If Robb Janov’s parents had banked their concern about his shyness just a little longer, he might have turned out to be a karate master instead of a violin maestro.
“I was a shy, quiet kid, and my parents thought it would be good to give me karate lessons to give me a little confidence,” says Janov. But at age five, he was too young for the karate school.
“Instead of karate, I started paying Suzuki violin,” says Janov, who soon had no trouble getting up in front of a group of people and playing his instrument.
“Violin and playing music and being in an ensemble all these years has been amazing in terms of opening myself up,” he says. Over the course of his career, he’s opened himself up to a variety of different musics, including classical, gypsy jazz, swing and jazz fusion.
As part of Seasons’ Jazz on the Patio summer series, Janov’s joyful, outgoing chops will be on full display this Saturday as he and his quartet—with Dan Dowling (guitar), Dan Spanogle (bass) and Rick Compton (drums)—present an evening of eclectic music.
Growing up in Chicago, Janov focused on the classical repertoire. At 16, he auditioned successfully for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the training ensemble for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and worked with some of the world’s most prestigious conductors, including Claudio Abbado, Leonard Slatkin and Sir Georg Solti.
In his senior year in high school came an unexpected and life-changing invitation. “I became friends with guys in the jazz department. They said, ‘Go get an electric pickup on your violin and come join our jazz fusion band and play outside of school.’ ”
A friend steered him to French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty’s album Mystical Adventures. “I remember putting that album on and putting the needle on and hearing this violin playing this music that was so far away from what I knew. That was it,” he says.
Janov jumped in with both feet and began exploring Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Mahavishnu Orchestra, King Crimson and others.
Since arriving in Albuquerque in 1996 and establishing the groundbreaking Rock and Rhythm Band at Jefferson Middle School, where he teaches, Janov has continued to expand his musical palette. He was playing rock when he met Spanogle, who invited him to play in the gypsy jazz group Suite 42.
“I got a chance to get into the gypsy jazz stuff and just loved it,” he says. “La pompe—it’s French for ‘the pump,’ and that’s what they call that rhythmic bounce of the Django [Reinhardt] style. That’s what caught my attention.”
Janov has regularly performed rock and R&B with Cadillac Bob and salsa with Charanga del Valle over the last three or four years. “I’ve gotten completely addicted to the styles of music Charanga del Valle plays,” he says.
Along the way, Janov encountered the music of violinist Stuff Smith, whose approach helped Janov find his own avenue into improvised music. “He said he was largely influenced by Louis Armstrong, and ... his approach was to play like a horn player on the violin,” says Janov.
Janov carried the approach into other genres, using the instruments associated with a particular style—say, electric guitars in rock—as his model when playing that style of music.
Janov will explore a number of genres Saturday night, and he plans to bring his effects pedal, too, for an excursion into Ponty-esque territory.
He expects the evening will be more performance-oriented than background music for dinner. “I think it’s going to be a little out of the ordinary and eclectic, so come prepared,” he says.