[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 →
With NARESH FERNANDES, Timeout Mumbai Magazine, January 2007
It’s been 15 years since Jazzmates. What’s changed for you since? Much – it’s been a great journey and continues to be. I think the two most significant changes in my life have been geographical moves across the globe, and the inevitable – getting older! I think the latter has a lot to do with changing your perspective on life and the intensity of commitment to things important in your self-development as an artist.
Around the time of the release of ‘Sound Matters‘ in India (1991), we had the opportunity to move to Ottawa, Canada. It came at a time when we were trying to play jazz in an otherwise bleak environment, and although the move was a job related one for Noel, we both felt it was necessary for our own growth as musicians to place ourselves in a more creative environment.
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 food court 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 with Michel Petrucciani conducted in 1997:
By MAURIZIO SPENNATO | altriSuoni.org |December 2006 (Thanks to Stephan Cocron for translating the article from the original Italian into English)
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…
——————————————————— (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’…
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.
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
By RICK HOLLAND, JazzRadio247.com, September Issue, 2006
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 →
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.
By MARSHALL ZUCKER, Jazz Improv Magazine, 2006 Summer Issue, Volume 6, #4
Although there are numerous influences on Ramona Borthwick’s music, the way she uses the many influences makes her music so much her own. The quintet (with an additional vocalist on two tracks) works as a unit throughout. We can only hear Ravitz featured on the final track and bassist Huergo only a bit more. All compositions were written by Borthwick, although track 3’s co-composer was Noel Borthwick and track 6 was Borthwick’s own composition.
The CD’s opener, its title track, takes us into a musical journey of such extreme depth, a feeling of such deep serenity and yearning, as well as great hope and subdued optimism that I would have been hoping to follow a similar journey as we travel throughout the CD. Trumpeter Grenadier’s beautiful sound is maintained throughout the solo. Borthwick seems to have listened to Bill Evans, but expresses herself very originally. The ten tracks that follow all go off in different directions. “Garbarero” begins with a wordless vocal. It is influenced by an Indian folk style, and is in 6/8. The other vocalist sings another line while the first still sings. Bassist Huergo is the element that keeps everything going. Once the solos begin- first trumpet, then guitar – there are alternating sections of straight-ahead swing and 6/8 time. There is a nice vocal/trumpet climax at the end. “Two’s Complement” also features changing rhythmic and harmonic directions. “Home” is the most extended of the pieces. The piano introduction demonstrates the Evan’s influence. Continue reading →
There are quite a few musicians hailing from India who have made a remarkable career in the US jazz scene during the last years. The most renowned among them are pianist Vijay Iyer, sax player Rudresh Mahanthappa and drummer Sunny Jain. A recent addition to this list is pianist Ramona Borthwick, who already makes her presence perceptible with her recording debut “A New Leaf”, just like the new leaf that “unfurls like a phrase on a staff” in her poem on the CD sleeve.
Ramona was born in Bombay, where she studied classical piano, discovered jazz while in her teens and settled in Boston after some years of residence in Canada. Compared to the three artists mentioned above she is more inclined to mainstream and less allusive to her birthplace’s tradition. The album is throughout dominated by lyricism and Borthwick’s sentimental yet controlled playing. When she backs the piano with her vocals, she tends to enrich the music with latin feeling. This becomes more profound on the two tracks featuring Esperanza Spalding’s impressive scat vocals. Borthwick’s quintet also features her husband Noel Borthwick on guitar and the outstanding Phil Grenadier (Larry Grenadier, the bassist in Brad Mehldau Trio is his brother) on trumpet, mainly known by his superb work on Bruno Raberg’s recent albums.
Ms. Borthwick is the treasure of the week under the Clef Notes signature. Borthwick’s energy behind the strokes of the keys and arrangements expose an unadulterated jazz talent with a road still yet traveled.
“Home” hits the spin cycle I feel, a sensational comfort as a foundation musically is expressed with this piece. The ivory precision allows that blanket of excellence to hover over the listener. Nice touch! With straight ahead jazz the focus on Lifelines is that of the appeal of one’s life in limbo. However the instrumental performance defines the exact term with numerous sounds through a diverse arrangement. The work is exceptional. Catch the sounds of Spalding on Lotus Lake a fine experiment…
“A New Leaf” has fallen into lap of jazz – let it relax and nurture its existence upon yours…
By GEORGE CARROLL, The Musicians’ Ombudsman, E-Jazz News, June 08, 2006
The power of piano dynamics….This is what you are left with when you taste the style & pianistic jazz talent(s) of one Ramona Borthwick. This, plus her striking persona, (she’s beautiful!) will keep you magnetized to her artistry.
Ramona approaches jazz as a communicator of this her idiom, and she brings wit, intellect and joy to her listening
audiences. We are soothed by her superb keyboard craft, as well as her lovely melodic & harmonic improvisational bent.