Zachary Bornheimer - Artist Profile

The Lake Wales Arts Council is excited to announce that the Zachary Bornheimer Quartet will be performing a tribute to John Coltrane on February, 8th at 7:00PM at the Lake Wales Arts Center. We had a conversation with Bornheimer on his career, accomplishments, and inspiration. We hope you enjoy this interview!

Did you study music when you were a child?
Yes, piano lessons with, primarily, two different teachers…along with singing.  I took piano lessons and hated every minute with my first teacher.  I wasn’t very disciplined.  I’m still not.  My second piano teacher was fantastic.  He was an accountant by trade and always would ask me what I wanted to play.  That was a huge inspiration for me as he would write it out for me, then and there.

When did you start to pursue Jazz as a field of study and why?
I started in 7th grade.  I played flute in concert band in 6th grade.  We played Watermelon Man for our last concert and I had so much fun and wanted to do more.  I wasn’t allowed to play Flute in jazz band, but was given a choice between tenor sax and trumpet.  My best friend at the time played saxophone, so I wanted to do that one too.  Oddly enough, the teacher who gave me my first lesson eventually became the Jazz Instructor at my school (I was lucky enough to go to a really good school that had funding for the arts...and scholarship funding!) and started jazz combos, jazz improv, and jazz arranging, where I really found my passion and decided that Jazz was for me.

Why did you select USF as your field of study; Did you pursue degrees in any other discipline while attending?
In deciding between Berklee College of Music and USF, I was debating between doing a double major in Computer Science. I did that for a little while, but, because of my incoming knowledge, I ended up dropping the double major and did a few classes here and there in Linguistics along with doing my Honors College thesis in Natural Language Processing / Artificial Intelligence.

Did you have any teachers inspire you while attending college?
Yes!  Just about everyone I studied with and the TA's I worked with inspired me in some capacity: Chris Morris, Jon Tucker, Valerie Gillespie, Jack Wilkins, Chris Rottmayer, Chuck Owen, Brian Moorhead, Bill Wiedrich, along with LaRue Nickelson, Calvin Falwell, and then the couple of lessons I took with Ralph Bowen, Rick Margitza, and Maria Schneider still motivate me to this day.

What motivated you to continue your studies into your master's degree?
Honestly, Jack Wilkins convinced me pretty easily.  I was thinking about taking a gap year and he suggested the USF Y2K Fellowship so I continue practicing and writing (those were the actual terms of my fellowship) and then maybe after the first year, I would continue my studies at USF or elsewhere.  Another factor was that I had started studying with Chuck Owen my senior year of undergrad as I was pestering him for guidance on my 7-part suite for Jazz Quintet, The Emotional Suite.

Can you speak on your first award moment for composition?
My first Composition award was the Owen Prize in Jazz Composition for my arrangement of Donny McCaslin's Henry.  When Chuck told us that Donny McCaslin was coming as a guest artist to USF, I asked if Donny needed any charts written.  Chuck asked on my behalf and Donny sent a few things for the arranging students to choose from.  I chose Henry. I can definitely say I was stressing out the ENTIRE time writing it.  I remember, I pretty much wrote the version that Donny performed in two 16-hour days!  Chuck explained to me a bit more about orchestration and how to balance voicings (that is where to put notes and how to decide how many people play each note).  My most vivid memory is being in the giant practice room with a grand piano, giant wipe board that was filled with notes, music scribbles, and ideas, completely overwhelmed, but with a deadline.  When I won the award I was surprised, pleasantly...the first award I had ever received in music!  ...but then I had to perform Donny's part and my pleasant surprise turned into fear! That's what I get! haha.

What is the most rewarding part of being a professional musician and composer?
I ask my colleagues about this often to see if my experience is similar to theirs.  I find that, as a composer, my experiences are a bit more normal, insofar a great premiere makes you feel alive for the very first time and a sub-par performance of your piece kills you a little.  As a performer, I feel like I’m a different person when I’m playing, so it’s really quite challenging to describe the most rewarding part of performing.  I’m not me when I perform…or maybe I’m not me the rest of the time.  I would say I love the energy of a good performance.  When a tune’s energy soars and it hits that zone…there’s nothing better…especially if it’s your own piece.

What was your experience like participating at Ravinia as an award winner and 2017 fellow?

That was a trip!  As a 2017 fellow, we were asked to bring in something.  I decided to write something fresh…it ended up being Tranquil Storm.  While we were there, the 15 fellows were arranged into different combos each day, so I had 5-7 variations of high level groups play it differently.  That, musically, was an unmatched experience.  Also getting to hang with Billy Childs, Nathan Davis, and Rufus Reid was soooooo cool.  I mean, how often to you just hang out with legends and also get their advice, have lunch, get a masterclass, and play!  That was amazing.  When I got to go back as a winner of the Bridges Competition, I was THRILLED.  I remember, I was between teaching lessons at the time pulling up a metronome on my phone and saw that I won.  I was giddy.  That was an international composition competition and I documented the entire creative process.  It was so crazy to me.  The band that performed it spent 6 hours working on Haunted Lullaby of the Forgotten...a melody I came up with in the shower which changed my life.  How bizarre is that?!

What does your concert at the Lake Wales Arts Center mean to you? 
I've been super excited for this concert since being asked to do it.  I love Coltrane's music and his sound.  The biggest thing I'm trying to communicate in my music is the energy I feel from Coltrane's music.  I want to show the community at large that your interpretation of art, your perspective, can do something that's hard to describe in language...and your job, as the artist, is to figure out how to get it out.

What do you hope people gain from seeing your concert?

We have a good mix of repertoire on the roster and I hope that the diversity helps open some people to music that they haven't explored quite yet.  Selfishly, I hope people enjoy my approach to this music and keep in touch, check out my original music to hear how this music has influenced me, and I hope they feel something viscerally...that energy that we as musicians feel.  I want that to change someone's life.

Do you have any new projects coming up that you can speak about?
I have a limited edition CD coming out (it should be in for the concert!) which is a compilation of all the new music that I and my executive producer / engineer / friend, Jon Tucker, have put together over the past year selected by one of my oldest friends.  Aside from that, I have new music coming out every month!  I'm trying out an ongoing release system instead of a typical album release schedule.  To keep in touch, visitors can check out:

If you are interested in purchasing tickets for the Zachary Bornheimer Quartet at the Lake Wales Arts Center, please do so here.

Isabel Wadsworth