With a potent timbre and powerful volume, the saxophone is an instrument that demands respect. On Ravello Records’ UNQUIET WATERS, Nicki Roman takes listeners on a tour of the saxophone’s capabilities, from Leonard Bernstein’s jazzy syncopated rhythms to lyrical wedding marches, to complex works free of barlines. Each piece is different from the last, showcasing not only the breadth and potential of saxophone repertoire, but Roman’s own virtuosity and technique as a performer.
Today, Nicki is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to learn about Nicki’s ties to Key West, and the striking similarities she finds between musicians and athletes…
Who was your first favorite artist(s) growing up?
My mom, who is a violinist. Growing up, I spent a lot of time attending her chamber orchestra rehearsals. The musicians would let me sit around and just watch the notes on a page go by. She was a constant source of inspiration for me and was always practicing at home. When she wasn’t practicing, she was blasting Itzhak Perlman’s recording of Sarasate. She is my #1 fan and I have her to thank for a lot of my successes, both small and large.
If you could make a living at any job in the world, what would that job be?
At this point in my life, I feel like what I am doing is a dream. Getting to work with students who are passionate about music like I am is an incredible feeling. A job you are really passionate about shouldn’t feel like work, and I feel very fortunate that I am able to perform and teach in a great city. If I couldn’t pick what I currently do (which has always been my dream!), I would say something in athletics. I have always found there to be a large connection between being a musician and being an athlete. We spend countless hours each day working towards a craft that we love. Performance for musicians is also quite similar to performance in a game. The physical and mental aspect of a performance is very intriguing to me. Striving for that balance is something I am always searching for.
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Key West, Florida. Normally a vacation spot for many, I actually got to grow up there. However, I went off to college and then never returned for an extended time. I have always thought it to be the most peaceful place on earth. The culture, musicians, and FOOD are some of the best! I started my musical journey there and would love to be able to spend an extended time there just practicing and performing with old teachers and friends. There is a special connection between the album and Key West. There is a Latin-infused bridge heard in the second movement of the Bernstein piece that is meant to reflect his time spent in Key West when he was a young composer. Having grown up on the same small island, surrounded by my Cuban heritage, it brings a lot of special memories to mind when performing it.
What was your favorite musical moment on the album?
What may catch listeners by surprise is that I sing on the album! Olivia Kieffer’s Floating Bones has a beautifully engaging story and she is extremely innovative when it comes to composing. When Olivia and I first started working together, I asked if she’d consider writing a piece for solo saxophone. When she sent me the first draft, I thought “Oh my gosh! Is that singing in the second movement?.” Surely enough, it was. This allowed me to go outside of my comfort zone and work towards something entirely new. I remember recording that particular movement late at night, in a sky rise building in downtown Milwaukee. It was a beautiful moment that I will never forget.
What does this album mean to you personally?
An album is not just one person’s hard-work and dedication. This album was a collaborative process that took a team of talented and committed people who were invested in the project. I was able to collaborate with friends, colleagues, those I looked up to, and my own students. It makes me smile to think that a group of people came together to make an album that is truly unique. It was a goal of mine at a young age to someday record an album of music I love that showcases the diverse composers in our field. I didn’t have a ton of saxophone albums to listen to growing up that were recorded by women. Knowing that I have been able to contribute to that discography is very important. The album features a wide scope of repertoire that I’ve had a special connection with over the years. As an artist, having a deep connection with the repertoire is a core part of performance and pedagogy. It makes me proud knowing we had this as our mission from the start.
Is there a specific feeling that you would like communicated to audiences in this work?
What is special about this album is that it takes the listener on so many different types of journeys; not one narrative is the same. My hope would be that the listener has many different types of reactions throughout. With any type of performance I give, I think it is important to connect to as many audiences as possible. If we aren’t creating art to share and connect with others, what is the point? There are pieces on this album for my friends, family, colleagues, and students. Because of this, there is a wide array of genres, styles, and emotions that I feel when listening to this album.