Zela Margossian: ‘The Road is my journey to new experiences and discoveries through music’

The words ‘ethno-jazz’ and ‘folk-jazz’ often come up, when people try to describe Zela Margossian‘s music, but make no mistake: this is not a sub-genre, a variation of jazz that we’re talking about, infused with elements of classical music (her formative background) blended together with those of the Armenian folk tradition (her cultural background). No, what the pianist has been creating, and performing with a passionate lyricism that’s all her own, is exactly what jazz is supposed to be, since its emergence, and particularly today: a type of music that knows no boundaries, that absorbs and incorporates all sorts of influences, and reflects the present, lives in the now. A staple of the Sydney music scene, Zela Margossian seems to be better known overseas than interstate, but that is certainly going to change.
The Zela Margossian Quintet

What would you say to a complete stranger to get them to come to your Melbourne Jazz Festival concert?

I would tell them if they want to feel the warm hug of music, they should come to our show. Also, because it is a sort of music which is not defined by a specific genre, such as only classical, folk or jazz, it would appeal to a wider demographic.

What are your expectations from the audience?

It is the first time ZMQ is performing in Melbourne after the release of our second album, The Road, and also the first time performing at the Melbourne Jazz Festival. So, it is pretty exciting for us to share our music with the festival audience, with the hopes that they will have a special experience being at the show.

In what way is The Road different to Transition? What has changed between the two albums for you, both as an artist, and on a personal level?

I personally feel that I have evolved in my practice as an artist over the past three years.

As people might know, I come from a classical background and my journey of transition is constantly being enriched with new musical experiences, more knowledge and training, more inspirations.

The first album was very personal to me and very raw. This one, although it’s still personal, I have taken more liberty to try new approaches, applying from what I’ve learnt in the past three years.

What is The Road? Where does it lead to?

The Road, the album, is my journey with the band, leading us to new experiences and discoveries through music. It is a continuous journey of growth for each one of us, and hopefully with each new album, we will be transformed towards the better, both in our artistic pursuits and as human beings.

How did The Road get released by Ropeadope?

I was invited to join the Australian Music Centre delegation travelling to Jazzahead in 2019 as a fellow. Through connections established at the expo, my music was introduced to the American label, Ropeadope, who were happy to have us on board for our second album release.

You’ve been making a name for yourself, both in Australia, and overseas; what does this recognition mean to you?

Recognition was never a part of my aspirations. The most important aspect of my aspiration was discovering who I was as a musician; to perform music that I am passionate about and most importantly, have a creative outlet in my life where I could find my voice in and express myself.

The Zela Margossian Quintet (L-R): Alexander Inman-Hislop; Stuart Vandegraaff; Zela Margossian; Adem Yilmaz; Jacques Emery | Photo: Aren Gaspar

What is your greatest aspiration?

My greatest aspiration is to be happy with my music and with my development as an artist through learning and working with other artists. There is no end to learning and [there’s a lot] of room for improvement, but each step forward, and each new discovery, and little musical achievements here and there [bring] great joy to me — but [there’s] never an end point where I would say I’m completely satisfied. The mere fact that I’m sharing my music with my beautiful band members with different audiences is already a blessing and a source of great joy.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

Lately, I’ve been listening to Avishai Cohen‘s Shifting Sands, and the tune I’m hooked on is ‘The Window’.

The Zela Margossian Quintet plays at the Melbourne Jazz Festival on Thursday 20 October.