“Improvisation is a musical language”: SesayArts in Conversation with Roberto Rosenman ~ Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.

Roberto Rosenman (photo courtesy of RobertoRosenmanQuartet.com)

Roberto Rosenman (photo courtesy of RobertoRosenmanQuartet.com)

Writing an introduction to this interview with Roberto Rosenman has required a feat of focus. Every time I resume my research, I unearth another fascinating fact. He’s a guitarist and a composer. A graphic designer, a visual artist and a writer. And a teacher. And with each identity comes a unique website.

So…where to begin, and how to begin to introduce a man so versatile?

Since his upcoming concert with violinist Aline Homzy is Kings of Gypsy Swing: A Django Reinhardt / Stephane Grappelli Tribute Concert, it makes sense to focus on Roberto Rosenman the Guitarist. Rosenman came to Canada from Caracas, Venezuela when he was 5 years old, and didn’t start learning guitar until he was 13. On discovering the music of Django Reinhardt, he narrowed his focus to jazz guitar.  He specializes in a modern version of gypsy jazz, a style of music originating in 1930s Paris with Roma guitarist Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France. He fuses the distinctive Paris sounds of Paris with modern jazz influences from the Be-bop era.  Rosenman studied literature at York University in Toronto, and  is also a (largely-self-taught) visual artist who teaches art and exhibits his work in Toronto.

In addition to concerts, Rosenman also performs with the Roberto Rosenman Quartet at various music festivals, including Djangofest in Seattle, The Toronto Jazz Festival, Chamberfest Ottawa and Festival of the Sound in Parry Sound. His appearance with Aline Homzy launches the St George Music Knights Concert Series for this season.  In the end, this introduction is the mere tip of Rosenman’s talent iceberg. So it seems fitting to provide a glimpse into the musical aspect of this complex and multitalented artist in his own words.

  1. The St George Music Knights concerts are for audiences of all-ages. Hopefully, many young people will attend yours. What should young people know about your music in particular and jazz music in general to be able to appreciate and enjoy it?
Violinist Aline Homzy

Violinist Aline Homzy

Many young people today aren’t familiar with jazz because they didn’t grow up listening to it. Being exposed to a new genre can often be confusing as the nuances of it are lost to the inexperienced listener. For this reason, jazz has an ugly reputation as being too ‘arty’ and ‘intellectual’ for some. There are, however; many different genres of jazz and some like Gypsy Jazz  are more accessible than others. At the very least, I hope young people can discover a new genre of jazz which will serve a window for exploring the many different jazz genres such as swing, be-bop, hard-bop, and fusion.

  1. I recently heard the comment, “I’ve heard of jazz guitar, jazz piano and jazz vocals, but never jazz violin.” What should people know about the combining of instrument with a genre of music? Can there be a jazz “anything”?

Yes, most people don’t associate the violin with jazz as it wasn’t really used in American jazz with the exception of Joe Venuti. When Gypsy musicians in France first heard Jazz in the early 1930’s they sought to emulate it. Since they predominantly played string instruments (guitars, violin, cymbalum) musicians like Stefane Grappelli quickly adapted it to the violin. Actually, you can play jazz on any instrument. The fact that jazz continues to be mostly played on brass instruments is only a convention- I’ve heard jazz accordian, harmonica, flute, and even cello.

  1. How did you and Aline determine which songs to perform?

We decided to play a good mix of jazz standards while also incorporating some bossas, boleros, and traditional gypsy waltzes. And of course, we wanted to include many Django Reinhardt compositions since he was such a talented composer.

  1. Much of jazz music relies on improvisation….Have you ever been thrown off by an improvisation while performing?

Improvisation is a musical language and if you do it long enough, then it becomes very familiar and comfortable. Because jazz improv can be so flexible,  I can’t say I’ve ever be thrown off. There’s a clever saying in jazz that if you make a mistake while improvising, do it again right away so you to give the impression that it wasn’t a mistake but intentional. In other words, Jazz improv is so open that you can really take it anywhere as long as you respect the basic structure and foundations on music theory.

  1. In my research, I saw several websites for you: music, visual arts and graphic design. How do these different aspects of you and creative talents influence each other?

They are all quite different and each fulfills a certain need in my life. Jazz responds to my desire for spontaneous creation (improvisation). Once it’s created (a solo, for example) it’s already in the past and can’t be recreated in the same way. Visual art for me is quite the opposite. I’m a realist painter, and my paintings are very time consuming and planned. For me the end goal (the finished painting) is the most important thing, and the process is very technical and calculated. The graphic design fulfills my love of typography and composition, but it also the most commercial of all three disciplines so it ultimately puts food on my table!

​6. What do you think people might be talking about when they leave your show?

Hopefully they’ll be talking about what great music we played and want to go out and explore more of it. I hope we can entice people to go out and buy some of Django Reinhardt’s music.

Sound Bites

a. My favourite musicians (past and/or present) and why?
Django Reinhardt, Charlie Parker, Pat Martino, Debussy, Ravel, Bob Marley
They all exhibit incredible technical and/or composition skills. I’m a sucker for technique.

Roberto Rosenman (photo courtesy of RobertoRosenmanQuartet.com)

Roberto Rosenman (photo courtesy of RobertoRosenmanQuartet.com)

b. My most unusual or memorable gig 
That’s a tough one. It’s a toss-up between playing in beret and striped shirt with a baguette under my arm for a kitsch French corporate event or playing for mobsters in a bar in Guadalajara, Mexico. In both cases, I was fearing for my life.

c. How I picked my instrument
I’d love to say ‘it picked me’ but the truth is that I tried many instruments before I found guitar. Quite simply, guitar allowed me to play the music I was listening to at the time as a young kid: Rock and heavy metal. It doesn’t quite sound the same when you try to play a Metallica song on the cello.

d. What I love about playing 
Being surprised by where an improvisation takes me.

e. Something about me that might surprise you
I’m obsessed with German and Austrian art and design even though I hardly speak a word of German. I collect graphic-design material from this period and document it all on my website: theviennasecession.com

News You Can Use

Who: Roberto Rosenman

What: Kings of Gypsy Swing: A Django Reinhardt / Stephane Grappelli Tribute Concert

When: Friday, November 6, 2015, 7:00 PM

Where: St George’s on Yonge, 5350 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON

For information and tickets: [email protected] or 416-225-1922

© 2015 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

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