A ten-year-old boy in war torn Armenia confidently told his piano teacher that one day he would play with jazz and gospel luminaries. She instantly shot down his ambitions, but the boy remained steadfast and undeterred, responding defiantly “Mark this day on your calendar because one day it will happen for me.” Flash forward to present day, a year-and-a-half after moving his family to Los Angeles to realize his dream, keyboardist Vahagn Stepanyan surrounded himself with Grammy-winning and world-class musicians, producers and engineers to record his second album, the aptly titled “A New Chapter.” Stepanyan composed and arranged eight songs for the jazz fusion collection releasing May 19.
Stepanyan produced “A New Chapter” with Kitt Wakeley, who earlier this year won the Grammy for Best Classical Compendium for “An Adaption Story” to which Stepanyan contributed to engineering and playing keyboards.
In the intervening years between those early piano lessons and recording “A New Chapter,” featuring performances by eleven-time Grammy-winning trumpeter Philip Lassiter (Prince, Ariana Grande), Grammy nominated guitarists Greg Howe and Mark Lettieri (Snarky Puppy); platinum-selling saxophonist Dave Koz, bassist Ida Nielsen (Prince) and powerhouse drummer Eric Moore amongst other accomplished players, Stepanyan was classically trained in composition and learned the art of production. He began selling songs to Armenian artists and started playing in jazz clubs in his native land but learned hard-earned music business lessons by getting paid only four dollars if he was paid at all.
The first single released from “A New Chapter” is “Synergy,” which dropped last month and is accompanied by a teaser video that premiered in Times Square on April 25. The track is constructed of a complex rhythm, Moore’s aggressive and astute drumming, Lettieri’s piercing electric guitar, and rich layers of opulent horns that feature Koz playing soprano sax in a completely different context from which he is best known. Stepanyan adds melodic vocalization to the rocket ship ride that is “Without Limits,” granting the ensemble the autonomy to create free from restrictions. Anthony Crawford’s stratospheric bass solo leaps to the fore on an exploration featuring Lettieri’s fretwork.
Stepanyan has overcome towering obstacles getting to where he is and he’s done it on his own, trading on his extraordinary talents and unconquerable belief in himself. As he sets out to create a new life, Stepanyan’s “A New Chapter” is a remarkable achievement in production, arranging, songwriting and musicianship. Its roots sprouted from the soil of belief that a determined ten-year-old had long before anyone else recognized his exceptional skills.
“I still have goals to reach. Mostly, I want people to recognize me not only as a jazz musician but as someone who writes and produces pop, R&B, soul, lo-fi, funk and gospel music as well as film soundtracks. If you have a dream, set your goals and go for it without any excuses. Never give up. Believe in yourself. Keep focused on your passion, work hard and invest in your future.”
“A New Chapter” contains the following songs:
“Synergy” featuring Dave Koz
“Without Limits” featuring Mark Lettieri
“Motion” featuring Ida Nielsen
“Gravity” featuring Greg Howe and Philip Lassiter
“So Good” featuring Eric Moore
“Hold My Hand”