Bulgarian Jazzman Bobby Valchev: Audience in London, Shumen Very Much AlikeInterview |Author: Milena Hristova | May 10, 2011, Tuesday // 14:36| views
Photos by personal archive
He is young, adventurous and successful. And he has a talent that cannot be silenced. Bobby Valchev is a musician at heart. He learned to play the piano at an almost toddler's age, humming to the tunes of Iron Maiden, Beatles and later on Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong. Though a graduate of the National Music Academy, he has never had a penchant for the classics. As jazz is the music that best speaks to him - it is vibrant, polyphonous and a bit quirky just like himself.
Bobby Valchev composes and performs jazz with such zeal and ability that audiences at home and abroad feel compelled to listen to him. He has played with some of Bulgaria's top musicians – singers Kamelia Todorov, Orlin Goranov and Galya as well as percussionist Kalin Velyov. He has also been 'jammin it' with world famous jazzmen such as the multi-Grammy Award winning musician George Benson, bassist Marcus Miller and jazz drummer Billy Cobham. Since 2009 Valchev has been living and working in London but has not missed a chance to 'pop into' his home country for a gig or two with his jazz trio.
Novinite.com caught up with him a day before the concert of the Bobby Valchev Jazz Trio at Sofia Live Club to find out more about the man that knows how to 'jazz things up'.
Let's start from the very beginning. How did you become a jazz musician?
When I was four I used to sing and dance to the music of Iron Maiden. Honestly, their The Number of the Beast would play on and on and on. Then I got hooked on the Beatles. I knew all their songs. In 1989, right before the collapse of Socialism in Bulgaria, I was a guest in a radio show at the Bulgarian National Radio where I sang 'Let it be' to the top of my lungs. I was only seven then. The host asked me if I l liked showbiz and answered that I was not too keen on it (I had no idea what he meant by showbiz). I also said that when I grew up I wanted to play in front of a big audience and make loads of money. Clearly, my extreme sincerity dates back to an early age. Otherwise, my parents are engineers and were a bit shocked by my unquenchable desire to learn to play the piano. But my mom and dad are cool people; they've never limited me in any way so in the end I got my piano. I started taking lessons, I was accepted at the National Music High School – I was not too keen on the classics as I preferred the music of Beatles, but I practiced by playing classical music; only by learning to play the classics you become a full-fledged musician.
When did you first 'get in contact' with jazz music?
My dad is a music fanatic – he has a collection of about a 1000 vinyls and tape recordings. He was the one who taught me how to appreciate quality music. But he is more of a rock fan – he listens to bands such as Led Zeppelin. So it was me who tracked down the jazz recordings that I wanted to hear. Luis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra were my favourites for quite some time. It is perhaps Armstrong's music and his solo performances that motivated me to study the trumpet rather than the piano at high school. Yet, in the end I gave the trumpeteering up – did not see much point in being in an orchestra where I would play two tones and that would be that. I am a graduate of the jazz and the theoretical departments of the National Music Academy.
What is your connection to the renowned Bulgarian-born composer and jazz pianist Milcho Leviev?
He started teaching master classes at the New Bulgarian University and I attended them regularly. We became quite close, we 'clicked' so to say, we had some gigs together and I was his assistant for one of his classes. He is a fantastic person.
What are your foreign influences?
I've learned from the best in jazz music by listening to and analyzing their recordings. These are Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea. I've had jam sessions with George Benson and Marcus Miller, Billy Cobhman. These are contacts that have touched me personally and made me grow.
Why did you decide to form a jazz trio and not pursue a solo career?
To me the jazz trio is the best way to communicate the music that I compose. Combined together, the contrabass, the drums and the piano are the quickest way to 'get to' the audience. This is a genius combination of instruments that has stood the test of time – Herbie Hancock has a jazz trio, Chick Corea was also in a jazz trio. It is also a pleasure to perform with other instrumentalists or singers, but the nucleus remains – Kiril Petrov is on the drums, Dimitar Karamfilov plays the contrabass and I am on the piano.
What can we expect from your jazz trio this Wednesday (May 11) during your gig at Sofia Live Club?
The three of us, Kiril Petrov – drums, Dimitar Karamfilov – contrabass and myself on the piano will perform some of my compositions. I'll be singing as well, we'll also play some of the best known pop hits in a jazzy version. It's always fun to do that – the audiences never fail to recognize a piece. We've prepared some.
More than three years ago you took off for London without even suspecting that you were about to settle there...
Yeah, my London story is as if taken out of a film script. In 2008 I went to see a friend in London and while walking down one of the city streets, Denmark Street, notable for its connections to British Popular Music and where all kinds of music instruments are sold, I entered a music shop, sat at the piano and started playing. Some customer came in and asked me what he should buy. I told him what to choose and he purchased a piano. The owner then offered me a job as a shop assistant, I gave his proposition a week's thought (after all I had to go back to Bulgaria for a concert with Kameila Todorova) before accepting it. I worked there for no more than three months – I am not used to the 9 to 5 work routine. But I'm happy I took up the job because I made many new contacts. Some of the musicians who heard me play in the shop contacted me and invited me to play and record with them. And this is how it all started – I now have live gigs there, I record there. I also play in one of the city's biggest gospel churches. The atmosphere inside the church is quite special and magical.
Do you see yourself as an emigrant?
No. I see myself as a citizen of the world. I travel every week and I no longer have these interior boundaries – I do not need to adapt to my new surroundings. When you know who you are and when you're at ease with yourself you can feel at home anywhere in the world.
Is there an audience for jazz music in Bulgaria?
Last week we had a gig in Shumen and I can honestly say that the audience there was very similar to that in London. The retro club we played in was packed with people who felt the music and reacted to it. Londoners are like that; they recognize the music as it is what they've grown up with, they can also tell when you've made changes to the piece.
Music is your vocation and your passion and retro cars seem to be one of your best hobbies...
Yep, I collect retro cars. I have eight so far. I have one Jaguar Majestic, a very special car, there are only 267 such automobiles in the world. Now, I have my eye on a Cadillac Fleetwood, Formal Limousine,1975. I prefer retro automobiles to high-tech cars because they have a character – up to the 90s the brand meant something. These cars are a work of art not ready-made.
What do you aspire to?
I believe that I need to 'infect' as many people as I can with the bug of my music. I believe it affects people in a positive way and helps them see life from a different, more gleeful angle. My mission is perhaps to inspire people.
And what inspires you?
Everything and anything. I find happiness in the little things of life. Nature inspires me, I can sit and contemplate the sea for hours on end...Some people inspire me with their vibrant personalities and strong energy...Even retro cars can inspire me. Anything beautiful is an inspiration because it is subject to constant rediscovery.
The Bobby Valchev Jazz Trio is performing this Wednesday at Sofia Live Club at 9 pm
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