Hungarian-Canadian jazz pianist, Robi Botos, makes Toronto his home. He’s worked with Oscar Peterson and won countless awards all over the world, all by the tender age of 37. We recently chatted about his music and his new album, Movin’ Forward.
Stephanie Weiner (SW): Tell me about your beginnings in music. How has your background/heritage influenced the music you make?
Robi Botos (RB): I grew up in a musical family in Hungary. So, I got to know a lot of music at a very early age. A lot of music at home included traditional hungarian and hungarian gypsy music, which both my grandfathers played, so that was a huge influence on me and still remains a big influence on my playing and my music.
SW: I understand you studied with Oscar Peterson…
RB: I didn’t study with him per se, but he was very encouraging of my playing and I had a relationship with him. He heard me play and gave me some very good advice.
SW: What was that advice?
RB: Main advice, keep going in the direction I was headed in and also to be myself and express where I’m coming from in my music.
SW: It has obviously worked out well, you’ve won several prestigious awards in the jazz world in the last few years. Which would you say you are most proud of?
RB: Well, it’s hard because they’re all very important to me. For example, when I won the Montreux piano competition, that lead me to open for Oscar Peterson, so that was very special. But I also did one in the United States, the Great American Piano Competition. This meant a lot to me, you know I’m an immigrant from Hungary living in Canada and I won this in the US.
SW: What is your process like for creating a song?
RB: A lot of times, it comes out of life experiences and some of the experiences turn into melodies. I almost have to say that I hear them in my heart then in my head, there are certain feelings and expressions that then come out in a melody. A lot of times I sing it for awhile, then write it down. If I’m on the road, I save it on my phone.
SW: Can we expect to see you in Montreal anytime soon?
RB: I just did a small media tour that included Montreal as part of the album launch. We’re working on a tour and hopefully we’ll have a chance to play in Montreal in the summer.
SW: Your new album, Movin’ Forward was released at the end of March. Tell me about the name and the songs on the album?
RB: Moving forward onto the international stage with my own original music, getting into a different zone, with US players collaborating. Seamus Blake is one of my favourite musicians on the planet, and I’m very happy to be collaborating with him. I’ve been involved in so many others’ projects. It’s time for me to move my own projects forward. Plus, the music industry is one of the hardest in the world, so an artist always needs to be moving forward.
You’ll hear some hungarian/romany-gypsy influences, you’ll hear jazz and some groovy, funky stuff on it. It represents different angles of where I come from.
SW: What is the significance of the mixed capital and minuscule letters in some of the song titles?
RB: CapTAIN KirkLAND is a dedication to the great Kenny Kirland, especially with Jeff Tain Watts and Robert Hurst on the album, they were long time collaborators of his. Unfortunately, he has passed away, but he was one of my musical favourites. The drummer, Jeff Tain Watts had a very deep friendship with Kenny, so I highlighted this is the words because it has an extended drum solo for Jeff to express himself about his loss. And EurOrleans is a play on words because of the typical New Orleans drum groove, with a very European melody.
SW: If there were one thing you could tell our readers about your music/album, etc. What would it be?
RB: I’m very happy that this project came together. I’m very happy with the great reception. I really hope I can bring this project around the world so people can experience the songs live.
If you aren’t acquainted with him yet, let this serve as your introduction. Have a listen, you won’t regret it. You can also find Robi here.