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Samantha Boshnack: A Musical World Without Boundaries

Paul Rauch By

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The city of Seattle has an eclectic relationship with jazz historically, in terms of innovation and embracing the notion of music without boundaries, of musical communities interacting and supporting each other. Samantha Boshnack fits perfectly into that musical paradigm. Whether writing and performing with her 14 piece ensemble B'shnorkestra, or in a quintet setting, Boshnack has pushed musical boundaries in a multitude of directions. Her music carries a social narrative, an emotional intelligence uniquely her own. Her new release, Global Concertos, is a collection of five concertos performed live, for five different soloists, representing five musical continents, utilizing five different instrument groups. The result is stunning, and distinct. I sat down with Samantha at Vitrola Coffee, just following her performance of this brilliant work at the Earshot Jazz Festival in Seattle.

All About Jazz: Let's start from the beginning. When did the trumpet come into your life?

Samantha Boshnack: I started playing the trumpet when I was ten years old. I immediately fell in love with it. I lived up in the country of upstate New York, so there wasn't a lot of opportunities, so I did what I could, went to music camps, took lessons at the college, played in college groups, and just did what I could up there.

AAJ: So you played in grade school and High School bands?

SB: Yes I did.

AAJ: So public school band programs work! What musical influences did you experience in your home growing up?

SB: My Dad is a real music and jazz enthusiast, so he gave me jazz from a very early age. I remember listening to Miles and Dizzy, and Cuban music, really, all of the standard jazz intake.

AAJ: You studied classical and jazz composition at Bard College, who were your main influences there, and what composers became your early fascination?

SB: My main mentor, and also someone I play with now, is saxophonist and composer Erica Lindsay. When I went to college, I didn't know if I would do music, I thought I was going to go to law school or something. And then they needed trumpet players, and I got sucked into the jazz department! (laughter) Thurman Barker, he was the head of the jazz department, and I got sucked in! Then I worked with Erica, and she got me writing, I didn't write anything until college. She is such a creative force, and was so nurturing, such a great teacher. She hipped me to all sorts of stuff, Kenny Dorham, Dave Douglas, Steven Bernstein, William ParkerQuartet, Lewis Flip Barnes. I also studied composition with a trumpet player in Boston in the winters and summers named Jerry Sabatini. Sometimes in the winters I'd be down in the city taking lessons with Greg Glassman, but mostly Erica was my main mentor.

AAJ: You ended up in Seattle, what attracted you to venture here?

SB: My senior year of college, my teachers were telling me that they're struggling now in New York, maybe you should look around, and see other cities. I actually had my eye on Chicago, that's where I wanted to go, but then I came out to Seattle with my boyfriend at the time, to visit a friend. I also had a teacher at Bard who told me that Seattle had a cool scene, you should check that out. I had this random experience at Patti Summers' club, with Monktail Creative Music Concern. Ahamefule J. Oluo gave me his trumpet, and I sat in, and everybody was just so cool. It was just another level from where I was at college, in terms of listening, the music, everybody being so supportive. So I came out here, and I've been here ever since.

AAJ: There is some activism in your writing, as is so evident in your homage to journalist, and activist, Nellie Bly. Talk about your view of music as a tool of social awareness, and activism.

SB: I think right now, everyone is trying to find their voice in how to be active. I think in art, it seems you're always trying to make things better, you're always trying to find a way to make sense of it all. Feminism is a big issue for me, it's sort of part of my daily existence, because it's the struggle. With The Nellie Bly Project, I just thought she was such an amazing force in getting things done, when everything was against her. I feel that society forgets sometimes how much the struggle is still going on, to look at that. It wasn't that long ago, and it's still going on, we're still going through it. In some ways I'm sort of a private person, it's hard for me to be really super outspoken.

AAJ: And you're a trumpet player, that's interesting!

SB: I respect artists, and anybody in the public eye who can come out really strong and say all sorts of things and then take all sorts of abuse. Anybody who says anything gets a lot of attack. I try my best, but I definitely respect those who will go really out on a limb.Global Concertos and The Nellie Bly Project were ways to have these activist ideas, but in a subtle way. I think sometimes if it's subtle, you can get through.

AAJ: Women have been historically marginalized in jazz, as in all of world culture. In jazz, always viewed as progressive musically and sociologically, women have become gradually more empowered and influential. Who have been the women that have influenced your work here in Seattle, and how do you see your role in continuing this trend?

SB: When I first moved here Tobi Stone helped me get into Reptet and that's how that whole thing started, and really was very supportive. There's also a woman I'm friends with and I play with, Sumi Tanooka, she lives here now. Beth Fleenor, her and I are kind of partners. I was playing with Dawn Clement for a while. I wish there were more women. Robin Holcomb is also an inspiration.

AAJ: Your latest project is with your 14 piece chamber ensemble, B'shnorkestra, entitled, Global Concertos. You wrote five concertos, for five very unique soloists-Indian classical singer Srivani Jade, latin pianist Julio Jauregui, African percussionist Thione Diop, Balkan clarinetist Christos Govetas, and jazz trumpeter, Thomas Marriott. Talk about how this concept was created, and why these individual soloists were chosen for the project.

SB: The project was created as a way to celebrate virtuosity and expression of musicians outside of western classical music. I had this idea of the orchestra, being this kind of funny orchestra that B'shnorkestra is, supporting one soloist. So then my goal was that I wanted five continents, and I wanted five different kinds of instrument groups. Julio was the first one I asked, for piano, and because I love latin music. He is so awesome, so I asked him first. I've always known Christos through the Balkan community. I really didn't know Srivani, but a friend told me about her, and I started listening to her music online. So I approached her, and she agreed to do it. Thione, and all the people just seemed so perfect, and Thomas Marriott is such a great representative of the jazz community in Seattle.

AAJ: Choosing Thomas Marriott is interesting, being that you are an acclaimed trumpet player yourself. What did you see in him that fit well into your composition?

SB: I think he's more of a real jazz player than I am, and is really active in that community, the jazz straight ahead community. And it's fun to write for a different trumpet player. I write for myself all the time, and have to play it. I mean, I like playing the music, but it's kind of cool hearing someone else. I was really happy with the way he played it.

AAJ: Prarthona, performed by vocalist Jade, is based on a poem written by Rabindranath Tagore. The poem encapsulates a vision of a world free of bias based on caste, creed, color, religion, or baseless superstition. It expresses notions of freedom, and spiritual unity that is so on point with what is needed in today's global community. Talk about these concertos and how they fit into your personal vision musically, and sociologically.

SB: The idea was a musical world without boundaries, In writing Srivani's piece, I was looking for a poem. I found that poem and I thought it really fit what I was trying to say. I asked Srivani about it, and she told me that in India, every little kid knows this poem, they learn it in school, they recite it. I didn't know that, so that was kind of interesting. The project was really overwhelming. Sometimes you come up with these ideas, you write grants, you get the grants you never think you'll get, and now you HAVE to do the project! How was I going to pull this off? Only two of the five soloists read western notation. In the end, it did prove to me that music is just so universal, a good musician is a good musician, and ears are everything. If everybody just works together, you can bridge all gaps. You can probably say that for most problems, if everyone just listens a little bit, and works together, we're probably not in the state we are. I wish that there had been more community coming together at the concerts. My vision partly was that we have all these communities in Seattle, all these different music communities, and they don't really interact all that much. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, everyone has their own world, it's not necessarily a bad thing, but it would be cool to bring all these things together.

AAJ: There is a wonderful energy in Seattle that seems to nurture individual musical freedom, and to explore one's musical identity freely. How has living here impacted your writing and playing, that perhaps would be different in a town such as New York?

SB: It's hard to know, but I would say that the reason partly it is a little more free is just the fact of life that not many people are paying attention to what people in Seattle are doing, in a certain way, it's just everyone doing their own thing. There's not a lot of scrutiny. It's a different kind of vibe that is in some way nurturing. I like being here, really because I like the people I play with, there are a lot of really great musicians, and people are open to doing crazy stuff. There's a certain openness with a lot of the musicians. In B'shnorkestra, in particular, that group really does have a lot of different kinds of musicians-there's classical musicians, Joshua Kohl conducting, who is more in new music, not really a jazz player, so you can bridge a lot of different communities together. Then there's the arts community, grants, there's things that can help you. There's a lot of good people here, everyone's doing their thing, but trying to support each other.

AAJ: Your trumpet sound is very distinct, as is the case with all great players. Who have been your main influences and sources of inspiration as a trumpet player?

SB: I really like Booker Little, Lewis Barnes, Steven Bernstein, and all of the main straight ahead players, who I obviously really don't sound like. I don't know if I'm really trying to sound like anybody, I'm just trying to listen to a lot, see what comes out.

AAJ: When will we have an opportunity to see you playing live in a quintet or small group setting here in Seattle and elsewhere?

SB: I'm working on it! I have the Nellie Bly CD all mixed, I just have to master it. Definitely in March, hopefully before that. I feel like I want to write some new music for the quintet, I'm always going back and forth between the quintet and B'shnorkestra, when I'm on one, I can't write that much for the other one. I'm excited about the new CD, and wanting to play here, and tour again. We did some touring and it was awesome. We're trying to get out to New York. I'm thinking we'll be at Cafe Racer in March, but hopefully something before that.
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