Take Five With Roswitha aka Rose Bartu
Originally from Austria, Roswitha is a singer/songwriter, violinist, and producer. On her latest album, Destiny, the renowned jazz and classical artist lives her own dreams, making the bold move to step out as a singer/songwriter. Here, she embraces her total musicality and tastefully integrates her instrumental virtuosity within a musical style she describes as jazz-rock-pop. It's an elegantly eclectic blend of jazz, classical, R&B, hip-hop, rock, and pop that showcases her gorgeous compositions and soulfully angelic vocals. Previously, she has had an esteemed career as Queen Rose, a topflight violinist appearing on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, at the Latin Grammy Awards, featured on MTV's Unplugged with Trey Songz and on many recordings, including Ashanti, Elle Varner and Blitz the Ambassador. Under the name Rose Bartu, she has also built a highly respected jazz profile, sharing stages with such icons as Abbey Lincoln, Billy Hart, JoAnne Brackeen and Butch Morris. She has also released the delightfully exotic Cherchez la Verité, a silky jazz album with violin, sensual vocals, and limber Afro-Cuban grooves.
Roswitha also leads her own bands, performing at celebrated venues like The Blue Note and Knitting Factory while touring Europe. She has notched over 50 productions, arrangements, compositions, and performance credits on over 19 released albums, videos and film soundtracks. She holds bachelor's of fine arts from The New School Jazz Program, NYC, and Anton Bruckner Private University, Linz, Austria.
Teachers and/or influences?
Teachers: Maghreid McCrann, Gerald Beal, John Stubblefield, Kenny Werner, John Blake Jr., Richard Harper - Choir Conductor (voice), and many more.
Influences: John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Chaka Khan, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, and Sia Furler.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I was 12 years old. I already played recorder, violin, guitar, and piano. The violin became my primary instrument and I started to dream (in the Austrian Alps) of touring the world.
Your sound and approach to music:
When I played traditional jazz I studied many of the masters intensively (John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker) and transcribed lots of solos. I ended up stepping away from jazz just to find out that its influence has never left me. On my last recording, Destiny, I focused on the songs and messages I wanted to share. I was looking to find the best musical landscape for each song and get the right feeling. I wrote the songs and looked for the best melodies. Many of the hooks just came to me, but I refined a lot of melodies and lyrics in the end.
I also put a lot of detail in the production process. I can best compare it to being an architect or visual artist. I constructed each song individually and looked for the perfect musicians to complement them. I knew exactly what I wanted and gave detailed instructions and specific melodies for them to play. Then I added "brushes" (sounds) here and there to finish up the painting. Producing that way is very different than what I did on the previous record, which was writing the songs on paper and then recording them with a live band in a few hours. My goal was to find my own sound, as a singer, songwriter, and producer. On this record, the violins are not so often featured, but all parts were improvised and then refined if necessary. That's how I come up with my ideasI play around and often I feel like I'm in a musical playground.
I will always remember a story Joe Zawinul told me when he took me out for lunch. When he heard [Julian "Cannonball" Adderley]'s band on radio and couldn't tell if it was him or Barry Harris on piano anymore, he threw out all the records he had and decided to no longer listen to other peoples' music. Instead, he started to focus on his own sound.
Your teaching approach:
My main focus when I teach is to empower my students and make direct correlations to life and anything with which they are struggling. I believe that, as a teacher, I am a mentor and coach, and I want to have an impact beyond the lesson.
Your dream band:
I used to dream of working with some of my most admired Artists, from Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder and Roberta Flack, to name a few, all of which I had already had the honor to meet in person. I have been lucky that I've worked with some amazing jazz artists in my own Bands, like Billy Hart, JoAnne Brackeen, Danny Grissett, and Vicente Archer).
Now, my focus is on how to get my new album out into the world. I want to work with musicians who are very diverse, love my music, can play it like on the record, and also branch out into unexplored territories. I would love to have background vocals, since my songs live from a lot of harmonies and the background vocals.
My dream vocal collaborations currently would be with Lianne La Havas, Sade, Sia, Wyclef Jean, Sting, Eric Clapton and Phil Collins. And it would be a dream of mine to get to open up for one of them on tour.
Road story: Your best or worst experience:
My best road story is when I toured in Austria with my American jazz band and had my sister drive us. Having my sister on my side was beautiful and being on the road with my own band always makes me feel great. The feeling of being able to give work to others is very fulfilling, along with inspiring audiences for your own music.
I remember playing at Joe Zawinul's Birdland in Vienna was a great experience.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
My favorite recording is my latest jazz-rock-pop recording, Destiny. I feel it is the most comprehensive expression of my artistry to date. It combines all facets of my creativity: my violin playing, vocals, songs and production. I was aiming for finding my own voice on this album and to express myself authentically. My birth name, Roswitha (which means strength and success) was what I took on for this album. It takes a lot of strength to live your dreams, but that's what real success means to me.
The first Jazz album I bought was:
I do not remember. Before I bought an album I was exposed to live shows; in the village next to us was the Culture Center Wolkenstein, where many jazz musicians performed.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
I want to create a shift from negative to empowering messages and inspire people to live their dreams, because I know how much strength it takes. I put a lot of thought into my lyrics. I have had several people say that my music doesn't sound like anything else they have heard before. People have called my music progressive. I wasn't trying to be anything else but myself on this record and to get a message that I truly care about across to my audience. My bigger vision is building bridges, to foster intercultural communication to create peace, and I started an organization with the same name (Building Bridges) to manifest that. If I can contribute to making this place a better one for all of us then I fulfilled my own personal dream. Jazz musicians always have been innovators, and I hope to be one in regards to the stand I take.
Did you know...
I grew up in the Austrian Alps, with five siblings, in a house full of music? The pictures I have from my childhood remind Americans of The Sound of Music..
I had my first jazz experience at age 12, being the youngest member of an orchestra accompanying Hannibal Marvin Peterson/Lokumbe and his band in The Flames of South Africa. He called me "The great Kinder Queen." I believe this had such an impact that it encouraged me to learn how to improvise.
I moved out and away from my parents age 14 to go to a specialized high school in the city, and study violin performance at the University for Music and Drama in Graz at the same time.
CDs you are listening to now:
Lianne La Havas,Is Your Love Big Enough? (Nonesuch);
Sia Furler, Some People Have Real Problems (Hear Music);
Rox, Memoirs (Rough Trade);
India Arie, Testimony: Vol.1, Life & Relationship (Motown);
Ayo, Joyful (Polydor).
Desert Island picks:
Quatuor Mosaiques,Haydn: Quatuors Op 20/Quartor Mosaiques (Astree);
Rachel Podger, J.S.Bach: Partitas for Violin Solo (Channel Classics);
John Coltrane, A Love Supreme (Impulse!);
Stevie Wonder, Innervisions (Tamla);
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, J.S.Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Deutsche Grammophon).
How would you describe the state of jazz today?
I cannot speak to that because I have been branching out. I am happy to see that more and more jazz artists are doing so and also getting recognized for it.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
I want to quote Charlie Parker: "Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn."
What is in the near future?
I am planning on performing out with my own band a lot more and booking a tour in Europe. In the back of my mind I am also already thinking of the next album, but first I want to play this music so much that I want to let it all go.
What's your greatest fear when you perform?
Forgetting my lyrics.
What song would you like played at your funeral?
1. Schubert's String Quintet in C Major 2nd movement. It is one of the most beautiful string pieces and my father's most favorite. My siblings and I practiced it for our parents and surprised them with it for their 25th wedding anniversary.
2. Eric Clapton's "Tears In Heaven."
I do not have a day job and never had one. I feel lucky that I have been a full time musician all my life. Currently, I am also teaching some violin. The work around my own music business and career is very time consuming. I am working on building a team that can take on a lot of the work I am still doing myself, so I can focus more on the music: performing and recording.
If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
I considered becoming a psychiatrist after graduating from high school, and tried out putting music to the side for a month and worked in a psychiatric hospital. But I missed music too much and went right back to it.
Courtesy of Roswitha