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Robi Botos: Moving Forward

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The Hungarian-born Canadian pianist Robi Botos is a force to be reckoned with. In recent years he has won numerous awards and accolades, including first prize at the Great American Jazz Piano Competition in Jacksonville Florida, first prize at the International Montreux Jazz Festival’s solo piano competition, and most recently a Juno award for Solo Jazz Album of the Year, to name a few.

His playing is influenced by many styles and genres of music including Romani, Hungarian and European folk and classical music, as well as hard bop and modern jazz. This diverse mixture is prominent in his playing, but especially highlighted in his original compositions.

I had the good fortune to hear Robi Botos play at a jam session last year at the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival, and the calibre of his playing made a lasting impression on me. He took a phenomenal solo on the Freddie Hubbard classic Red Clay, where he executed gritty and powerful lines at breakneck speed. It was clear that he was leading and his energy infected the other musicians on stage which in turn fuelled the crowd’s excitement. It was easy to see that he was playing without inhibition or restriction, one of the perks of hearing great talent at a jam session. It’s the best way to hear jazz musicians play, because they are free to try new things and experiment and Mr. Botos made it very clear that he was unafraid to take chances on the bandstand. As first impressions go, it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences!

Robi Botos exhibits all the qualities that the complete musician/pianist aspires to have: touch, passion, sensitivity, language, style and energy. He can play clearly executed lines on a standard, he can create exciting new worlds with his compositions, and he can play a funky solo on a synthesizer. His musical output is as diverse as his influences and he puts everything he has behind every note that he plays.

Botos clearly likes a creatively engaged life. He was the featured pianist at the 50th anniversary commemoration of Oscar Peterson’s Night Train album. He scored an acclaimed film, The Uncounted Ones, about the artistry of Romani people. He plays with several groups, including the Juno-award winning Mike Downes Trio, and he tours with singer Molly Johnson. His most recent album as a leader, Movin’ Forward, has an all-star cast of jazz musicians including Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, Robert Hurst and Seamus Blake. It won a Juno last year.

You can hear Robi Botos in Winnipeg September 24 and 25 as part of the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances series. He’ll be joined again by saxophonist Seamus Blake and by Toronto bassist Mike Downes, along with one of Winnipeg’s favourite drummers, Terreon Gully. I sincerely recommend you go and experience his music in person—I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

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