Last November, I had the pleasure of taking in the Kosma Busheikin Quartet at the Guesthouse. Denman is an open-hearted, ardent musical community with no shortage of support no matter what your interest or level of musicianship may be, so I did not want to pass up the chance to find out how a true son of Denmanistan got to go pro.
Kosma is an island lad, arriving from the Czech Republic, aged two, with his parents, Laura, and Tomas. He began taking music seriously when he started to learn the guitar at age 16 under the tutelage of Kevin Mitchell. Kevin brought not only his knowledge and skill on the instrument, but also, as a composer and performer, what Kosma calls “respect for the song.”
Kosma began to put himself out there, first at the Thursday night open mike sessions of the Audio Collective. He subsequently invited Ram Sudama and Ken Hatch to busk with him at the Guesthouse. Jazz had never been much to mind until Ram hired him to perform at the Seniors Hall for a summer event. He also took lessons from Marc Atkinson and played with Ray Ulovec, amongst others.
Denman isn’t exactly a hotbed of jazz, nor did Kosma spend time going to jazz venues in Vancouver or the very few on Vancouver island. Growing up on island, he was used to spending more time on his own and even today, finds himself somewhat amazed by the music scene in Nanaimo, Victoria, and Vancouver. In fact, the first time he was ever in a jazz club was on a trip to Prague. But Denman did offer musical companionship, something, Kosma points out, essential to jazz because a quartet depends on finding fellow musicians with the right chemistry.
Eli Hilberry thought Kosma should look at trying at least one year of the new four-year jazz program at Vancouver Island University. He was also encouraged by Marc Atkinson’s evaluation of his progress. There was much to weigh before taking the plunge because Kosma knew he would have to give it his all. He had done a lot of playing, but his music education was still sketchy. Undeterred, he got through the audition and was accepted. He ended taking up the upright bass, with a major in guitar. As part of the requirements, he also had to learn to sight read, not only playing, but singing. By his own admission, not much of a singer himself, he would strike a note and his friends would tell him if he hit it with his voice. With a lot of practise, he was eventually able to do it on his own. Then there was all the theory, orchestration, composition, and constant practise.
At the end of it all, he was one of only four graduates out of an initial class of thirty. So often we think that only people who are born virtuosi or have brilliant creativity can make it as musicians, but as the saying goes, the better part of talent is hard work.
Apart from Kosma (bass), the quartet members are vocalist Tasha Adams, Graham Villette on drums, and Liam Mackay, guitar. They are based out of Nanaimo and were getting by until Covid shut everything down. The work is starting to come back for them with a weekly gig at a Nanaimo restaurant. The members are all trained at different university programs, some back East. The quartet plays jazz covers, the classics, Cole Porter and what have you, including one arrangement by Kosma himself. “You’ve got to have a repertoire,” Kosma points out. “The difference is in the performance.”
That’s what I like about the jazz quartet or trio, how each member gets a chance to riff and take the music in their own direction within a framework of a beloved familiarity, and the sweet tension of whether they can make a three-point landing. I am reminded of what Bronwyn Schuster said of her mural, Herring Spirit, on the Activity Centre, about the need to let the eye breathe. The same applied to the Quartet, letting the ear breathe, between the riffs, and the return to the song. Everyone was technically strong, with a confident attack, an altogether professional sound. The challenge, Kosma says, is to find their own voice as a quartet, something only possible with constant opportunities to play together. I can only say, they are getting there.
If you missed the show, there is a short video clip on the Grapevine website courtesy of my iPhone.