Eldar left his native Kyrgystan for the United States in 1998, a boy of 11 with a slight grasp of English but an astonishing natural talent that immediately captured the attention of the jazz world. In the last seven years, with the support of his family, he has established American roots as he continued his education, absorbed the culture, and emerged as one of the most distinctive jazz pianists of the new generation.
Jazz pianist Eldar masters yet another milestone in his young but already remarkable career, with the release of Eldar Live at the Blue Note, his second CD for Sony Classical. Captured live at New York’s legendary Blue Note in October 2005, the recording features Eldar and his trio with jazz trumpeters Chris Botti and Roy Hargrove as guest artists. Its release comes a little over a year since his self-titled Sony Classical debut CD hit the stores, just as he passed his 18th birthday. It won rave reviews from jazz critics across the country, as have his live performances in the nation’s top jazz venues.
“The vigor, stylistic range and dazzling speed displayed on his debut album Eldar (Sony Classical) have already earned this emigrant from Kyrgyzstan the usual comparisons,” The New York Times wrote, when the recording was released early last year. “Eldar combines Art Tatum’s superhuman velocity with echoes of Oscar Peterson’s grandeur … an all-things-to-all-people prodigy whose formidable technique is wedded to a mature grasp of musical structure.”
Reviewing a live performance last June, Billboard wrote, “Eldar has the fastest hands in jazz … melds Russian soul (in the ballads) with American razzle-dazzle (the up-tempo tunes) in standards, not-so-standards and originals … His nine-tune set brought the house down … He seems to easily channel Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson in his approach, but to his credit he gets lost in the music in his own way.”
"Eldar brought gasps of astonishment from a mesmerized audience," writes Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times. "He whipped through a set of finger-blurring passages delivered with precision, tonal variation and a brisk sense of swing...a fine ear for harmonic textures enhanced by an effective sense of dynamics."
Following the release of his first CD in 2005, Eldar appeared in some of the top jazz clubs in the country, including Yoshi’s in Oakland; Jazz Alley in Seattle; Dizzy’s and the Blue Note in New York; Scullers in Boston; Zanzibar in Philadelphia; and Blues Alley in Washington, D.C. He also performed at the Kennedy Center and the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Eldar Live at the Blue Note introduces four original tunes by Eldar – including the title track – and includes his fresh interpretations of Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?”, Bobby Timmons’ “Dat Dere,” Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train” and the Latin classic “Besame Mucho.” Chris Botti joins Eldar on the Don Raye/Gene De Paul classic “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” and Roy Hargrove collaborates on Thelonious Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser.” Completing Eldar’s trio are bassist Marco Panascia and, on drums, Todd Strait.
Eldar returns to the Blue Note for performances July 5-9, during the busy summer of 2006 that also includes his debut at the Hollywood Bowl Playboy Jazz Festival (June 18) and performances in Japan (June 19-28). Following the Blue Note dates, Eldar performs at the Interlochen Festival (August 3); San Jose Jazz Festival (August 19); and Monterey Jazz Festival (September 25). In March, he completed a European tour that took him to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Milan, Berlin, Hamburg and Munich.
Having achieved all of this by the age of 19, Eldar has also become a thoroughly Americanized native of Kyrgyzstan, where he was born in 1987 to Emil and Tatiana Djangirov. An engineer who has always been a passionate jazz fan, Emil began to notice that his five-year-old son – who began playing the piano when he was three – could repeat what was played on recordings, note for note. Eldar progressed quickly when he began serious private study with his father and his mother, a musicologist who taught music history at the college in the city of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital. Though his studies were technical and included traditional classical keyboard training, Eldar gravitated to jazz. When he was given transcriptions of piano solos of Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans, the boy polished them off with ease.
Eldar was nine when he played at a jazz festival in the Russian city of Novosibirsk in the summer of 1996. In the audience was New York jazz enthusiast and patron Charles McWhorter, who determined to bring him to the U.S. McWhorter obtained a scholarship for Eldar to attend summer camp at the prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, where, by the age of 12, the boy had joined the High School Jazz Big Band. Not only did Eldar spend the summer sessions of 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 at Interlochen, he and his parents moved to the U.S. in 1998, beginning their new life together in Kansas City because of its venerable tradition for jazz.
Despite the family’s difficulties in resettling, Eldar continued to develop and impress everyone who heard him. Charles McWhorter sent his friend Marian McPartland a tape of the boy’s playing, and an impressed McPartland invited Eldar to join her on her NPR series Piano Jazz. Dr. Billy Taylor encountered him at a Charlie Parker symposium in Kansas City and booked him for an appearance on CBS’s Sunday Morning. It was also in Kansas City that Eldar played for the Jazz Musician Foundation, where he was heard by Michael Greene, then the head of the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences. Greene immediately decided to have Eldar play on the 2000 Grammy Awards telecast. At the same time, Eldar participated in the jazz piano competition of the 2001 Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival and won the top prize. The following year, he won first place in the Peter Nero Piano Competition.
Eldar has participated in several American jazz festivals, including those in Jefferson City, Topeka and Kansas City, MO; Roswell, NM and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival; Palm Springs, CA; the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Moscow, ID; and the JVC Jazz Festival in New York City. After his appearance on Piano Jazz, Eldar was invited by Marian McPartland to play in her annual Jazz Concert Series at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. He has also twice performed at the Millennium Stage of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. When he was only 15, Eldar played Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the Independence Symphony Orchestra, and he has also performed as a guest artist with Nebraska Jazz Orchestra.
Since coming to the United States, Eldar has studied jazz harmony and improvisation with jazz educator Kim Park and John Elliott, as well as studying big band with Vernon Howard and arranging with Dave Remington. The Djangirov family eventually moved to San Diego, and Eldar continued his academic studies on scholarship at the prestigious Francis Parker School there. He currently attends the University of Southern California.