photo by Don Hagopian

Gilded Serpent presents...
honoring the musicians who shaped our dance world
John Bilezikjian
Where Old World Charm Meets Musical Genius
by Elizabeth Artemis Mourat

My relationship with John Bilezikjian began when I was a baby dancer. My teacher carried records to class back then and his music helped me to learn to dance. As artists, we always embrace our early music. Years later, listening to it is like reminiscing with an old familiar friend. I knew John artistically for many years before I knew him personally. One day I boldly decided to write him a letter to tell him how much I loved his music. I was a struggling young artist and he was a big famous guy. I did not expect a reply but much to my surprise, there was a warm and personal handwritten reply in my mailbox a few weeks later. This was not a form letter but something real and it was then that this icon became a real person to me. Over time, I replaced his records with cassettes and then the cassettes with CDs and we continued to correspond as the letters gave way to E-mails. It would be almost thirty years until we finally met.

I have used John’s music for my shows. I happily carry on the tradition of introducing new dancers to his musical genius in class. CDs are a lot easier to carry in our dance bags than records were. I have continued to write to him about how his music has impacted on my life:
“Dear John, we took you to the beach with us today. My husband and I listened to you as we drove up the North Carolina coast.”
“Dear Friend, I took you with me to Japan. My students loved you.”
“Dear John, I had dental surgery today. It took hours but I brought my walkman with me and was comforted by your compositions. It was like having an old friend hold my hand.”
“Dear John, I have a friend who told me that when there is the inevitable occasional job when she would rather stay home in her fuzzy slippers, she uses your music because she knows it will always inspire her to have a great show. Another friend told me that when she has trouble getting her students to feel the music, she uses your music because she knows they will be moved by it.”

The older I get, the more convinced I am that it is important to tell fellow artists how they have influenced us. There are thousands of lives they have touched but it is not possible for them to actually know the full extent of it. So, I have shared these things with John. When you say such things to him, he has a lovely way of turning every compliment around into a compliment about you. So, you thank him but he ends up thanking you. This is a gift, a gracious gift, and John is one of those rare men with old world charm and manners. I am proud to know him.

A few years ago we met at an event sponsored by Sidqi and Kostana of Raks-n-Rhythms and it was a tremendous pleasure to finally see him. He was just as I imagined, every bit as gracious in person as he had been in our correspondences. I was impressed by his skill as he gently and patiently negotiated with the other dancers and musicians about the show. He was dignified, funny and knowledgeable both on and off the stage despite no sleep, a harrowing flight across the country and no dinner. He is a perfect gentleman, elegant and powerful. When John plays, the story is in his face. You can read it there – his true self, his joy, his passion, his humor and yes, even his pain for his beloved Armenian people. He tells you the whole story with his music.

A short while later fate threw us together again for another concert. It was a perfect night. Deniz of Caravan Workshops arranged a beautiful concert in an intimate but state-of-the-art theater in Ohio. John was playing with his dear friend, the very fine percussionist, Vaughn Masropian. The sound of his oud was full and rich. We kept looking for the other oud but it was John, his eleven strings and his genius that filled the stage. This was real music, not synthesized machinery but flesh and blood – every bit. The synergy between these two old friends, John and Vaughn added a personal element. That combined with the energy from the dancers gave truth to the adage that; “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Dancing with John that night was a dream-come-true. And the music was superb. As with every great concert, the music carries the dancer and flows through her – like the blood in her veins and the air that she breathes. The music carries her and drives her movements. The music dances the dancer and there are times when there is nothing in her consciousness but the music and the dance.

Sometimes the connection goes even deeper because it is the music and the person behind the music and the dance and the person behind the dance that all connect. These four entities create a magnificent union. And for me, this time it was even better than other times in my life, because it was with John. It was the most magical show of my 35 year career - pure bliss on stage. I have worked with hundreds of musicians, many of whom I am happy to call my friends. But there are times when we never even see the musicians nor have we heard their music until our feet touch the stage for the show. Inevitably, there are also times when we know musicians who may play like gods but our interpersonal relationships may not be happy. It is still possible to have a wonderful artistic connection because we connect with the musicians through art – artistry connects with artistry. The Muses take over and we can become one with the music through their help and through applying our combined skills. BUT, we hope for and wish for those magnificent moments when the dancer becomes one with the music AND she becomes one with the musicians too. This is not possible unless there is mutual love and respect between you.

Great music is a joy, but when the connection becomes more personal – the artistic union is complete – music to dance, musician to dancer, friend to dear friend. This is the highest state of the art. Art joins art AND artist joins artist AND friend joins friend in the moment, on the stage. This is what happened for us that night. This is what John eloquently calls; “Artistic love expressed between two people.”

I asked to dance early so that I could sit with my friends and watch the show that night. We had commandeered the entire front row, and we were singing the words to the songs, holding hands and swaying side to side in unison. When John sang his famous composition “Jemilleh” and he got to the part where he hesitates, we all froze and held our breaths and then exhaled in unison and pretended to swoon. He was watching us and we made him laugh. We giggled like school girls. As always, John entertained the audience with playful verbal banter interspersed with educational comments to help us to more fully understand the music he was playing. He played Italian, Russian, Armenian, Greek, Turkish and Arabic music. He even slipped into a few bars of Iron Butterfly’s song; “Ina-Gada-Da-Vida” for comic relief.  

I have known a few geniuses in my day, and they are fascinating people but their social development often seems as if it is lagging behind. I am sure that it is nearly impossible to be great at everything. John is an exception to this. He is an elegant and gentle genius.

Now, he is faced with some health challenges. He approaches these with the same calm and gracious countenance that I have grown to love. My students and I recently sent him a get well card covered with lipsticked kisses. He found that amusing. So typical of John, he wrote us a thank you card immediately and told us that he was working hard to get better so as not to let us down. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. I gaze at the people I love and I know that every day with them is precious. There are no guarantees in life and we must not only cherish our loved ones who are ill but those who enjoy good health as well. Every day is precious. So, it is my supreme pleasure, to present to you an interview with John Bilezikjian…

Author Artemis performs with John. photo by Dale Langdon
The French Connection,
Executive Decision,
The Seige,
The Prince of Egypt,
The Mummy,
The Mummy Returns,
Accidental Spy,
Schindler's List,
Affair to Remember,
Maximum Risk,
Must Love Dogs,
Postman Always Rings Twice,
Ruby Cairo,
Queen of the Damned,
Charlie Wilson's War,
Spy Game,
Voices from the Lake,
The Way of the Wind,
Mirror Wars,
Omar Khayyam,
Dreams Khalil,
21 Hours at Munich,
The Nativity Story,
Maximum Risk,
Scorpion King,
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
and Untitled History Project/Disney.
Mission Impossible,
I Spy,
Three's Company,
The Odd Couple,
Perfect Strangers,
Apple's Way,
Murder She Wrote,
Happy Days,
Mork and Mindy,
Laverne and Shirley,
Wings of Eagles,
The Pirate,
St. Elsewhere,
Bionic Woman,
Hart to Hart,
Samson and Delilah,
Princess Daisy,
Hardy Boys,
Ten Commandments,
30 Something,
Austin City Limits
Ancient Mysteries of Egypt and Ancient Mysteries of Greece.

Tunisian and
Algerian songs.
Rock n' Roll,
English and
Country and Western music

Instruments Mastered
piano and
keyboard instruments.
tambourine and
clarinet and
baglama and
divan saz.

“We all know about your belly dance music. You also made 25 albums of many types of music. But your career is far more extensive than that. You wrote music for everything from the “Ten Commandments” to “Scorpion King.” Will you talk about your career in making music for movies and television?”
In the last 40 years, I have been blessed with recording and composing themes for motion pictures and television. I have either written or performed background music for over 42 movies for major film companies. I have been fortunate to be a part of over 29 television shows and in some of these productions, I appeared on screen as well. I have never made a complete film and television list, but the following is an accurate attempt.

“Will you talk about your early life and your musical family heritage?”
My first instrument was the ukelele when I was 4 years old. It was 1952 and I played First Ukelele in a small chamber group that toured local area hospitals where we would perform for patients.

I had wonderful parents, their names were Andrew and Alice Bilezikjian and we are Armenian. My father was a great classical violinist and my mother Alice was a fantastic singer. I remember saying to my mother and father when I was 5 years old, "I want to play like Daddy. I would like to learn the Violin.” The next day I had a violin in my hands and began classical violin studies with my father Andrew. In a relatively short time I was playing difficult violin concerti. What attracted me to wanting to play this instrument was listening to my father practice and perform and I wanted to be just like Dad. My mother was a powerful influence for me too. She would sing the songs of our people to me and instead of just listening to them, I wrote them down, all of them. This was the beginning of my vast library of music. During these formative years, I listened to old 78 record albums that my grandparents Haig and Nectar brought from the old country. This was music that my grandparents and parents loved, enjoyed and danced to. Those recordings deeply influenced me and I fell in love with the music, song and dance. I asked my mother Alice what that instrument was on those old records and she said it was an oud and that my grandfather had an oud upstairs in his room. We all lived together in a large house in Los Angeles. My mother brought the oud to me and the rest, as they say, is history.  I could practice and practice and never bother anyone in that large house. 

In my early years of oud playing, I started imitating what I was hearing on those old 78 recordings. My interests expanded to the music, songs and dances. I learned a great deal about the folklore of our people through the music and lyrics of the songs. This was my heritage, my family’s heritage, music and culture. I fell in love with it. I started my own Armenian band, called “The Halehs” at the age of 11 and performed for weddings, anniversaries, Armenian picnics and special occasions. I was around music all the time and couldn't wait until I could get the instrument in my hands and practice. I loved practicing. One has to love to practice if you want to better yourself. A good student of music realizes that it is practice that makes the artist. Jascha Heifetz, my greatest mentor said, "It is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration." I still performed on the violin throughout my school years, elementary, secondary, high school and college years, where I was First Violinist and Concertmaster of the school orchestras. My father always taught me to study and practice and would always say to me; "Work at your craft John and practice and one day you will receive everything that you have worked so hard for." I would always say that one day I will be a concert artist. I am lucky since my temperament suited my desire.  Many aspiring young talents do not have this trait in them and they fall short of their goal. To have fire in your playing and passion are rare attributes to possess all in one person. I was blessed. I always felt I was blessed and could do anything I wanted if I listened and practiced and worked hard for it.

I am an Armenian-American born in America and we are Christian people who have a strong bond with Christ and family. Armenians were the first people as a group to convert to Christianity in 301 AD. My father and mother were born in Europe, Turkey to be exact or what we Armenians refer to as “Historical Armenia” which is now Turkey proper. My father was born in a village in Turkey called Marash and my mother was born in the village of Mush in Bitlis. They both migrated to America and eventually settled in Los Angeles where I was born. I am the eldest of three children. I have a younger brother Edward who is a very famous and distinguished architect who also plays the clarinet and has appeared on my albums over the years. I have a younger sister, Alice Ann, who lives in San Juan Capistrano with her husband Ted and they have three children and one granddaughter, Emma.

My parents encouraged me to learn and practice and work hard at my musical craft. They were devoted people who loved and nurtured their children and would give all they had to their children's development. My mother used to say that there was a star born over my head so I was destined to do great things. I believe that I was born with the focus and the temperament to do what I have accomplished. This ability was nurtured by their love and support. My mother would say to her friends, at concerts and at venues that she was "My biggest fan." How lucky I was to have such a mother and I was definitely her biggest fan always.

I could read and speak both the Armenian and Turkish languages fluently. I was listening to music from all over the Middle East. I spent a great deal of time writing down this music - both the music notation and lyrics in many different languages. Throughout each year, I wrote down everything that I listened to. Then at the age of 18, I started singing and playing the oud at the Seventh Veil restaurant in Hollywood, California. I started writing songs for dancers and I furthered my career by performing at other Middle Eastern venues as well. At the same time, I finished my education at the San Fernando Valley State College which is now known as California State University at Northridge. 

“You had an anthropological approach to creating and maintaining your music library. Even as a child you were categorizing and preserving music. I would like for more people to know about your famous music library. This is another part of your legacy that is a gift to the world.”
My earliest inspirations were through my family and from listening intently to those very old records. This is when I began connecting intimately with the roots of Middle Eastern music. I wrote down everything. I was also fortunate to know many musicians who were first generation immigrants to the United States. Most of them were working as carpenters and cooks by day but at night, they played music that fascinated me.

I was a sponge and I collected and chronicled this authentic music. I learned everything I could about each song; the history and culture behind it, the names of the original composers (and their stories), the maqams, the musical notation, the lyrics, the meanings behind the lyrics and the various versions of the songs. I do not know of any other musician in my genre who has done this. The collection is enormous and I have spent my life compiling this music so that the world can have it some day.

My music library is filled with thousands of black notebooks labeled with my compositions. I have a large library of CD's, some historical and others of many different styles of music that I listen to quite regularly which offers creative inspiration to me for my own compositions and on commissions.

I have a library of some 2,000 oud etudes I have composed for the oud which are exercises and caprices. I have written these compositions for my oud students and other oud performers to help them achieve better technique on their instrument.

I have written The Oud Method Book for the Hal Leonard Music Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was chosen from a large list of players and personalities on the oud. I was the first person selected to write such a book for their catalogue. I also made an accompanying CD which the student can follow for each lesson. I played dumbeg as well on the CD so the student can hear the various rhythms of the Middle-East, their rhythm name, the meter and how it should sound.

photo by Don Hagopian

“It is great that you have continued to create music with your family. Your happy marriage is a fine example for us all. Will you tell us how you met?”
I met Helen, my wife, while performing and we immediately became friends. I was performing in Anaheim at an American restaurant called the Cascades. Helen was working on a production of "King and I" in Orange County and was in need of Siamese dancers for the opera. That type of dancer was unavailable at the time and a friend of Helen's in the production asked her: “What about belly dancing? Could this be a good substitute?” She told Helen she knew of a place in Orange County where she could take Helen to see belly dancers. Helen came to the restaurant with an entourage of friends and production staff from the play and sat right near the stage where I was performing. As I came down from the stage at the end of our first show that particular evening, I was introduced to Helen as a wonderful classical singer who is putting on a production of "King and I" locally and is in need of some belly dancers for her performances.

I am told that I took Helen's hand and kissed it and said, "Why are opera singers always so beautiful?" Well that's all it took and we started seeing each other. We talked about music and life and who we performed for and with. It ultimately turned into a kind of love whereby we each feel that we could not and cannot live without the other.

We started working on a repertoire together as singer and oudist and then began to promote ourselves. We eventually started working and were known in music circles kiddingly as the "Opera Singer and the Oud Player." Helen had two sons from a prior marriage and I had two sons from a prior marriage. Together we raised four sons and the boys became fine men. My two sons, John David Bilezikjian and George Hrant Bilezikjian are musicians and entertainers. They are both married with children. John the oldest has a son named Anthony John whom we call “AJ.” John's wife's name is Arsene. George has a daughter Alycea and two sons who are fraternal twins, Alexander Antranik Bilezikjian and Julian Hampartzoom Bilezikjian. George's wife's name is Leanore. John and George live in California and perform with their father and “Auntie Helen” as they would call my wife in their growing up years. Helen's two sons are Morgan Walton who is in college and is acquiring his degree. Mason Walton, Helen's youngest son is married and has 6 children which keeps Helen quite busy. His wife's name is Kari. As they say; "There's no dull moment in this family."

My Armenian band consists of Helen, John and George, Greg Hosharian on Keyboards, Simeon Pillich on Bass and Greg Miller on Guitar. We perform everything from Rock n' Roll to Latin music, Country Songs, Ballads and Middle-Eastern music including Armenian, Greek, Arabic, Persian, Israeli, Spanish, Turkish and many other styles. It is said within the casual entertainment circles that we are unique and versatile and the best band of our type due to the variety of music we offer. We are a self contained music and dance company which works under my record company label, "Dantz Records and Entertainment." The name “dantz”means “pear” in the Armenian language. We are located in Laguna Hills , CA. I have owned this company since 1969.

 “How is it that you started making music for Middle Eastern dancers?”
I started performing for Belly dancers in the early 1960s in Hollywood and Los Angeles. I received so many kind remarks about my selections, style, voice and oud playing that it seemed logical for me to make LP's which were very popular back then. Many friends, dancers and customers of mine would ask and encourage me to put something out on LP so it can be purchased. I did so and I made nine of those record albums. They are now out on CD and you can hear clips by going to my web site and look under belly dancing.

“Many of your compositions have become belly dance classics. Which songs on your CDs are your own compositions?”
On all of my CD's, I was the orchestrator of the music and the arranger and in some cases where transcriptions were needed, they were all done by myself. On my Atlantis CD, the song “Black Eyes” is an original song I wrote for Tonya in 1969. On my A Thousand and One Nights CD, “Serenade” is an original piece. On my Magic CD, “Jemilleh” is an original song adapted from a Middle-Eastern melody. On my La Danse Orientale CD, “Sueños de Cadiz” is an original piece. On my Dream of Scheherazade CD, “Armenian Dance” in the “Antonia's Delight” belly dancing routine is an original piece. On my Dantz Fever CD, “Oud Halay” is an original piece.

“Will you talk about how music and dance brings people together?”
 I believe music, song and entertainment is the perfect medium to bring people and all nationalities and cultures together. I see my audiences joining together as they enjoy themselves. Music and dance also helps people directly. One couple recently said after coming to one of my performances, that I took them to another place. They were wrapped up with the singing, the excitement and the dancing. It certainly makes me feel good doing this and I see a positive response from those attending. They say things like; "John, you made me forget my problems. It was great to be here tonight." This is enormously gratifying to me.

“Where are you performing now?”
I travel when it is required for my performances but luckily I now perform for the most part within driving distance from my home a good part of the year. Presently I am performing in San Diego a great deal of the time for the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum. I am performing in Carlsbad near San Diego, California in a restaurant called “The Armenian Cafe.” I perform with Tonya and Atlantis at an American dinner house in Huntington Beach called “The Pelican Isle Restaurant.”  I perform at another American restaurant with Tonya and Atlantis called “Khoury's” in Long Beach. I play casuals (single night engagements) regularly, give recitals and concerts when available and give lectures and demonstrations on various instruments frequently.

“Will you give us some thoughts on how you feel about performing?”
In performances, we must entertain the audience and I have always tried to give 150%. I want my audience to enjoy themselves and when the evening is over, I hope that they have participated in and were a part of a memorable night with me. In order to do this, I have to be totally in the moment during the entire show. I feel like the Pied Piper and I lead the crowd through an experience that feels magical to us all. Everybody knows the songs but a good concert needs to have more than that.

What makes the difference is how you present the material. I offer traditional Middle Eastern music but I play it my way, in my style which is all my own. Through music, I am one with my soul. The sincerity and respect that I feel is expressed through my musicality. I feel that I represent the authenticity of an era that is no longer here and this is a profound but joyous responsibility.

It is necessary to express the music as well as the lyrics of every song in a meaningful and communicative way. But it is more than the music and styling, there are always many choices and decisions that need to be made in the moment in the context of the show. I feel like the “King of Spontaneity.” We all start with set lists and a plan for presenting our material in a certain order.

But the set list is quickly ignored when I look into the eyes of the audience and I feel that they need to hear something different at that moment. This happens between myself and the dancers too. I look at an experienced dancer and she looks at me and she trusts me to take her to the best possible place with the music.

During the evening, I encourage folk dancing and intersperse popular Armenian, Greek, Turkish, Israeli and Arabic folk dance songs in my music sets. My wife Helen on occasion teaches the folk dance steps to customers and dancers and is often asked to lead the folk dance line when she is present. I speak to my audiences about the music, the songs and dances. I tell them what the words mean, what the dance steps are, the various rhythms of the songs in simple and compound meters. I tell the audience which songs are from what country and then give an example of that country’s music and dance. I try to be as informative as possible and yet as entertaining as I can.

All of these techniques described above are the things that maximize the material for the show. And ultimately, you must thoroughly entertain the crowd so they will come back to see you and your show again and again. You must make it a memorable evening for your audience. That has been my motto and my show statement for 50 years.

“Do you have any advice for musicians and dancers?”
The best advice I have for musicians just starting out is to practice and to listen to all styles of music. To immerse yourself in listening to music from all over the world with a serious ear to detail. Listen to the melody, the harmony, counterpoint, and of course, the rhythm. Nothing in the world exists without rhythm in some form or another. A beginning musician needs to pay his or her dues. There are no such things as overnight successes. It takes years of hard work, dedication and practice and a lifetime of sacrifice in your craft in order to achieve superiority on your instrument. Of course some good old fashion luck isn't bad either. Of course it doesn't hurt also if God has given that young musician a great ear to be able to listen with and a mind which picks up on the finer points of practice, learning and accuracy. The real issue is practice, remember, "90% perspiration and 10% inspiration" as Jascha Heifetz said.

For the most part I think musicians of today need to listen more and talk less and not get up on a stage when they are not yet ready to perform. It is one thing to practice and to work at your craft at home in the privacy of your practice room and it is another thing to be in front of an audience and project yourself to the crowd. Unfortunately, just as some dancers get up and dance professionally before they are ready; so do some musicians of today. They do not have the repertoire or technique to facilitate being able to perform music in a professional manner and the same goes for the dancers. It takes years of working hard and practicing for dancers and musicians before they should get up on a stage and be in front of an audience.

With today’s Middle-East sound, the Arabic and specifically the Egyptian music and style, seem to be more in the spotlight. Egyptian style dancing is very popular. An entire generation of dancers is dancing to CDs (canned music) and not to live music. What does that tell you? On occasion I have experienced this very fact from dancers who are scheduled to perform and have never danced with musicians. In the 1960s this was unheard of. The Turkish style of belly dancing to me was more prevalent in the 1960s until the 1980s in America.

Traditional music is extremely important but there is also a natural evolution I feel of music and dance. So it might be beneficial for a performer to learn the newer styles that are being performed. There are other dance trends I have noticed that are becoming popular in our dance community and those are Tribal and Fusion influences. With these newer dance styles, there is an inevitable corresponding new style of music. So we are now hearing and seeing changes in traditional belly dance and also in the music. These changes started in the 1960s and continue to go on. I believe that an artist should always be able to offer new expressions and make new presentations to go with the times. This is how we evolve as artists.

Sometimes I perform for over an hour before I invite a dancer up to do her show. I have felt that when I introduce that dancer, I am there for her, to give her the music she wants to dance to the best way I can. I am there to encourage the audience to support her on stage and to support the dancer visually as well as musically. I endeavor to give the dancer the correct time length of music for her show as well. I do not pull surprises on the dancer unless it is someone I know and have worked with for years and years and they know me and my style and they trust that whatever I do on stage will compliment them. The surprise might be as simple as a song I sing just for her. A good example is my relationship with Tonya from Los Angeles. She and I have been performing together for nearly 40 years. We had a routine together. We had rhythm together. We had melody and harmony together. It all worked all of the time. I cannot think of another dancer that moved to what I played on stage as Tonya did. Besides being very beautiful, she was a seductive lady on stage with exciting moves and facial expressions. She had something for anything and everything I gave her musically. It was wonderful and I have many fond memories of working with her. I hope other musicians will experience what I was fortunate enough to have had  with Tonya in my performance career.

John in the 1960s.This photo taken by his father Andrew Bilezikjian

“Will you tell us about some of the highlights of your career?”
I have had the pleasure of performing in Europe, America, Mexico and Africa. I have been presented in concert to King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain, Mrs. Anwar Sadat of Egypt and I performed for Saudi Arabian Royalty, King Abdul Azziz Bin Aziz who is one of King Khaled's son's. I have performed at restaurants, night clubs, supper clubs, lounges, hotels and private parties for over 50 years.

One of the biggest highlights of my musical life was on June 11, 2005 when I was the featured soloist with the venerable Boston Pops Orchestra in Boston's Symphony Hall. I was invited to give this concert from the Boston Pops organization themselves which marked the first time an oud was heard with a symphony orchestra as a solo instrument. I performed the Antonio Vivaldi "Concerto for Lute in D Major," Aram Khachadourian's "Sabre Dance" and a solo piece from the Spanish Guitar repertoire called "Asturias-Leyenda" by Isaac Albeniz. All of the transcriptions for the above pieces were written by me for the oud and for the orchestra. Because of the soft and non-sustain sounding nature of the oud, the orchestral score had to be modified to fit such an instrument, otherwise the orchestra would drown out the oud on stage. The concert went very well. I received many accolades from the audience in emails and in letters from patrons and friends who attended the event. Over 2,000 people attended the concert and I received four standing ovations from the audience and from the Boston Pops Orchestra members themselves.

I have also appeared as a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under the batons of Zubin Mehta, Carlo Maria Giulini, Michael Tilson Thomas, Daniel Barenboim as well as other famous conductors. I also appeared with The Los Angeles Mandolin Orchestra and the Pacific Palisades Symphony under the baton of Maestro Joel Lish. I have always had the same dream since childhood. I wanted to be a classical artist on stage with either my violin or oud with a symphony orchestra behind me. I have realized that dream with both the violin and the oud. I feel blessed that I was able to see my dream realized.

I have recorded music for Robert Palmer, Placido Domingo, Ofra Haza and Leonard Cohen. I made two world tours with Leonard Cohen between 1979 and 1988. And in 1992 a woman named Gail Schwartz wrote my life story when she did her master’s thesis on me and my music at UCLA. The thesis was entitled “Creativity and Synthesis in the Music of John Bilezikjian."

“Are there other dreams you are working on now?”
As of late, my dreams now center around prayer and God and hoping for a miracle to happen concerning a serious medical challenge I am undergoing. I was diagnosed with end stage renal failure in 2006. Simply put, my kidneys no longer function. I was operated on in May of 2007 and the results of that procedure helps me to get my dialysis. I take these treatments three days a week, from 5:30 am to 10:30 am. The treatment is tiring and exhaustive. I usually come home and nap for up to three hours at times on those dialysis afternoons otherwise I cannot function on those days without it. I am told that having kidney failure is considered a terminal illness and that I will need to be on the dialysis machine for the rest of my life. I was given a life expectancy and I refuse to believe this from my doctors. I cannot live my life thinking I have a set number of months, weeks and days to live. Instead, I am facing this illness head on and attacking it with all I can with medications and correct nutrition. I have managed to endure so far.

I had a similar life and death situation in 1976. At the age of 28 I was diagnosed with testicular seminoma, a serious cancer. The cancer spread throughout my body and after undergoing three serious operations, I was told I had 4 months to live. By a miracle I feel from God, deep prayer and the love of friends and family, I beat the odds given to me by my doctors over 30 years ago. I hope to do that again concerning my present medical situation. I have received thousands of cards, letters, emails and phone calls from people all over the world giving me their love and best wishes for recovery and several of my friends and family members have offered me one of their kidneys. I have so much to be grateful for and so many people who are counting on me to win this battle. I will try once more to beat the odds and surprise everyone and maybe myself too. My entire life seems to have been as if I was a role model for others. As if I was the caregiver for others. Sometimes that is overwhelming for me but with such powerful support from my family and friends, I feel I will be successful once again in beating this disease and surviving.

“Do you have any closing thoughts?”
I had a storybook childhood filled with love, church and family. What could be better? I had the respect of fellow artists both musicians and dancers. I enjoyed the venues I performed in and the owners for the most part were honorable to me. I feel very fortunate to still be able to perform and relate to my audience and to do what it is that I love to do so much. It is interesting when one is young we say: “Oh, how I may be unhappy…” at a certain venue or with a certain musician or dancer. But as the years go by and one reflects on those early years, you realize that those were the “Golden Years” for you. Oh how I wish I had those Golden Years again. But I am blessed with so many fond memories. These include happy times with my accompanists and dancers over the years. It has been a pleasure to perform for and with these artists throughout my career.

How blessed we are to make our living doing what we love. My happiest times now are when I am performing on stage and times when I am with my family. I have had a wonderful career and consider myself most fortunate and blessed to have my family and friends who admire me and my work. Indeed, to be a part of this wonderful thing called “music” - to create and to be in a field that I love, I am most grateful.

John and Helen's website

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