George MgrdichianView in iTunes
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George Mgrdichian was American jazz's premier proponent of the oud, the pear-shaped lute most common in Middle Eastern folk music. Born and raised in New York City, Mgrdichian was a largely self-taught musician who first took up the clarinet, joining a traditional Armenian band while in his teens. When the group's oud player was drafted into military service, Mgrdichian was forced to learn the instrument in a matter of days. He nevertheless studied clarinet at the Juilliard School of Music, but majored in ethnomusicology while attending Wesleyan University. Upon settling in Philadelphia, Mgrdichian began performing with local jazz and folk musicians. Over time he reinvented the function and scope of the oud with a series of performance innovations, most notably employing four fingers of his left hand (double the customary two) to fret the notes, playing chords in addition to single strings. Mgrdichian went on to collaborate with jazz greats including David Amram, Dave Brubeck, and Phil Woods as well as major orchestras including the New York Philharmonic. He also headlined a series of LPs including 1986's New Sounds of the Middle East and 1990's One Man's Passion. After battling cancer, Mgrdichian died April 30, 2006, at the age of 71. ~ Jason Ankeny