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University of South Florida

Alumnus Zachary Bornheimer Wins International Composition Competition, Collaborates with the Best in Jazz

Monday, May 14, 2018

Zachary Bornheimer looks at sheet music in his hands with a saxophone to his left in a studio portait

Equals parts composer and performer, undergraduate and graduate USF music alumnus Zachary Bornheimer works in the music industry as a saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist, music copyist, and president and CEO of software company Zysys, which offers web services to musicians.

Music alumnus Zachary Bornheimer is a winner of the Ravinia Festival Bridges: An International Jazz and Classical Fusion Composition Competition for his piece Haunted Lullaby of the Forgotten, which will be performed June 9 in Highland Park, IL at the Ravinia Festival, the oldest outdoor music festival in North America.

This is Bornheimer's first time winning an international composition competition. He receives a cash prize and special guest accommodations at the Ravinia Festival.

Haunted Lullaby of the Forgotten is an 8-minute piece composed for a genre-bending ensemble comprising a string quartet and jazz rhythm section.

It was the first piece in Bornheimer wrote for his Patreon project, a project entailing the release of new music every month for his subscribers to the online platform. He documented the entire composition process with audio and video recordings from start to finish.

"Hours of footage," said Bornheimer. "If you want it, it's there."

Bornheimer says viewers of the videos are able to see a process he insists is not magic but rather a series of creative decisions being made.

When he took the finished composition to the studio for recording, he brought an ensemble of entirely USF performers, either graduates or current students of the School of Music. These musicians bring the unique character of his piece to life.

"When we recorded it in the studio, we basically just had piano and strings and it sounded classical—it was weird," said Bornheimer. "Then once we added the rhythm section, the rest of the rhythm section, the bass and the drums ... it kind of blurred the genres a bit more."

Although this is his first win in an international competition, he is no stranger to the Ravinia Festival.

In June 2017, Bornheimer was selected as a Fellow for the 2017 Program for Jazz by Rufus Reid at Ravinia's Steans Music Institute. In December of the same year, he was welcomed back as a member of the All-Star Quintet. Even with the anonymous submission process of the Bridges competition, Bornheimer gets to return to Ravinia once again.

Aside from crafting his Ravinia submission, Bornheimer has been busy collaborating with numerous jazz artists. For the past year, he has regularly done music copywork for GRAMMY award-winning jazz composer and big-band leader Maria Schneider.

He met the composer when she was a guest artist at the School of Music in 2014. Schneider and Bornheimer originally discussed technology, particularly issues relating to copyright and musicians' rights, a topic she has become a vocal advocate for in recent years.

He later attended a lesson and received guidance from the artist specifically for his piece Elegy, which earned him the Owen Prize in Jazz Composition for the second time in 2017. Today, he continues collaborating with Schneider as a music copyist by creating refined digital versions of her physical music manuscripts that help her to run her rehearsals more smoothly.

"Rehearsing a band is expensive, and it takes time," said Bornheimer. "And every second you waste you could have prepped something is just money down the drain, so it's trying to prevent that."

To deal with the distance between her home in New York and Bornheimer's residence in Tampa, he looks at photos of her manuscripts sent to him electronically. Sometimes, the collaboration produces interesting moments between the experienced jazz composer and him.

"She wanted me to look at [her music] and check for mistakes, which I thought was ridiculous," joked Bornheimer.

He also does music copywork for Tommy Goodman, a Sarasota-based musician and composer known for arranging and conducting Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World. He is currently working on Goodman's latest project, an arrangement of The Jitterbug Waltz by Fats Waller.

Rounding out Bornheimer's recent collaborators is Chick Corea, 22-time GRAMMY winner, pianist, composer, and keyboard virtuoso. Corea joined him at a recent private event at Ruth Eckerd Hall in March.

Tom Brantley, USF professor of trombone, was also at the gig, where he and Bornheimer later watched Corea take the stage with four-time GRAMMY-winning bassist Stanley Clarke for a memorable performance.

Zachary Bornheimer plays piano in a practice room in the School of Music

Zachary Bornheimer plays his music on a piano in the USF School of Music on April 13, 2018. He typically composes by singing and playing piano, such as with his award-winning piece "Haunted Lullaby of the Forgotten," whose entire composition process is documented in a series of Patreon videos.

Bornheimer has come to know the surprising amount of prominent jazz musicians in Tampa Bay, despite the city not being known for having a jazz scene. Other jazz musicians with ties to Tampa include percussionist Gumbi Ortiz and bassist John Lamb, who played bass for Duke Ellington.

"Tampa's weird like that," said Bornheimer. "It doesn't make any sense, but we have a lot of heavyweights here."

Instead of having its own scene, he says Tampa is within an hour's drive of every scene in Central Florida.

On April 26, Bornheimer held a jazz concert of his own. The Zachary Bornheimer Quintet joined The Cathy Lopez Sextet, led by USF music student and saxophonist Cathy Lopez, and special guests James Suggs, Gumbi Ortiz, La Lucha, and Whitney James for an evening of music at the Roberts Recreation Center in St. Petersburg.

This concert in St. Petersburg was the first concert the quintet played in 3 years, although the scaled-up version of the quintet, The Zachary Bornheimer Jazz Orchestra, played a standing-room-only recital concert in April 2017 at the USF Jazz Rehearsal Hall. At last month's concert, the Zachary Bornheimer Quintet played all original compositions, many of which had never been performed live.

The quintet made its debut for Bornheimer's junior recital, an uncommon undertaking for an undergraduate student. From there, Bornheimer maintained his commitment to making his own path at the School of Music.

He continued to do the unprecedented by beginning composition studies with Professor Chuck Owen as a senior, playing a recital of original music for his senior recital, and ultimately culminating his master's degree with his acclaimed big band recital with his jazz orchestra.

Bornheimer says opportunities like these at the School of Music were able to satisfy his immense hunger for knowledge as a student.

He plans to continue to be an active performer and composer while also serving the needs of musicians, such as through web hosting services through his company Zysys.

Above all, he wants to sustain the happiness he feels making the music he loves.

"If you have a path, it's somebody else's," said Bornheimer. "That's the thing. I just heard this great quote. You have to know what's impossible, and you have to know what hasn't been done, and you have to know the difference between the two."

Visit Bornheimer's website to learn more about the artist.