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Raffi Garabedian: 'First Trip to Fresno'

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A black and white collage of five images of a man holding a saxophone.
 (Photo Courtesy of Vicken Donikian/Collage by Spencer Whitney of KQED)

The Sunday Music Drop is a weekly radio series hosted by the KQED weekend news team. In each segment, we feature a song from a local musician or band with an upcoming show and hear about what inspires their music.

When tenor saxophonist and composer Raffi Garabedian creates music, he enjoys improvising and communicating through his instrument. Garabedian is a second generation Armenian American who was born and raised in Berkeley and now lives in Oakland. He gigs regularly in jazz bands around the Bay Area and his brother is a local bass player.

“I think our life or society has very little room for the unknown and for the abstract and for exploration,” said Garabedian. “And so art functions as an outlet for people, either for the listener or the performer.”

His song “First Trip to Fresno,” is from his latest record, The Crazy Dog. The album is about him sharing his late father’s writings and work that hasn’t been published. His father was a professor who taught criminology and sociology at San Francisco State University. He passed away on March 18, 2020.

“There’s just like, piles and pages and documents of all sorts of writing, creative writing, poetry, family history, and so for me, this is a way I can kind of share that,” he said. “The lyrics from the song are taken from a story that my father would always tell us, and he wrote it in his memoir.”


The story is about his father’s family driving across the country and seeing how vast the United States is for the first time from a young boy’s eyes, and arriving to the West Coast where some of his extended family lived.

“His writing, I think, was just his voice, just like the saxophone is my voice,” he said.

The band includes Danielle Wertz, Jonathan Beshay, Ben Goldberg, Danny Lubin-Laden, Dierk Peters, Rashaan Carter and Sean Mullins. If you’d like to hear Raffi Garabedian live, he’ll be performing at the Desher Ensemble Studio as part of the West Oakland Sound Series on April 14 at 7 p.m.

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