Francesca Simone Böszörményi. “My dad is Hungarian, and people have trouble pronouncing it.... so I like to stick with Francesca Simone… I would like to be called Simone.”
I’m Francesca Simone, 17, and live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Playground is an exploration. It is my first endeavor at expressing my vision of the myriad and diverse influences that have shaped me as a musician.
In just five short years, I have grown from playing beginning guitar to performing at major venues in California including the upcoming 2013 GRAMMY's where I'll be playing at various events as part of the GRAMMY Camp - Jazz Session Combo.
When I’d just started playing the guitar, my then-friend, now-producer Ray Obiedo, said that he would help me record a demo. Every summer I pestered him about it. Finally last year, he said, “If I’m going to record you, we should do an album, not just a demo.” By this time, I’d written several compositions, and I was more than ready! And just like that, we did it.
While recording Playground, I worked with Dennis Chambers, David K. Mathews, Karl Perazzo, Benny Rietveld, Marc Van Wageningen, and Brian Collier, a group of big-hearted and brilliant musicians who work with Carlos Santana, Sheila E., and Lauryn Hill, among others. We laid the basic tracks in only two studio sessions. The album is a product of my many influences including funk, jazz, rock, Latin, and R&B. I wanted the collaboration process to be spontaneous and fluid. Thus, the idea of a playground where, with my friends, we have free reign.
Lafayette: Bentley School senior Francesca Simone chosen for 2013 Grammy Band
By Lou Fancher
Half a lifetime ago, Francesca "Simone" Boszormenyi was a 10-year-old child, seated between her parents in a darkened theater and bawling.
A single bluesy note from the guitar of Carlos Santana had temporarily sent her heroes, Kathleen Battle and Andre Bocelli, flying out the window of her imagination.
"I realized I loved the guitar," the Bentley School senior said in an interview.
Seven years later, the Grammy Foundation loves Simone, awarding her a prestigious Grammy Combo position at the 2013 Grammy Band — Jazz Session.
The one-week camp brings 30 of the nation's top high school-age musicians to the host city of the Grammys. There, they participate in workshops, rehearse, hang with their idols, attend the award ceremony and, best of all, perform with a bona fide Grammy winner at a post-Grammys performance.
"It's Juanes this year," Simone announces, as if the Latin music star's name is fanfare enough. Realizing there's more to say, she adds, "I've known of him since sixth grade. Every year our Spanish class would sing a Juanes song, 'A Dios le Pido,' in front of the entire school."
Bentley Jazz Band teacher Brian Pardo said Simone has the perfect fundamentals for becoming a mature, singular jazz and funk guitarist -- parents who exposed her to diverse musical genres, artistic sensibility from a "good ear" and thousands of hours of tedious repetition.
"Many people think music comes to you in a divine moment of inspiration," Pardo said, dismissing the theory as pie-in-the-sky. "And nowadays, everybody teaches jazz theoretically."
Because early jazz was aural-based, Simone's ability to listen to a piece of music, hear the pitches and time phrasings and it pick up makes her playing style a unique throwback to the genre's origins. She learns quickly and connects viscerally.
"She's open to making connections," Pardo said, "and she can change quickly to match the environment."
Nimble adaptability is the critical difference between classical music -- in which a musician is putting out someone else's interpretations -- and jazz, in which presenting one's own ideas is dominant.
"I like transcribing (picking up) solos and imitating the intonation of guitarists I admire," Simone said. "Playing by ear, choosing everything from jazz to funk to rock--that's shaped me as a musician."
Listing some of her favorites (George Benson, Pat Martino, various funk artists and "James Brown band filtered down through generations"), and her four guitars (a Fender Stratocaster, two Ibanez models and a Luna Guitar acoustic), the 17-year-old Simone said being selected for the Grammy Combo is thrilling.
"It makes me feel I've accomplished a lot. I remember seeing the Combo two years ago and thinking, 'I'll never be up there, but that's so cool.' "
With only four instrumentalists in the Combo, she was counting on solo time.
"The way I play is different; there's less focus on how fast I can play or how many licks I can get into one measure. I play every note with meaning," she said. "And with the ensemble, it's not just knowing the notes, it's playing cohesively with musicians, understanding who you are playing with. You have to find the right way to fit in."
Fitting in on the local music scene means making a recording, and Simone is just a hop, skip, mix and master jump from releasing her debut DVD, "Playground."
Working with a high-pedigree mix of professional musicians (they've played with Carlos Santana, Sheila E. and Lauryn Hill, according to her Kickstarter campaign notes), the band laid the basic funk, jazz, rock, Latin and R&B tracks in two sessions. She's hoping donations will help her complete her first all-originally-composed album.
"I've always encouraged her to be proactive," Pardo said. "The other piece is to have fun. Students get driven and they sound technical, without spark and soul. I want to hear musicians being human with each other."
Still waiting to hear from several colleges, Simone has been offered entry -- and a scholarship -- to her current number one choice, Berklee College of Music.
But before that came walking the red carpet and, oh yeah ... Juanes.