Charles “Chick” Ganimian was born in 1926 in Troy, New York, to Armenian parents who had emigrated from Marash in 1922. In his home he often heard the music of the “old country”, and the distinctive sound of the oud, performed by his immigrant father (who had arrived from Turkey). From an early age, young Charles had been fascinated with the music of his heritage, and after initially studying the violin and attaining quite some skills on the instrument, he would follow his father’s path and also switch to the oud.
So a bit about this “oud”. It is a pear-shaped stringed instrument commonly used in Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Hebrew-Jewish, Somali and Middle Eastern music, and it’s construction is similar to that of the lute. It is readily distinguished by its lack of frets and smaller neck, and is considered an ancestor of the guitar. According to Farabi, the renowned scientist, cosmologist, musician and philosopher of the Islamic Golden Age, the oud was invented by Lamech, the sixth grandson of Adam. The legend tells that the grieving Lamech hung the body of his dead son from a tree. The first oud was inspired by the shape of his son’s bleached skeleton. It has ten strings (five pairs tuned in unison), and sounds like a hoarse low pitched guitar.
Chick picked up a lot of interest towards this exotic and strange (to western ears) music, from his father. His awareness and taste for these foreign sounds developed more and more, and he would start to understand the rhythm patterns, phrasing and the varies complex styles.
In 1948, Chick first formed the Nor-Ikes Orchestra, a group largely comprised of Armenian musicians, with Steve Boghossian, Eddie Malkasian, Aram Davidian, and Souren Baronian. The band’s name was suggested by Souren Baronian’s father and means “new dawn” in Armenian (nor ayk), and they were one of the first to consciously revive this exotic music for mixed audiences, touring the eastern United States and playing for the broader Arab-American community.
In 1959, ATCO released Ganimian’s first LP Come With Me To The Casbah, which included 12 truly mind blowing exotic crossovers. Including some crazy oriental compositions, jams and some twisted standards, the album is really quite amazing and thoroughly enjoyable! While Chick is the clearly the musical fountain head for the band’s Near Eastern approach, having Steve Boghossian and Souren Baronian on reeds, who both add their honest feel for their instruments as played in the old traditional style, adding so much authenticity. An unusual example of jazz musicians who have done about as remarkable a piece of musical transformation as humanly possible.
According to Chick, It was all due to Steve’s (who plays clarinet) experience and musical background that allowed the band to successfully work out the difficult technical problems in playing this kind of music. Souren plays second clarinet, baritone-tenor sax and castanet and also came with very exceptionally high musical talents, and in fact, all the arrangements on the lp were by the three long time partners. Other members of Ganimian’s ensemble include Eddie Malkasian on tenor sax and various percussions, Aram Davidian is on oriental drums, and Ahmet Yatman is on the the kanoon. The kanoon (also spelled qanun) can be described as a lap plucking box zither with a narrow trapezoidal soundboard, with 63 to 84 strings, and has the most beautiful and distinctive shimmering sound.
Onnik Dinkjian provides English vocals on Hedy Lou, Daddy Lolo, and Haluah, although live, he supposedly also sang in Armenian and other Near Eastern tongues. Daddy Lolo (Oriental Rock And Roll) was released a year prior to this album’s release as a 45 on the EastWest label with Halvah on he flip, and Chick’s group was credited as Ganim’s Asia Minors . There is certainly a jazz influence on Ganimian’s recordings. To thank for that are jazz cats Peter Ind on bass, Billy Bauer on guitar, Al Schackman also on guitar and Pete Franco on drums. There’s certainly some amount of science and math that’s gone into some of the backbone scales going on here, with curious names! Oriental Jam is in “Nevahijaz”, The Whirling Dervish is in “Sabah”, while the turkish melody Nine-Eight is in “Hijaz”, which means yeah…it’s in nine-eight timing.
Come With Me To The Casbah is the big dancer from these recordings, and ‘ll be forever grateful that ATCO did decide to give it a 7″ release in ’59. The eerie intro is quite devilish, but the feverish tempo quickly kicks in, and really there’s no hope of doing anything other than dance and wiggle like crazy, for the remaining 2 and a bit minutes. I love dropping this one down and watching the dance floor’s reaction and transformation. It always makes me giddy, and brother, does it sound great on a good sound system! “How do you like the Casbah you little one? Man I dig it!”
Ganimian would continue performing in the ‘60s and ‘70s, making regular live and studio appearances and enjoying residencies in New Jersey and New York. Apparently there’s an independently-released 1975 LP with the Nor-Ikes out there…somewhere?
A standout collaboration I have to mention, would be his work he did with Herbie Mann on his Atlantic album from 1967, The Wailing Dervishes. Mann sits a bit back here and lets his dream team shine on this live recording which took place at Village Theater in New York City. An Lp that is quite an esoteric excursion for Mann, with no commercial or ethnic compromises. With the superb dumbek player Moulay “Ali” Hafid on percussion, Roy Ayers on vibraphone, Reggie Workman on bass, and Bruno Carr on drums, amongst others, this is one great platform for Chick to really let loose on and do his thang! There’s also a great version of Norwegian Wood where all the band get the opportunity to do some wild jammin’ and includes some incredible zither action by Esber Köprücü.
Chick also recorded on Mann’s prior Impressions of the Middle East Lp, which had the fine 7″ release Turkish Coffee.
Unfortunately, Chick’s dependence on alcohol had a debilitating effect on his ability to earn a living, and later on his health. Ganimian died in late 1989 while a resident of the Armenian Nursing Home in northern New Jersey.
But I did find some youtube footage of a live performance from the great man back in early 1984 here. I’m so grateful to the person who had upload it, and to see this for the first time was a pure joy.