Guitarist Mahan Mirarab: Spinning Persian Folk with Jazz

Not even the blood and thunder of warfare can squash the sound of music.

For guitarist Mahan Mirarab, music became his escape from the violence and unrest in his homeland. Born in Tehran, Iran on July 13, 1983, Mirarab entered this world as the Iran-Iraq War raged on; bullets and bombs rocked his environment.

It was during this period of killing and brutality that a young musician’s imagination was sparked by jazz, namely the records of legends such as Charlie Parker and West Montgomery. To Mirarab, they seemed to have arrived from another world, which was no exaggeration, either, as his peers were unable to comprehend their appeal. “They were not popular with the young people from my generation,” Mirarab recalled. “But they gave me ideas and a feeling of something new that I wanted to discover more about.” Easier said than done as, in those pre-Internet days, finding information about jazz or even receiving lessons was nearly impossible. “We were in hard political and economic situations,” Mirarab explained. “There was no music school or conservatory and even a teacher in Iran at the time so I started to play jazz, transcribing the solos and preparing myself to be a self-taught musician. At the age of 13, I got the chance to take the piano lessons although it wasn’t easy to find a place where you could get proper music lessons because I used to live in a small city, Babol.”

But learn he did, and Mirarab has just released an album of his own to a global market. Entitled "Persian Side of Jazz," the record enlightens listeners by revealing how widespread jazz’s influence is. In other words, the student has now become the teacher, and his class is the world itself. Mirarab splices together his Persian folk roots with traditional jazz, and the result is an often spellbinding collection of instrumentals. “It's the music that I've experienced and listened from my childhood up to now. It's a mixture of the music of Iran, music that has been in my ears since I was a kid, and jazz,” Mirarab added. “I've always tried to blend these two music languages and make a new sound with finding new changes over Persian melodies and also mixing jazz lines with my homeland's music.”

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Walter Johns