Piano prodigy Renee Rosnes left Vancouver just over three decades ago, immediately moving into the big leagues behind saxophone giants like Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, and James Moody. At least 14 albums later, not counting impressive sidewoman work, she’s only recently begun to look back at her trajectory.
“I’m so at home here,” says Rosnes, calling from her long-time abode in New Jersey, where she lives with her husband, equally spectacular pianist Bill Charlap. (They both recently worked on a straight-ahead jazz album with Tony Bennett.) “But I miss B.C. so much. Good thing I still have family there and have a reason to come back once or sometimes twice a year.”
Her new album, Written in the Rocks, features a cover photo reflecting the Punjabi heritage she only discovered midlife, plus recent compositions conveying the sonic wisdom she has accumulated since leaving. The melancholy title tune captures the cool introspection of ’60s Blue Note albums, while the closing “Goodbye Mumbai” is full of modern, big-city swagger. The record features long-time collaborators Steve Nelson on vibes and Peter Washington on bass; they joined drummer Lewis Nash when she came home last year to play material resonant of her 30 years in modern jazz.
“I guess all of that music lives in me,” she says, thoughtfully, “and it comes out in ways I’m not always cognizant of. Writing for my own band is a really great joy. Because we’ve toured and recorded together so much, I tend to think I can anticipate what they’ll bring to my music—but then they always surprise me anyway!”
This time, the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival will see Rosnes and Nash hooking up with Toronto bass great Neil Swainson and Vancouver saxophonist Steve Kaldestad for an evening of beautifully judged standards and originals, including those tackled on Kaldestad’s New York Afternoon CD. Their take on early mentor Joe Henderson’s propulsive “Punjab” adds a particularly sweet capper to the pianist’s origin story. Over the years, Rosnes has also worked as a journalist, profiling her elders in the field. Now she’s one of their peers.
“Well, I definitely don’t feel like the new kid on the block anymore,” she says with a raucous laugh. “I’m in my mid-50s now, and I do think back on those early days with some awe. I was pretty green and innocent, and honestly did not go to New York City to stay; I really thought I would take some lessons, immerse myself in the scene, and then go back home. Within the first couple years, I was working pretty steadily. Joe came along, and then Wayne, and [James] Moody, and J.J. [Johnson], and Bobby [Hutcherson] and, well, I just couldn’t pull myself away. Finally, I thought, ‘Heck, this is what I wanna do; this is where I need to be!’ ”
Rosnes gets her second hit of her home province right after our jazz fest, when she heads for an oxygenating week at Music by the Sea. It’s held annually in Bamfield, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, where she’ll join Swainson and others for a mix of jazz and classical music. Sounds like a killer way to kick off three more decades of inspiration.
The Renee Rosnes Trio performs with Steve Kaldestad at Frankie’s Jazz on Monday and Tuesday (June 27 and 28) as part of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.