Jazz Yukon welcomes highly acclaimed pianist

Playing solo is something Robi Botos loves.

The jazz piano player, born in Hungary but has called Toronto home these past 10 years, loves to play with his two brothers, too, but there is something special about playing solo.

“It has a different vibe,” he says over the phone. “I love playing in a trio, but with a solo you can do stuff like playing bass notes that don’t transfer as quickly to a band.

“You have total freedom.”

Jazz Yukon, which is bringing Botos up for a performance March 30, has had an eclectic program in its 2007-08 season. Botos says he sees that Indian jazz (Autorickshaw) and Latin jazz (John Reischman and John Miller) have come before him. His jazz, however, will be more traditional.

And when he plucks notes from the keys in his choppy manner and tosses them out to the audience, the roots of jazz will be honoured.

Botos, however, says you have to be careful when using the word “traditional” to describe jazz. He says the greats – Bud Powell, Sonny Rollins, Django Reinhardt, Louis Armstrong – were all way ahead of their time.

“So it is hard to say what is old and what is new.

“To me, traditional means the basis of jazz and it goes back to the blues and bebop. What we call traditional today was not traditional back then.”

So, as Botos goes “as far back as possible” musically for his Yukon audience, he will be playing a wide assortment of jazz.

Considering the long list of awards and the acclaim he has received – Toronto reviewers consistently rework the title, “jazz-piano phenomenon” — his will be an expert performance.

“Phenom?” he asks incredulously in response to a question about how he became so good. “Thank you for saying that.

“I grew up in a musical family and had two brothers playing jazz.”

As a Romani family struggling to live in Hungary (commonly referred to as gypsies, but that term has a negative connotation), he was immersed in the music of his people.

“Jazz is of the people, that is true,” says Botos. “But it has to do with persecution.

“You don’t have to be persecuted to play jazz, but you have to understand persecution to understand jazz.”

Tickets for the Jazz On The Wing presentation are available at the Yukon Arts Centre Box Office and Arts Underground.

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