Julia Bomfim shares her musical journey from classical to jazz to music from her native Brazil. Julia is a Jazz Certificate student in NEC's School of Continuing Education. Her certificate recital will take place Saturday, December 21 at 6:30 p.m. in NEC’s Pierce Hall, and is free and open to the public.
Can you tell me a little about how your musical journey got started, and what brought you to NEC and to Boston?
I’m originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and I moved to Boston in 2014 to study my master’s degree in violin performance at Longy School of Music.
My main reason to come to Boston was because my sister was here. I loved my teacher [at Longy] so it was a very good two years. And then, I loved Boston; I just wanted to stay longer. Because I am an international student they gave me one year after I graduated to just stay here and work.
I started teaching in a school, violin, and then I started also to play Brazilian music more. And then I met some other musicians from Brazil—a guitarist and a percussionist—and we started this trio. They are more in the jazz world, so that’s how I got into playing other kinds of music because in my master’s degree I was doing classical music only.
So you hadn’t really played jazz before?
No, not at all. And then I started to enter this world and then I wanted to study jazz but, you know, I didn’t know anything so I wouldn’t be able to get into a master’s degree in a program like that.
The Continuing Education certificate was just the perfect fit for me because I already had my master’s in classical but I wanted to discover this new jazz world.
The beginning was really hard when I entered the program because I didn’t know anything and there was so much… but yeah it was really great. I was really happy with all the classes actually. The teachers are great: history class, theory class, and I was studying with Alexei Tsiganov then violinist David Eure, then in my second year I studied with Tucker Antell and David Zoffer.
I was so fortunate; I couldn’t believe I had the chance to study with such high level jazz musicians and teachers.
Was it challenging making the switch to jazz?
Yes, it was very challenging. I mean, it still is, and I cannot say I consider myself a jazz musician. It was just like an opening and it’s great because many of the things I’ve learned, I can pass to my classical background and use it.
Now I can see that I have a different way of approaching even my classical studies with all the tools I have learned from jazz.
Do you think it’s changed how you see yourself as a musician?
Definitely. It has changed completely because now, what I’m doing now the most is actually playing Brazilian music, so you could say Brazilian jazz.
I kind of found my own path by being in the [certificate] program. Which is definitely not, you know, playing jazz standards. I found my way and I think my own voice inside of jazz and the jazz world, and combining with my classical training and where I’m from.
What are you doing outside of the program right now?
I have been teaching for 3 years at Dana Hall School in Wellesley and right now I am applying for a Ph.D. program in Canada in music education.
Are there any teachers who have specifically inspired you to teach? Here, or anywhere?
Well, I think probably one of my teachers in Brazil. My first teacher when I was a child, he was a great pedagogue and he devoted his whole life to teaching and I was very inspired by his model. My mom is a Spanish teacher, so that was also a big influence on me.
So your mom’s a teacher, and your dad—
My dad’s a musician, so I’ve kind of combined both things. My dad is a flutist in two orchestras back in Brazil.
Why did you pick violin?
I started with the flute, because my dad is a flutist I think he wanted me to, you know, study flute. But I didn’t like I remember in my first lessons I would feel dizzy because I didn’t have the right technique to play, so I just told him that I didn’t like it and that I wanted to choose a different instrument. He said, "Well there is a violin here (that my sister used to play); do you want to learn the violin?" and I said, "Yeah," so it was just like that.
How old were you when you started playing?
I was seven years old, I’m 28 now, so 21 years playing violin.
If you were to give advice to someone who’s just starting out, what would you say?
I think you have to really love it to do it, and if you don’t, then it’s better not to, because it needs to be a huge passion and it’s great to do something you love. Besides all the challenging stuff being a professional musician, I feel very fortunate because at the end of the day I’m doing something that I really love.
So I would say, for someone who is starting: if you really love it, go for it; practice really hard, there’s no other way. You have to devote yourself to music and practice really hard and I think you will find your own way.
We have the tendency of comparing ourselves. There will always be better people, worse people, but I think if you really love it you can find your own way to do it and to make it work.
What surprised you most about the Continuing Education program?
I was very surprised with the ensembles. I remember I got into my first ensemble and I just never played jazz before. I would think, “Like how am I here? What am I doing?”
I never improvised before and we were just thrown in that setting, so I didn’t know very simple things. But it’s great. It’s stressful at the beginning, but it makes you grow.
And I love that in the ensembles you can play with the teachers. It’s the first time that I’ve seen that. In my Master’s degree at Longy, the teacher would coach us, but here the teacher actually plays with you in the band, and that’s very great, to have the chance of playing with the faculty.
Also the evaluations are really nice because you have also another chance of playing with the faculty.
Who’s your dream collaborator?
I think if I could choose I would choose a guitarist from Brazil, Yamundu Costa. He is one of the best guitarists in Brazilian music. All his projects are amazing and different and I love the music that he writes.
What’s the best advice that you’ve been given?
That’s a hard question. I would say here in the program, David Zoffer gave me some very good advice. I remember in one lesson he told me that I should sing all the time when practicing and that has helped me a lot for improvising.
I’m not a pianist, but I would sit at the piano and sing the chord tones and every chord. That was great advice. Just doing that process very slow with all the chords. That’s one advice that I will take for my whole life.
Do you have a favorite place you like to perform?
Here in Boston I really like the Lilypad, but one place that I love to perform is actually at the school where I teach because it’s a great audience. I love performing for my students, their families and they love the music so I always feel very welcome there. And performing back home in Brazil it’s also great because you know it’s always great to go back there after being here and perform.
Do you have any fun facts about yourself that we might not know?
Well, besides being a musician, I also love dancing and sometimes I think that’s what I would choose now if I could. I love salsa dancing and I also do horse riding.
Is there any other information you’d like to share prior to your recital?
Well, my recital I’ll be playing with Alexei Tsiganov on the piano. He’s faculty and he was my teacher here in ensemble and private lessons. Also, I'll be playing with a percussionist from Japan, Ken Yanabe, and Ebinho is a bass player from Brazil as well, so it’ll be a quartet.
I will also have some special guests coming in to play some tunes and it’ll be mainly Brazilian jazz.
Are the special guests a surprise?
My dad is coming from Brazil so he’s going to play some tunes. So that’s special, yeah. A very special guest.