Music

[This travel article was published in the November 2007 issue of the Qatar-based feature magazine ‘New Era’.]

Central Park, NYCIt is late afternoon, and I’m writing this article on a muggy, fall day in New York City’s Central Park. I’m seated on patchy grass after finding myself a hotspot (thanks to free wi-fi in the park), catching up on e-mail and news. I arrived here on the comfortable Acela train from Boston, three and a half hours of super-smooth travel that skirted the Eastern seaboard with barely a whisper. Since my arrival, I’ve been drawn into a gritty, urban state of mind, while savouring the ability to keep walking for hours, being simultaneously assaulted and lulled by the sights and sounds of Manhattan. In contrast, the park is an anticlimax – a green cocoon of quiet; free of exhaust and the taut energy that wraps the avenues outside. The purpose of my visit? None really. I have no appointments to keep, no deadlines to meet. I’m staying at the New Yorker Hotel, in midtown Manhattan. Built in the art deco style of the jazz swing era, it was one of NYC’s premier hotels and hosted famous big bands such as those led by Benny Goodman and Woody Herman during its heyday. Unfortunately it stands in various states of disrepair today, but its location is hard to beat, offering an almost instant access to several key tourist spots and vistas in the city core. Situated a few blocks north is Times Square and Central Park, and to the South, Lower Manhattan and the Village with its interesting, funky neighbourhoods such as SoHo, Chelsea, Little Italy and Chinatown. Continue reading

Christ Church Cathedral on Rue St. Catherine - the only church in Canada to sit atop an underground mall. The dramatic view from the street of the office tower's façade reflecting the church has become a city icon[This article was published in the August 2007 issue of the Qatar-based feature magazine ‘New Era’.]

Attending the Montréal Jazz Festival in Canada has been a musical pilgrimage of sorts for me since emigrating to the West in 1994. A musical marathon, this festival spans eleven days and nights in the summer, turning the Western hemisphere’s largest French-speaking capital into an entertainment mecca for everyone from aficionados of pure jazz to its musical offshoots. By providing entertainment and plenty of other distractions to approximately two and a half million people, this festival overshadows both Canada Day and the Fourth of July, two big holidays in North America, with the European ambience strong enough to make one forget about anxieties south of the border such as war and terrorism. Continue reading

[This article was published in the June 2007 issue of the Qatar-based feature magazine ‘New Era’]

When asked to name someone who has had a major influence in their lives, most people choose to mention a mentor figure – a teacher, sports coach or counselor. Having had a succession of piano teachers in my learning years, I can attest to their influence not only on my musical growth, but also in areas personal and psychological.

I began learning the piano at age six. In the years to follow, my teachers were chosen for me. If at all there was an interview, it was the teacher who had the final say in choosing the student. Understandable. For the most part, they were wonderful human beings, but their undemanding teaching methods (at least where I was concerned) and indulgent style left me unchallenged and I carried a certain void with me.

Recognizing the need to be challenged, I set out to find a teacher in my early teens. I was already in love with the piano, working zealously and enjoying practice as much as I did performance. Impatient to move ahead in my musical growth, I welcomed criticism, objective observation and discipline. My ideal teacher would be someone who would recognize my musical aptitudes and deficiencies, while shaping a curriculum that would bring out the best in me while setting a high standard of goals. 

If you want to study music privately, recognize that you are a free agent, and can and should interview prospective teachers. As a teacher, I encourage students to query about my teaching methods & lessons before they sign up. Just as you might seek the opinion of two or three doctors on a medical issue before accepting one diagnosis and treatment over the others, I see no reason why a student shouldn’t take trial lessons with a few teachers before deciding on whom to study with eventually. Continue reading

New Era, May 2007[This article was published in the May 2007 issue of the Qatar-based feature magazine ‘New Era’. View as PDF.]

“My memory is shot” you mutter to yourself despondently, as you try to retrieve a speck of information from the dark recesses of your mind. And it’s not the first time you’ve experienced this mental blackout.

You’re trying to play from memory a solo piano work comprising sixty-four A3-sized pages – covering thirty minutes of performance time. But why bother to go through the arduous task of putting to memory something you’re better off simply reading? Here are a few reasons: It is protocol at some music competitions & festivals to perform without a score. If you ever arrive at a social event, and someone invites you to perform, you can do so, even you don’t have the score on hand. Besides you’ll be guaranteed to impress your audience, as there seems to be a false assumption by listeners and critics that if a piece is not memorized, it is not being played to it’s fullest potential.

Oh well, I’m happy to break the rules since I’m hardly the convention-bound teacher. I’m not in any way demeaning the practice of memorization; in fact a fair amount of my classical repertoire had been put to memory in my younger days. Some pieces require total virtuosic treatment – where the body is physically almost one with the instrument. I recall playing some etudes by Karol Szymanowski, (involving bi-tonality and plenty of crashing dissonant chords) in which the notes traveled at lightening speed, the performance wrapped up before I even knew I hit the last chord. I certainly couldn’t read and execute these pieces simultaneously. In this case, memorization totally facilitated my performance. Continue reading

Internet radio companies are preparing for a battle with the Copyright Royalty Board that could lead to the Congress and – many fear, the end of streaming music stations in the United States. Most Internet radio stations are independent from major media companies that own the majority of traditional radio stations. As a result, webcasters play a far more diverse selection of music than broadcast or even satellite radio. Several Internet radio companies are arguing that a recent decision by the Copyright Royalty Board (a three-member panel under the Library of Congress), would make it almost impossible for them to stay afloat. Under the ruling released on March 2, web broadcasters must pay every time a listener hears a song, at a rate that began at 0.08 cent in 2006 (the ruling applies retroactively) and rises to 0.19 cent in 2010. Besides increasing the charge for each song, the ruling established a $500 minimum payment for each Web channel. In all likelihood, many stations will be bankrupt if forced to do this. Continue reading

Michel Petrucciani was one of my favourite pianists – I saw him perform live just once – and what an amazing, high-energy, mind-blowing concert that was!!! I had the opportunity to meet him the next day in oddly mundane surroundings – the foodcourt in a shopping/office complex in Montreal, during the Montreal Jazz Fest in the summer of ’98. He was with some of his band members, and they were debating on what to order for their meal when I went up and spoke to him. I think he may have been one of the very few jazz musicians I’ve met who actually expressed an interest in how I had heard of his music, and what my connection to music was in general. When he learnt that I was a pianist, he immediately asked if I had any music of mine that he could listen to – of course, I didn’t then, but I came away touched by his offer to listen to my efforts. Little did I suspect that six months later, he would be no more. He was only 37 when he passed away.

I think any lover of jazz and student of piano would benefit from watching this video. It’s around 40 minutes in length, and has some touching moments during the interview with him.

And here’s a masterclass conducted in ’97:

By MAURIZIO SPENNATO | altriSuoni.org |December 2006
(Thanks to Stephan Cocron for translating the article from the original Italian into English)

Ramona Borthwick - A New Leaf
A New Leaf

A New Leaf is the very diverse and interesting debut CD from pianist and composer Ramona Borthwick. Indian by origin and English by adoption, Borthwick avoids every temptation of dominating or abusing her position with respect to her valid collaborators , and instead gives each of her fellow musicians the space they need to fully express themselves creatively, resulting in a resounding success.

In this project Ramona takes on many different styles of music, from ballads, like the track A New Leaf, to the passages of Home, which starts with a strong rhythmic component and then moves to flamboyant, almost tribal repetitive vocals, and then flows to unexpected resolutions and modern, original phrases that seem to want to repeat over and over again; in short, the song spans the entire cycle of the evolution of human musical expression, ranging from the early rudimentary beginnings to the construction of more contemporary avant-garde and innovative styles.

But there is no lack of other musical styles on this CD, which features some latin jazz tracks as well as influences from other parts of the world. These influences can be heard coming from the likes of Argentinean bassist Fernando Huergo, the strong and evocative presence of American trumpetist Phil Grenadier, as well as constant support of Israeli drummer Ziv Ravitz and finally the result of Borthwick’s passionate search for additional vocals leading to singer, bassist, and composer, Esperanza Spalding.

All of the tracks were composed by Ramona, with the exception of Two’s Complement, which was co-written by trusted collaborator Noel Borthwick, and Dark Secrets of Three Blind Mice, which was written entirely by Noel. Apart from being the guitarist of the group, Noel supervised all of the technical aspects of the CD; his regular gig is “software engineer” in the music industry, developing digital audio for recording engineers from around the world.

All the work is then pervaded by a subtle poetic vein (inspiration), which becomes palpable in the printed lyrics that complete the music and in which the individual tracks are commented on by Ramona and accompanied by delicate verses of poetry.

The result, then, is music, and poetry, but much more than that: even the graphical aspects of the CD were designed by Ramona, because as a complete artist, it is clear that all of visual, graphical, and Web, etc, arts, are all interconnected. All you need to do is take a glance at her website and you will see right away that she is a truly accomplished, “all encompassing” artist…

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(Original article as published in the Italian magazine AltriSuoni)

Molto vario ed interessante questo A New Leaf, il primo CD inciso da leader dalla pianista e compositrice, indiana di origine ed inglese di adozione, Ramona Borthwick che, evitando ogni tentazione di protagonismo e di prevaricazione nei riguardi dei suoi validi collaboratori e lasciando a ciascuno tutto lo spazio necessario per esprimersi compiutamente, ha conseguito un risultato brillante.

In questo lavoro Ramona si è confrontata con diversi stili, dalle ballads, come nel brano A New Leaf, ai passaggi di Home, caratterizzati inizialmente da una forte componente ritmica e da vocalizzi ostentatamente ripetitivi, quasi tribali, e successivamente da risoluzioni inaspettate e fraseggi melodici moderni ed originali, che sembrano voler ripercorrere così, in breve, tutto il percorso evolutivo dell’espressione musicale del genere umano, dalle rudimentali espressioni delle origini ai costrutti più avanguardistici e spregiudicati dei giorni nostri.

Non mancano infatti spunti modali, brani in puro stile latin-jazz ed altre influenze musicali di varie parti del mondo, dovute anche all’incontro con il bassista argentino Fernando Huergo, alla presenza forte e significativa del trombettista statunitense Phil Grenadier, al sostegno costante del batterista di origine israeliana Ziv Ravitz e una sensibile ricerca in campo vocale della stessa Borthwick assistita dalla vocalist, ma anche bassista e compositrice, Esperanza Spalding.

Tutte le composizioni sono di Ramona, con l’eccezione di Two’s Complement, di cui è coautore il fidato Noel Borthwick e Dark Secrets of Three Blind Mice di cui è autore proprio Noel che, oltre ad essere il chitarrista del gruppo, ha curato gli aspetti tecnici del CD, anche grazie all’altra sua professione, quella di ‘software engineer’ che opera proprio nel campo dei software musicali e delle registrazioni digitali per note case di livello mondiale.

Tutto il lavoro è poi pervaso da una sottile vena poetica, che diventa palpabile nel libretto che completa la musica ed in cui, i singoli brani, sono commentati dalla stessa Ramona ed accompagnati da delicati versi di poesia.

Musica, dunque, e poesia, ma non solo: anche gli aspetti grafici del Cd sono stati curati da Ramona stessa; già, perché altra sua attività è proprio quella di occuparsi di arti grafiche, web e quant’altro ad essi connesso. Basta dare un’occhiata al suo sito per avere l’immediata percezione di un’artista ‘a tutto tondo’…

Maurizio Spennato

With RICK HOLLAND, JazzRadio247.com, September Issue, 2006

Rick Holland: Thank-you Ramona for taking some time with us and our listeners at JR47. I just wanted to tell you, I’ve been enjoying your new disc, A New Leaf. I think what really captured my attention was the influence of World rhythms that involves your music. Can you share with us how you feel Jazz has cross pollinated into world music?
Ramona Borthwick: That is an interesting question, since this is relatively a more common phenomenon the other way around – world music cross pollinating jazz. Jazz itself might be considered world music in a sense, since its origins can be traced to the synthesis of Afro-European influences. Although my early music education was in western classical music, I grew up in India, a country where traditional and folk music is pretty much part of everyday life. With its regional diversity and profusion of religions, there are festivals occurring monthly if not more often, with music being an integral part of celebration and worship. In such an environment it’s hard not to have cultural influences leak into one’s expression of music, and often it is an unconscious process. So although I didn’t actively study or play traditional Indian music, I was exposed to a fair amount of Indian folk and classical music. And then there were Brazilian and other South American influences that came from listening to music from other parts of the globe. Ultimately, I believe that the best music comes from letting yourself play what needs to be played from inside you, without forcing it, or it can end up sounding contrived especially if you add stylistic elements for the sake of exotic value. The beautiful thing about jazz is how the form accommodates other stylistic elements while still retaining its core style. We are seeing more and more international jazz artists from Europe and other continents, combining native influences into their music in an organic manner. Continue reading

Thought I’d share the poem that’s on the CD sleeve of ‘A New Leaf’, with listeners who have chosen to buy the digital download version. That’s the one drawback of an otherwise great way to acquire music, you miss holding the sheath that wrapped the music itself – the artwork, the pullouts, artist comments and other valuable & sometimes nonsensical trivia that adds that little more to listening pleasure! This poem was written partly as a parallel to the composition ‘Home’ on the album.

the wind cradles me
I journey over waters
in their cupped palms
lands, peoples

cities on glossy postcards
transform into zip codes
in the cool land of maple and tulip
my inner landscape crossed by trails
of mango and jasmine

night falls
it is the same moon that greets me
the one from another land
a song plays from seasons before
a new leaf unfurls
like a phrase on a staff

I am home

~ rb

By RICK HOLLAND, JazzRadio247.com, September Issue, 2006

Ramona Borthwick - A New Leaf
A New Leaf

Ramona Borthwick’s A New Leaf is a new recording which introduces Ramona as a composer, bandleader and fine
pianist. She surrounds herself with some fine musicians including guitarist Noel Borthwick, to bring us a set of new music which pushes the boundaries both harmonically and rhythmically. The result is a fresh and creative disc that is not for the faint of heart.

One of the captivating things about Ramona’s music is she is so influenced by world rhythms, and she is able to incorporate these rhythmic ideas into her landscaped compositions. Her tunes convey contrast, and they seem to have a story-like quality to them. This is jazz music that reflects world ideals and these ideals are translated in a variety of ways to give the listener contrasting viewpoints.

Ramona is joined by Noel Borthwick, a fine guitarist, who is a proclaimed self-taught musician. However, Noel spent a year of private study with acclaimed Indian sarod player Shekhar Borkar. His primary concentration happened in his late teens. He began to develop a strong interest in bebop, modal and mainstream jazz styles, and was inspired by guitarists such as Pat Martino, Joe Pass, Jack Wilkins and the music of John Coltrane. Noel brings a genuine sense of joy to this project, and is a fine compliment to Ramona and her group. Continue reading

TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF By JENETTE BARNES
The Standard Times, August 10, 2006

Whaling City Sound artist Ramona Borthwick says that what she loves about jazz is the improvisation. Rooted in traditional jazz, Ramona Borthwick’s sound reflects her
international life: She was born in India, and lived in Ottawa, Canada, before moving to Boston seven years ago. The jazz pianist will perform this evening as part of AHA! Night, a monthly arts and culture night in downtown New Bedford.

Her latest album, “A New Leaf,” released in May on Whaling City Sound, spans 10 years of composition and performance. One track, “Ottawa Thaw,” expresses her longing for spring after long Canadian winters; “Home” is a reminder of India, but makes a statement about feeling at home in other places, too, Ms. Borthwick said. “That’s what home really means,” she said, “is to make yourself at home where you are, (so) you are no longer pining. It’s just freeing. It’s kind of like comfort food.” Continue reading

By KEN DRYDEN, AMG-Billboard, July 2006
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Ramona Borthwick - A New Leaf
A New Leaf

Jazz pianist Ramona Borthwick, a native of India who has lived in Canada for a long time, makes her recording debut as a leader with A New Leaf, a quintet date which focuses on her formidable skills as a composer and arranger. Accompanied by guitarist Noel Borthwick, bassist Fernando Huergo, trumpeter Phil Grenadier, and drummer Ziv Ravitz,

Borthwick effortlessly blends influences from the music of many lands throughout the sessions.

The lush opener is the easygoing, Latin-flavored ballad “A New Leaf,” featuring a fragile solo by Grenadier that is reminiscent of Tom Harrell, along with Borthwick’s lyrical piano. Noel Borthwick contributed the brisk but eerie “Dark Secrets of Three Blind Mice,” in which the guitarist and trumpeter exchange licks over the pulsating rhythm section to build the tension until it releases into a more conventional post-bop setting. Vocalist Esperanza Spalding (with the pianist singing the rhythm underneath her lead) is added for the infectious, multicultural “Garbarero,” which blends elements of Argentinean and Indian rhythm in a powerful post-bop setting, as well as the lively samba “Lotus Lake.”

Ramona Borthwick has made a major statement with this superb initial release.