter urged Djangirov’s parents to bring him to the U.S. so their son could develop his already blossoming musical gift. In 1998, family followed their American dream to a quintessentially town, Kansas City—which they chose for its historic link to jazz—and began spending his summers studying piano on a scholarship at Michigan’s prestigious Interlochen School of Music. He rapidly earned a reputation as a child prodigy, appearing on Marian McPartland’s NPR show, “Piano jazz,” at age 12—making him the youngest performer ever to appear on her program.

A sophomore music major at the University of southern California until recently, Djangirov has three albums and hundreds of performances under his belt.

For the young man Billboard called “the fastest hands in jazz,” the trip across the world has paid off. 2005, released his self-titled debut album with Sony Classical, and last May, he followed up with the sequel “Eldar live at the Blue Note,” which includes collaborations with contemporary trumpeting greats Chris Botti and Roy Hargrove. Critics have hailed his ability to blend the influences of past jazz greats with a youthful energy and contemporary edge.

Djangirov says, “playing music that lets you channel creativity is the most you can ask for as canvas to paint your own picture.” At the age of 20, his repertoire of performances includes stints at the 2000 Grammy Awards, the White House and on “late night with Conan O’Brien,” besides earning top awards at a number of major jazz festivals.

If you’re regretting having nagged your parents into terminating your piano lessons a decade ago, don’t feel too bad. Djangirov’s got genes and a work ethic that are hard to beat. His father is a jazz aficionado and his mother is a musicologist and piano teacher, whom he credits with teaching him “about work ethic, discipline, touch and many other sensibilities,” he says. You can catch him in Germany, Japan or Indonesia this spring—or, for those of us content to spend a few more years in college enjoying music our parents hate—at stops closer to home in California, Massachusetts, Arizona and New York.