Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Two Masters

Earlier this year I was honored by two living masters of the oud, Mr. John Bilezikjian and Dr. Munir Beken. Both musicians were invited to a small gathering of oud enthusiasts in southern California. I was particularly honored to have them perform at this gathering using two of my instruments. First, a little biographical information on the two oudists.

John Bilezikjian has been performing on the oud for over 40 years. He is a multi-instrumentalist and is an accomplished violinist and kanunist. Besides traditional Armenian music (John is of Armenian background), John has composed music for numerous television shows and feature movies. If you've seen any movie with a Middle-Eastern theme (among others), chances are John has done the music for it.

Movies such as The Prince of Egypt, The Scorpion King, Alladin, The Mummy, and Beowulf are all part of John's resume. His TV credits include Mission Impossible and Three's Company, just to name a couple. The list goes on and on. John has performed with the L.A. Philharmonic and the Boston Pops. John also performs regularly at local venues and restaurants in the southern California area. For more, check out John's resume.

Munir Beken's career spans theory, composition, ethnomusicology, and performance. As a composer, he has written a state-commissioned ballet suite for orchestra, won awards for film music, and scored television documentaries both domestically and internationally. His scholarly work focuses on modal theory; he is also conducting research on musical globalization and the phenomenology of music. He has published in Ethnomusicology, a premier journal in the field, and contributed to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. He was one of the founding members of the State Turkish Music Ensemble. As a soloist on the ud, he has performed in venues across the U.S. and has recorded a solo CD with Rounder Records.

The day before the gathering John and his wife Helen were kind enough to host me, Mike Malek and Lee Varis for an enjoyable afternoon of oud playing and conversation about everything oud. John's love of the oud was very evident, and his fatherly character kept us all feeling like awe-inspired children gathered around his knee for a lesson. John was also kind enough to offer some very constructive analysis of the ouds, for which I am indebted to him. This type of feedback, especially from someone who has been playing ouds his entire life, is invaluable. John has excellent taste, and plays instruments from the giants of the oud-making world, long-gone master luthiers like Emmanuel Venios and Onnik Karybian.

I've uploaded a sampling of videos of John and Munir. Follow the links below to download the videos.

John Bilezikjian and Munir Beken
In this clip, the two masters play a composition on two of my ouds. John is playing a Nomex-soundboard oud I completed in 2006, Munir is playing my latest oud, completed earlier this year.

John Bilezikjian Outdoor Cafe
We joined John at a performance at a local cafe one evening. John versatility is evident in this clip. Make sure you wait for the last half for Albeniz's Asturias. It's right after "Tennessee Waltz"!

John Bilezikjian

And here's 0ne for Beatles' fans.


  1. great clips Jameel, thanks. Is that you barely containing the urge to hum and sing along on "Here Comes the Sun"?

  2. Could be...catchy tune isn't it?


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