Pianist Djangirov, 14, Shows Prodigious Skill
When Eldar Djangirov walked on stage at the Jazz Bakery on Monday night, anyone unfamiliar with his story might easily have assumed that he was the son, or perhaps the nephew, of bassist Bob Maize or drummer Paul Kreibich. How often, after all, does one see a 14-year-old jazz pianist leading his own group?
Djangirov arrived on a wave of promotion touting the amazing maturity of the young Kyrgyzstan-born pianist (who now lives in Kansas City, Mo.). And he didn’t waste any time justifying the hype, kicking off his set with a high-speed excursion through “Lester Leaps In.” Then, barely taking a few minutes to introduce Maize and Kreibich, he surged into the steaming blues changes of Clifford Brown’s “Sandu.” His soloing, on both tunes, was driven by a whirlwind of rapid-fire notes, brisk octave passages and lush, two-handed chording.
By this point, whatever doubts about Djangirov’s pianistic skills were long gone, blown away by the sheer power of his remarkable technique. He is truly a virtuosic musical prodigy.
Other tunes offered evidence of a creative imagination fully in sync with his pianistic prowess. Solo renderings of his own piece “Rendezvous,” as well as Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” were rhapsodic tours de force in which Djangirov brought a surprising sense of compositional structure to his soloing. And a brief version of “When I Fall in Love” revealed a mature sense of harmony as well.
All that said, however, there were a few questions about the performance. The most basic was simply that the music--perhaps understandably, given his age--was far more dominated by superficial technical expertise than by the sort of layered insights one expects from a player with this sort of virtuosity.
Djangirov clearly possesses the dexterity and inventiveness to become a significant jazz artist. But first he needs to incorporate some notions into his playing that are largely not present at this stage of his development: that touch and tone are at least as important as technique; that playing slowly with meaning is a more difficult task than playing rapidly with flash; that there is no substitute for life experience.
Would Djangirov be receiving the same sort of attention if he were, say, 20 years older? Given the substantial number of players in that age range with superior skills who are given far less notice, the answer is almost certainly that he would not. That’s not to demean his prodigiousness, but simply to place it in context.
And Djangirov may have an ironic problem, since a new promotional push is underway for yet another youthful jazz pianist: 9-year-old Matthew Savage, who is playing to sold-out crowds in the Boston area.