The term “musical prodigy” is applied fairly often, but drummer Jacob Armen has spent his entire life taking that concept to a whole other level. His Juilliard-trained musician father first noticed that Jacob had an incredible knack for rhythm when he was just 18 months old, and then just four months later the talented tyke was sitting on a stool and playing drums live with his father’s band at area restaurants and clubs.
He caught the attention of Johnny Carson and made his debut on the “Tonight Show” when he was just 7 years old. But even that wasn’t his biggest accomplishment, as he won an international drumming competition at 10 and wound up getting flown to Minneapolis to meet Prince, who signed him to a recording contract at that young age.
Now 36, Armen has overcome a severe car accident that nearly ended his career two years ago to emerge triumphantly with his latest album “When Drums Conduct.” The longtime Glendale resident will be marking its release with the musical extravaganza “Jacob Armen Live: A Celebration of Rhythm” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the city’s Alex Theatre.
“Drumming is pretty much the only thing I’ve ever done, because my dad taught me how to tap to the beat of songs when I was 18 months old and then saw I could keep beats going on my own all the way through four measures,” recalls Armen. “Four months later, I was sitting in with his band, keeping up with all the percussion. When I was 6, my father called a Cal State Northridge music professor he knew, who had me come into play and surprised us with TV cameras. Johnny Carson saw me on the news and the next thing I knew I was sitting in with Doc Severinsen’s band for a night.”
After receiving international press coverage and captivating millions with his “Tonight Show” appearance, Armen continued to make appearances on other top shows, including ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today”. When he met Prince before signing his deal with the legend’s Paisley Park Records, the singer called him “the most frightening drummer I’ve ever heard.”
Along the way, Armen collaborated with singer/bassist Jason Scheff of the band Chicago, Sheila E and former Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine. His contract with Prince enabled him to play on countless recordings produced by the label, as well as his own 1995 album “Drum Fever” when he was 13.
Armen has never looked back, with over 30 million views of his performance videos on the Internet and with his colorful experiences and connections enabling him to pull off the impressive feat of having 80 musical guests play on his new album. The CD encompasses rock, jazz, world and classical music and features multiple Grammy Award winning artists and collaborations with some of the industry’s finest, such as System of a Down’s Daron Malakian, Poncho Sanchez, Victor Wooten, Djivan Gasparyan, Patrick Moraz, the Lark Choir and the USC Trojan Marching Band.
“It’s going to be a hell of a show, with every kind of music you can imagine spotlighted because I love to play it all,” says Armen. “The doctors told me after my crash that I would never play again, but I worked hard to recover and God gave me this chance to keep going.”
“Jacob Armen Live: A Celebration of Rhythm” is performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Tickets are $25 to $150 VIP experience. Call (818) 243-2539 or visit alextheatre.org.