Samantha has been a fixture of the Seattle scene for almost ten years, and she’s a very busy woman. She is the leader of the Sam Boshnack Quintet, which is performing Sunday; B’shnorkestra, a fourteen-piece alternative chamber orchestra; and the modern (and incredibly fun) jazz ensemble Reptet, whose albums Do This! (2006), Chicken or Beef! (2008), and AT THE CABIN (2011) all feature her original compositions. She also composes and performs with the Cuban-inspired band Picoso, the Washington Composers Orchestra (WACO), and the Seattle Jazz Composer Ensemble. She tours nationally and internationally. And she has been racking up an impressive collection of honors and accolades, including Earshot Jazz’s Golden Ear Award for Emerging Artist in 2012 and a residency with the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute, not to mention a slew of grants from regional and national organizations like Meet The Composer, Artist Trust, 4Culture, Jack Straw, ASCAPlus, and Seattle Mayor’s Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs.
Samantha’s playing and compositions mix a sly, sometimes funky, hipness with a quirky sense of humor that makes them a lot of fun to listen to. (You can hear samples here.) In her interview she tells us more about her influences, creative process, and how everything comes together. This is great stuff. Enjoy!
Tell me about your musical beginnings. When did you know that you wanted to pursue music professionally?
I began playing the trumpet at age ten
and piano at thirteen. Growing up in very rural upstate NY, there were not a
lot of opportunities for me musically in elementary and high school but I took
advantage of any that I could find. Applying to colleges, I auditioned for
conservatories on classical trumpet but didn't get in. I went to Bard College thinking
that I would study sociology and become a lawyer, but I immediately got very
involved in their jazz department – studying with the incredible
saxophonist/composer Erica Lindsay. I then knew that I wanted to create a
career in music, composing for jazz ensembles.
You have training in both jazz and classical composition. How does this influence your current work?
I think my training in both of these kinds of composition, in addition to my work with many other kinds of music (salsa, pop, world music, rock, experimental, etc.), creates works that are a blend of many influences. I greatly value improvisation in composition, giving soloists a chance to add their unique voice to the work. For this reason, I will probably continue to compose works that fall into more of the "jazz" label than other styles.
Tell me about your creative process. Briefly describe how you get your ideas for compositions and how they evolve to become finished works.
I compose through improvisation. I
will improvise either on trumpet or piano, refine that work, and layer more
voices. This process requires a lot of editing. Then the fun part comes when I
get to bring the work to a band. For nine plus years, I have been writing for
Reptet. Now I also lead two other ensembles, B'shnorkestra and the Sam Boshnack
Quintet, dedicated solely to playing my music. In all of these projects we
rehearse a lot to get the pieces to a place where they feel ready. Then through
performance, we refine the work further and are constantly coming up with ideas
to bring the music to a higher level.
What is it like being a “woman in jazz”? Do you think it’s harder being a woman rather than a man in the world of jazz? Have you felt pressure to be one of the guys?
I do think it's harder being a woman
rather than a man in the world of jazz. Many of the male jazz musicians in this
town are welcoming, and I like to forget about gender issues and focus on
music. However, ultimately, you can never be one of the guys, no matter how
hard you try. I spent a long time being the only women in many of the projects
I am in. I think it was helpful that my mentor was a woman because she helped
prepare me mentally for what was to come. Here in Seattle there is an
incredible network of women jazz musicians. When I first moved here, they
helped me get on my feet. I love the bond I feel with other women in the field
and have chosen many women to be in the projects I lead.
Tell me about the set you will be performing April 28 at the Vera Project.
It will feature the Sam Boshnack Quintet featuring myself (trumpets), Beth Fleenor (clarinets/voice), Dawn Clement (piano/keyboards), Isaac Castillo (upright bass) and Max Wood (drums). My intention in the Quintet is to charge chamber precision with the syncopated rhythm of my blend of music. Because the quintet is an intimate but high-energy band, there is space for the strength and quirks of each individual voice to be spotlighted and ignited. This is our second performance in a series of concerts we are calling our "triple spelunk" where we delve deeper into our new material before heading into the studio to record.
I have composed eight new works for the ensemble. I wanted to have a chance to work the music out in a variety of venues and received a grant from the Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs to do so. So far, we’ve had our concert hall performance as well as elementary school performances. The band is getting really tight through this process, and I am really excited about playing at the Vera Project as part of this festival and making the record in May at Studio Litho. I love the feeling you get when a band plays together enough that you can stretch the time however you want to and everyone follows – I think it does something amazing to my compositions.
Thank you, Samantha, for giving us a glimpse behind the scenes of your music making. My final interview celebrating JazzApril and the Seattle Women in Jazz Festival will be with New-York-based vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles. I’m looking forward to sharing what she has to say!