David Azarian

Pianist, composer

Pianist and composer David Azarian, who fell in love with jazz listening to radio broadcasts behind the Iron Curtain and years later followed the music to the United States, was killed March 29 while changing a tire by the roadside, state police said. He was 51.

Azarian’s career in music spanned decades, taking him from the Composer’s Union of the communist-era Soviet Union, where he was one of the few jazzmen, to the stage of such legendary jazz venues as the Blue Note and Carnegie Hall in New York.

Born in Yerevan, Armenia, to a musical family, Azarian began studying music at age 7. He fell in love with American jazz through records and Voice of America broadcasts.

In 1964 he won a piano competition and three years later entered the Professional Tschaikovsky School of Music. He founded his own Jazz ensemble in 1972 and was admitted as a member of the Soviet Union Composer’s Union the next year.

His 1988 recording “Stairway to Seventh Heaven” (Mobile Fidelity), Azarian’s first to be released worldwide, drew attention to his passionate piano style. He came to the United States for a 1989 concert tour and decided to remain. He continued to record and play concerts until his death. He also taught at Boston’s renowned Berklee School of Music.

Azarian was struck by a sport utility vehicle while changing a tire on his minivan in the breakdown lane of Interstate 93 in Stoneham, Mass.

He is survived by his parents, his wife Vickie Alani, a son and two young daughters.

Services at Holy Trinity Armenian Church, 145 Brattle St., Cambridge, Mass., on Friday, April 4 at 11:00a.m.

Donations can be sent to the Amaras Art Alliance of Belmont, Mass. for the David Azarian Family Memorial Fund in care of Watertown Savings Bank.

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