Jazz pianist Ramona Borthwick plays for AHA! tonight

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.”

Neal Weiss, owner of Whaling City Sound, said Ms. Borthwick’s music has earned her a place of respect among jazz musicians and fans. “Jazz is generally a man’s world, and she seems to have — I guess the expression is ‘street cred’ — credibility in that world, on the basis of her music alone,” he said.

What Ms. Borthwick loves about jazz is the improvisation. It represents a sharp departure from the classical music of her college days. She first took an interest in jazz in her late teens, but not until her 20s did she begin to seriously study and play in the genre. “Bach improvised,” she said, “but when we play Bach, we just play the notes as they are written.”

Her influences include Miles Davis and John McLaughlin, who played with Mr. Davis and later released his own albums combining Indian music with jazz.

Ms. Borthwick’s 1999 album, “Sound Matters,” was considered the first indigenous recording of mainstream  contemporary jazz in India. Today, the nation plays host to several jazz festivals, and jazz is more popular than
it once was, Ms. Borthwick said. Still, jazz hasn’t gone mainstream in India. “Jazz is again confined to the elite,” she said. “Concerts are highly priced, and imports (CDs) are expensive to buy.”

But at AHA! Night, Ramona Borthwick’s show is free.  On keyboard and perhaps vocals (she hasn’t decided yet, she said), Ms. Borthwick will perform with a band that includes her husband Noel Borthwick on guitar, Carl Clements on tenor and soprano saxophone, Chris Lopes on acoustic bass, and Mauricio Zottarelli on drums. The show will be a mix of songs from the album, newer compositions, and jazz standards, she said. “I think they’ll have a great time. It’s swing, bop, post-bop, Latin, ballads, a mix.”

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