His regular gigs at New York City's famed jazz clubs have earned 23-year-old Eldar Djangirov rave reviews from critics, including one who has suggested the musician may have "made a pact with Lucifer to be the greatest pianist ever."
Djangirov, known simply as Eldar to his fans, will visit his former home state on Friday to give a concert at Wichita State University's Wiedemann Hall to support the Wichita Jazz Festival. The concert kicks off a new campaign to try to restore the festival to the prominence it once enjoyed.
In a recent interview, Eldar said he was deeply influenced by his years living in jazz-rich Kansas City, on both the Missouri and Kansas sides. He was about 10 when his family moved there from the former Soviet Union, from what is now Kyrgyzstan, and he experienced what he calls "a period of true growth."
"There was a community of musicians, a family that I felt while I was there," said Eldar, speaking with a light Russian accent.
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His mother, a music teacher, taught him to play classical piano, but it was his father's love for jazz and collection of black market records that tipped Eldar toward jazz.
Discovered at a music festival at the age of 9 and sent to the United States to study, Eldar performed on national jazz programs at age 12 and soon was making stops at top music venues.
He now lives the kind of success story that thousands of hopeful musicians covet in New York City. His music, he said, is a view into his life.
"The music is almost like a social introduction to who you are," he said. "The music that you play ... is the most honest when you can carefully reflect your character, your personality, the way you are."
No matter what country he is performing in, music speaks to audiences who might not otherwise understand a word of his English or Russian, he said.
"I feel lucky to have traveled everywhere in the world and I have seen music be a universal language. So many times in my own interaction with people all over the world, I will just be playing my gig, but the music speaks to everybody."
A jazz concert is a chance to hear music that will exist only for a moment as the performer and an audience connect, he said.
"Jazz musicians can take familiar things and make them their own ... and I think, for an audience, it's a trip to hear something they know is in a way original and in a way will be played only once in that time."
If you go
What: Jazz pianist who will perform at Echoes of Africa, a fundraiser for the Wichita Jazz Festival
Where: Wiedemann Recital Hall, Wichita State University
When: 8 p.m. Friday
How much: Admission $25, $15 for students. Information, 316-978-3233.