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Farhad Bahrami brings a world of music to Grossmont College

“There are notes between E and E flat that aren’t there on a guitar or piano”

Farhad Bahrami plays postmodern Persian
Farhad Bahrami plays postmodern Persian

A one-time resident of Huntington, West Virginia, Iranian guitarist Farhad Bahrami arrived in San Diego in the early 1980s, bringing Persian music to the experimental Trummerflora Collective and serving as musical director for ensembles like Jazmahalis. He also began performing with Electric Ûd Trio, and he co-founded the group Darvak. His Dornob project is a cross-generational Persian dastgah band formed in 1985; it plays avant-garde twists on classical Persian music. The band’s website describes the music as Persian classical, folk, and original dastgah music played with mixed instrumentation (East/West, acoustic/electric) in the spirit of postmodern world jazz. “No one plays our style of jazz-influenced Persian classical music — not here, not in Iran,” says Bahrami.

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In addition to traditional Persian instruments — tar, ney (bamboo flute), tombak and daf drums, santur, and qanun (zither) — Dornob also incorporates fretless bass guitar, Persian-tuned keyboards, and other instruments to enhance its sound. The band’s stated goal — in addition to fostering friendship, crossing cultural bridges, learning the music, and having fun performing — is to make Persian music accessible to young and non-Persian audiences. Their full-length Segah, released on local world-music label Zaman, features eight band members, augmented by Jesse Audelo on soprano sax. “I’m honored and humbled to have so many young jazz players interested in Middle Eastern music,” says Bahrami. “It gives me hope in the music, but more importantly, in the multicultural worldview of the young generation.”

The Dornob Collective recently made their return to live stage performances, with a September 12 appearance at SDSU. For Bahrami, it was a sort of homecoming: he studied music as well as computer science at San Diego State, and he cites his music theory teacher from 1980 through 1983, Mrs. Jean Moe, as both a source of inspiration and an object of admiration. “I loved her class, and learned so much from her. Professor Moe not only taught theory and counterpoint, but also patience and kindness.”

But despite his history with academia, Bahrami says that when he was approached about teaching a World Music class at Grossmont College, and also leading a performance class called The Middle East Ensemble (aka The Caravan World Music Ensemble), he assumed he was being pranked. Derek Cannon, Grossmont College’s Music Department Chair, “called me with the proposal, and I thought he was kidding. We’d gone to San Diego State together, so I knew him, and I had taught World Music at Cuyamaca College, but it still came as a surprise. But he was serious, and the class was approved, so I started doing a lot of research and preparation.”

The one-unit class welcomed its first students in 2018, with a course description promising “a community ensemble specializing in music from the vast Afroasiatic region known as the Middle East.” However, the class hit a rough patch when the coronavirus struck in 2020. “I think we managed one concert before the pandemic hit. After that, we did Zoom meetings for a year and communicated with recordings and such. Since last semester, we are having in-person classes again [with masking].”

Bahrami says that “the World Music class is very popular, perhaps because it’s an elective. Even during the pandemic, we had good attendance. The performance class, meanwhile, is looking for players and singers in any style. We do have people coming down from Santa Barbara with experience on ethnic instruments, and we are looking to collaborate with jazz and classical musicians as well.” As The Caravan World Music Ensemble, the group released a collaborative recording done last year with the Grossmont Jazz Ensemble called “Equity.” Guest players on the track include Angelica Pruitt (bass), David Rasmussen (sax), and Derek Cannon (trumpet).

There are a lot of non-Western music traditions that utilize vastly different tuning standards. Is there some factor that unites the music of all these different cultures? “The short answer is yes,” says Bahrami. “World Music means something different to everyone. I ask everyone at the beginning of each semester what they think, and there are many different definitions. But I always return to the interval. The octave is always the octave, the fifth and the fourth are the same. Fretless instruments have no problem, but there are notes between E and E flat that aren’t there on a guitar or piano. But it can be done.” The Grossmont College Middle East Ensemble recently made its return to live performances, with their first full concert in around two years.

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Farhad Bahrami plays postmodern Persian
Farhad Bahrami plays postmodern Persian

A one-time resident of Huntington, West Virginia, Iranian guitarist Farhad Bahrami arrived in San Diego in the early 1980s, bringing Persian music to the experimental Trummerflora Collective and serving as musical director for ensembles like Jazmahalis. He also began performing with Electric Ûd Trio, and he co-founded the group Darvak. His Dornob project is a cross-generational Persian dastgah band formed in 1985; it plays avant-garde twists on classical Persian music. The band’s website describes the music as Persian classical, folk, and original dastgah music played with mixed instrumentation (East/West, acoustic/electric) in the spirit of postmodern world jazz. “No one plays our style of jazz-influenced Persian classical music — not here, not in Iran,” says Bahrami.

Sponsored
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In addition to traditional Persian instruments — tar, ney (bamboo flute), tombak and daf drums, santur, and qanun (zither) — Dornob also incorporates fretless bass guitar, Persian-tuned keyboards, and other instruments to enhance its sound. The band’s stated goal — in addition to fostering friendship, crossing cultural bridges, learning the music, and having fun performing — is to make Persian music accessible to young and non-Persian audiences. Their full-length Segah, released on local world-music label Zaman, features eight band members, augmented by Jesse Audelo on soprano sax. “I’m honored and humbled to have so many young jazz players interested in Middle Eastern music,” says Bahrami. “It gives me hope in the music, but more importantly, in the multicultural worldview of the young generation.”

The Dornob Collective recently made their return to live stage performances, with a September 12 appearance at SDSU. For Bahrami, it was a sort of homecoming: he studied music as well as computer science at San Diego State, and he cites his music theory teacher from 1980 through 1983, Mrs. Jean Moe, as both a source of inspiration and an object of admiration. “I loved her class, and learned so much from her. Professor Moe not only taught theory and counterpoint, but also patience and kindness.”

But despite his history with academia, Bahrami says that when he was approached about teaching a World Music class at Grossmont College, and also leading a performance class called The Middle East Ensemble (aka The Caravan World Music Ensemble), he assumed he was being pranked. Derek Cannon, Grossmont College’s Music Department Chair, “called me with the proposal, and I thought he was kidding. We’d gone to San Diego State together, so I knew him, and I had taught World Music at Cuyamaca College, but it still came as a surprise. But he was serious, and the class was approved, so I started doing a lot of research and preparation.”

The one-unit class welcomed its first students in 2018, with a course description promising “a community ensemble specializing in music from the vast Afroasiatic region known as the Middle East.” However, the class hit a rough patch when the coronavirus struck in 2020. “I think we managed one concert before the pandemic hit. After that, we did Zoom meetings for a year and communicated with recordings and such. Since last semester, we are having in-person classes again [with masking].”

Bahrami says that “the World Music class is very popular, perhaps because it’s an elective. Even during the pandemic, we had good attendance. The performance class, meanwhile, is looking for players and singers in any style. We do have people coming down from Santa Barbara with experience on ethnic instruments, and we are looking to collaborate with jazz and classical musicians as well.” As The Caravan World Music Ensemble, the group released a collaborative recording done last year with the Grossmont Jazz Ensemble called “Equity.” Guest players on the track include Angelica Pruitt (bass), David Rasmussen (sax), and Derek Cannon (trumpet).

There are a lot of non-Western music traditions that utilize vastly different tuning standards. Is there some factor that unites the music of all these different cultures? “The short answer is yes,” says Bahrami. “World Music means something different to everyone. I ask everyone at the beginning of each semester what they think, and there are many different definitions. But I always return to the interval. The octave is always the octave, the fifth and the fourth are the same. Fretless instruments have no problem, but there are notes between E and E flat that aren’t there on a guitar or piano. But it can be done.” The Grossmont College Middle East Ensemble recently made its return to live performances, with their first full concert in around two years.

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