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August 17, 2017

Alumni Profile: Fabian Almazan (BM ’06, MM ’09, Jazz Piano)


When Fabian Almazan moved to the U.S., pianist Conchita Betancourt graciously gave him free lessons for over three years. As a student at the New World School of the Arts High School, Fabian was selected for the piano chair in the 2002 National Grammy High School Jazz Combo and won the piano chair for the Brubeck Institute fellowship program.

In 2003, Fabian moved to NYC to study at Manhattan School of Music and immersed himself in orchestral composition, studying instrumentation and orchestration under the tutelage of Giampaolo Bracali.

While at MSM, Fabian lived without a piano in an attic space in the Bronx and worked many jobs to make ends meet. After a mysterious phone call from Terence Blanchard asking him to audition, Fabian became his pianist. For the past four years he has toured North and South America, Asia, and Europe extensively with the Terence Blanchard Group.

Here’s how Fabian’s passion for music, immense talent, and hard work at MSM changed everything.

Why did you choose to attend MSM?

I knew I would be challenged by the level of musicianship at the conservatory; I thought that that sort of atmosphere would push me to improve as a musician myself. In addition to the community, the knowledge that the teachers had to impart and the library in the school, with its abundance of materials, were two things I was very hungry for. As a jazz musician, the fact that the school is in New York City was huge too—yes, because it’s the indisputable Mecca of jazz, but also because of the cultural diversity and richness of the city.

What was your MSM experience like?

I would say I wasn’t the most noticeable student, to be honest. I studied a lot, worked hard, and practiced as much as I could, but self-promotion and competitiveness don’t come naturally to me so most of the time I was just working on my craft. It wasn’t until the later years, when I began performing more around the world, that I started to hang out more and enjoy the company of some pretty spectacular peers of mine. But, for the most part, I was working very hard on improving as a musician.

What impact did your education at MSM have on your life?

It had an immense impact. I learned so much about theory and orchestration…. technique on my instrument, compositional approaches, the cultural power of art, computer music…the list is practically endless. I have no excuse not to know a ton about music because of the education I received at MSM.

What is your favorite MSM memory?

Hearing an orchestra perform my piece for the first time. I never thought I’d have the opportunity to compose for such an ensemble, let alone conduct them myself. That was a very memorable moment.

What have been your greatest challenges since graduating?

Maintaining the same level of discipline and organization that I was expected to have a handle on when I was at MSM. In the real world, I have to be my own conservatory and that ain’t easy.

What activities do you like to do outside of music?

I love bicycles and I’ve named all five of mine. Some of their names I can’t say here. I also love nature and the outdoors, so I try to camp out whenever my schedule allows it.

What were some of your favorite classes and why?

Actually art history was by far my favorite. As much as I love music, it would get overwhelming from time to time trying to keep up with it. It was such a nice experience to go to this class and marvel at all of those beautiful works of art. It’s been very fulfilling getting to tour around the world and see in person a lot of the works that I first became aware of in that class.

As you think about all of your accomplishments, what are you most proud of achieving?

The first time I played at the Village Vanguard with my group, a kid came up to me with his mom and they told me they really enjoyed the show. It made me feel warm inside to know that just a few years before that I had been that kid, completely enamored by music and trying to understand the world through music. At that moment I realized that I had become part of the “family” of jazz musicians that is keeping the spirit of the music breathing until the next person comes along to do the same.

If you had an entire day free how you would spend it?

As tired as I am from working right now, sleeping!

If you could take a trip to any place in the world, where would you go? Why?

Cuba. It’s been a while. Haven’t been there since I was 9. I think it’s time for me to go back and feel my home a little bit.

If I were a student at MSM, what advice would you give me?

Try to zoom out every once in a while so you don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Take advantage of all of the information that is available to you as a student. If someone calls you a jack of all trades and master of none, take it as a compliment…. Your time at MSM might be the only time you have the luxury of exploring.

If you could have a conversation with any three people, living or dead, who would you choose and why?

I didn’t really get to know my grandparents for various reasons. I’d love to talk to them and learn more about their lives.


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