Born Renée Irene Rosnes on March 24, 1962, in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; married Billy Drummond, 1990; one son. Education: Degree in classical performance from the University of Toronto. Addresses: Record company---Blue Note Records, 150 5th Ave., 6th Fl., New York, NY 10011. Website---Renée Rosnes Official Website: http://www.reneerosnes.com.
Canadian-born Renée Rosnes (pronounced Ros-ness) creates music that reaches into the hearts of listeners. Her consistent skills at the piano, as a composer, bandleader, and producer showcase her intuitive ability to connect with the music. Jazz aficionados easily recognize her trademark spirit in the poignant sounds through which she shares feelings about the experiences of finding her birth mother, losing the mother who raised her, and giving birth to her own child.
Renée Irene Rosnes was born on March 24, 1962, in Regina, Saskatchewan, to East Indian birth parents. She was adopted by Canadians of Norwegian and British descent and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her parents loved music and exposed Rosnes to it at an early age, beginning her piano lessons at age three and violin studies at five. While in high school, she grew to love jazz and was encouraged by her music teacher, Bob Rebagliati. "He was a smart and passionate teacher," Rosnes told Canadian Musician. She went on to attend the University of Toronto where she studied classical performance. It was there that she began to see that she could pursue jazz as a career. "I was just happy, in that context," she told Canadian Musician. "I enjoyed playing with people. I enjoyed the freedom of improvisation and it was really challenging."
Following her graduation, she became a professional pianist with a regular gig in Vancouver. She worked hard to build a large repertoire of songs, learning all the jazz standards she could. In 1985 she received a Canadian Arts Council grant to further her studies in New York City, where she worked with Cedar Walton, Jim McNeeley, James Williams, Mulgrew Miller, and Barry Harris. Her money went faster than she anticipated, however, and soon she was sitting in wherever she could, hoping to find work. She was quickly noticed.
"When I went to the States, I really didn't go with the intention of staying there," Rosnes told Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada. "I thought I would go and hang out for a while and study, meet a few people and come on back home. But towards the end of that first year, which was incidentally paid for by the Canada Council, I started to get calls for some really nice gigs, and I couldn't turn them down now, could I? But even then I said, 'Well, I'll just do this...' but gradually I realized, 'You are not going home, Renee, you are staying here, this is where it's right now for you.'"
By 1987 she had joined Joe Henderson's Quartet touring the United States, Europe, and Japan. Shortly after her return, she started working with a group of young musicians called O.T.B. or Out of the Blue. Then came an opportunity to work with Wayne Shorter, a chance few jazz musicians would pass up. "Playing with Wayne very much opened my mind, too, just in terms of stretching the music and to keep pushing forward," she said in Canadian Musician.
Going on to work with such legends and masters as J.J. Johnson, Dizzy Gillespie, Robin Eubanks, Dave Holland, and James Moody, her music really began to grow. She began to emerge as a bandleader with her self-titled debut album, Renée Rosnes, released in 1989, which features Herbie Hancock and Branford Marsalis. "A large part of my early training has been being able to share the bandstand with some great masters, honing my craft," said Rosnes in Billboard. "It's sad, because the opportunity to apprentice with these great musicians is slowly disappearing. I feel very fortunate to have had these experiences. That's the difference between me and the younger generation who are just coming up. Unfortunately, they just won't have these opportunities."
In 1990 she married the drummer from O.T.B., Billy Drummond. Soon, she was composing a great deal of music, and developing a distinctive sound. "That is my goal, of course, to sit down and play and have a recognizable sound," she said in Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada. "Composing means a lot to me. I love composing, and over the years, I've learned not to be so harsh on myself. I used to crumple up so much paper and throw it away, never giving the ideas a chance. Since I've grown up a little, I realize that's not the way to do it." Rosnes began to keep a notebook, allowing song ideas to slowly germinate and grow in their own time.
Rosnes gained a reputation as a bandleader who gave her musicians plenty of room to explore the music. "Well, I don't like to say a lot, and I purposely do that," Rosnes told Canadian Musician. "I try to choose musicians to work with that I have faith in, know they're going to deliver either what I have envisioned for the music or more. Many times, they bring their own ideas to it and in most cases, it just works out for the better and it makes the whole group stronger. It also makes the band--whether it's a trio or larger--have a more personal, 'group' sound."
In 1992 Rosnes branched out into the role of producer. "Production in jazz is an interesting role," Rosnes told Canadian Musician. "If the musician is very prepared and knows what they're going to do and has a vision, a producer is really just another set of ears to give the artist feedback in the studio." Rosnes's first album as producer, For the Moment, won a Juno Award for Best Jazz Album in 1992.
Rosnes had a difficult year in 1994 when she both found her birth mother and lost her adoptive mother within a few months of each other. She had been searching for her biological mother for a long time, and the reunion occurred while she was on tour with the Free Trade group. "You really feel something in your gut when you see people who look like you," Rosnes told Maclean's. "I love my adoptive family very much, but I'm not like them in personality. When I met my mother and my [half-] sisters, there was an instant chemistry. The way we communicate is very natural." Just a few weeks after the reunion, Rosnes learned that her adoptive mother was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer; the disease killed her before Rosnes could tell her about finding her birth mother.
The combination of joy and pain is evident in her music. Several selections on her 1996 CD Ancestors indicate her feelings for both families: The song "Chasing Spirits" is about her search for her birth family and the discovery of a culture that she had not previously known; the title song reflects her perspective on her new heritage; "Lifewish" details her adoptive mother's battle with cancer. Rosnes said that her music helped her to get through that challenging year. "I kind of almost think of it as medicine. After all, music is medicine in many ways, but I would imagine it would be very much the same for a dancer, a choreographer, and artist, it doesn't really matter what medium, creative people do have that outlet, they draw from life experiences," she told Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada. The Ancestors album won a Juno Award for Best Mainstream Jazz Album in 1997.
Continuing in her role as producer, Art & Soul was released in 1999. Two tracks, "Little Spirit" and "Children's Song No. 3" (an arrangement of a Béla Bartók piece) reflect Rosnes's feelings on the birth of her son, Dylan Robert Drummond. She plans to begin his musical education early, telling Canadian Musician, "I believe that the gift of perfect pitch can be learned in a certain window of age, because both my sisters that I grew up with, and myself, all had perfect pitch--and we're all adopted from different sets of parents. So, to me, that's almost proof right there. I grew up just thinking everybody had it."
Rosnes continues to develop depth in her work. On Life on Earth, which won her a 2003 Juno Award for Traditional Jazz Album of the Year, she included musical styles from many different parts of the world, including Africa, Brazil, and East India, as well as influences from Greek mythology. Down Beat magazine's James Hale wrote, "Rosnes filters the various cultural threads through her own sensibility and weaves a tapestry that never puts travelogue ahead of musicality." Rosnes released Renée Rosnes with the Danish Radio Big Band in 2003.
Rosnes loves her work, and it shows. "Whenever I make music, it will hopefully have a certain sincerity, a spirit, to it. I think that's what touches people in all forms of art. It's the soul of it, whether it's a painting, a ballet, classical music, or jazz," she told Billboard.
by Sarah Parkin
Renée Rosnes's Career
Began studying the violin at age five; developed love for jazz in high school; received Canadian Arts Council grant to study in New York City, 1985; joined Joe Henderson's Quartet, 1987; released Renée Rosnes, 1990; For the Moment, 1990; Without Words, 1993; Ancestors, 1996; As We Are Now, 1997; Art & Soul, 1999; With a Little Help from My Friends, 2001; Life on Earth, 2002; and Renée Rosnes with the Danish Radio Big Band, 2003.
Renée Rosnes's Awards
Juno Awards (Canada), Best Jazz Album for For the Moment, 1992, Best Mainstream Jazz Album for Ancestors, 1997, Traditional Jazz Album of the Year for Life on Earth, 2003.
- Selected discography
- For the Moment Blue Note, 1990.
- Renée Rosnes Blue Note, 1990.
- Without Words Blue Note, 1993.
- Ancestors Blue Note, 1996.
- As We Are Now Blue Note, 1997.
- Art & Soul Blue Note, 1999.
- With a Little Help from My Friends Blue Note, 2001.
- Life on Earth Blue Note, 2002.
- Renée Rosnes with the Danish Radio Big Band Blue Note, 2003.
- Gourse, Leslie, Madame Jazz: Contemporary Women Instrumentalists, Oxford University Press, 1995.
- Billboard, August 21, 1999.
- Canadian Musician, November/December 1999.
- Down Beat, April 2002.
- Maclean's, April 1, 1996; April 21, 1997.
- Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada, Fall 1996.
- "Renée Rosnes," The Iceberg, http://www.theiceberg.com/artist/10976/renee_rosnes (March 31, 2003).