Guitarist brings Bach and bop to Bathurst Street
Though he is the master of all styles, Jozsef Botos’ heart is in classical guitar
Jozsef Botos takes his guitar in hand, begins plucking the strings and the sounds of the jazz standard, Out of Nowhere, fill the air of his apartment. Once free of the melody, he begins weaving a new one from the chords of the song. As effortless as the performance is, Botos is quick to point out “I’m not a jazz guitarist. I am a classical guitarist who can play jazz.”
“My heart is in classical guitar.”
There’s good reason for that. Botos grew up in a musical family in his native Hungary. The family was a musical dynasty. His father was a guitarist, his brothers and cousins, are all musicians. Classical music filled the house.
His ears were open to other styles
Like his father and grandfather before, Botos began playing guitar at a young age. His father taught him tunes and chords. And seeing the boy had promise, signed him up for a music school, where he studied classical music. But his ears were open to other styles. At 14, he heard the sounds of American jazz guitarist Pat Matheny.
Botos began to imitate what he heard. There was no sheet music to read. He just listened to a Metheny CD over and over. Once he had the melody down, he repeated Matheny’s solos countless times.
“It was very, very difficult. I learned a lot from listening to him, but I never could make it sound like I wanted,” Botos explains.
Given that he admits to never being content with his playing, Botos’ sound may have been a lot more like the master guitarist than he is willing to admit.
Other sounds and other styles – bebop, modern jazz, the sound of Django Reinhardt – all caught his ear. Still, he played with classical music in mind, always looking to blend the genres.
Roll over Amadeus!
Before leaving his homeland, Botos got his chance. Working with fellow guitarist Gyula Botos, his cousin, the duo improvised on a piece by Mozart at a classical guitar festival. They were apprehensive to say the least. After all, musicians played the classics as written. That’s what audiences heard; that’s what they were used to.
“We thought they were going to kill us. But they were so happy; they were clapping along.
“At these festivals, they hear the same things. Now, they were hearing something played in a different way,” Botos recalls.
Botos explains that classical music has its roots in improvisation.
“Bach was a very big bop musician; he improvised.”
Yet once the music was written down, it stayed that way. Now, Botos pays homage to Bach writing pieces of his own, a blend of the classics and jazz.
After touring Europe where he performed with jazz and classical chamber orchestras, Botos came to Canada in 2011. Here, another Botos, pianist Robi, introduced him to Canadian jazz giants, Dave Young and Reg Schwager. He has since branched out on his own.
Botos now makes the Bathurst and Briar Hill area of Toronto his home.
Recent gigs include the TD Jazz Festival and the Kensington Market Jazz Festival along with countless weddings and corporate events. He also teaches and is working on bossa nova stylings a la Jobim while composing six pieces – classical, naturally – for an upcoming CD.
Botos is the master of all styles. But at heart, he is a classical guitarist right down to his fingertips.
“I don’t have a style like George Benson or Pat Metheny. I play mostly guitars with nylon strings and pluck them with my nails not with a pick like jazz guitarists.”
For more posts by Lawrence Papoff, visit https://ljpapoffwriter.com/blog/