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Grammy winner Jeff Bova will speak about his Cantonese grandfather at Vancouver’s Jade Music Festival

Jeff Bova
Keyboardist and producer Jeff Bova has risen to the top of the music world performing with Céline Dion, Herbie Hancock, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Katy Perry, and many others.

Jeff Bova has been interviewed about many things in his illustrious musical career.

He’s spoken about winning a Grammy as one of the producers of Céline Dion’s Falling Into You album. The talented keyboardist has played with a bevy of other stars, including Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, Katy Perry, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Nona Hendryx, and Herbie Hancock, among others.

Bova has appeared on more than 300 gold- and multi-platinum-selling albums, according to his website. It’s an astonishing accomplishment. 

But the U.S.-born musician has never talked to the media about his Chinese heritage. Until now.

“I grew up in what was a very white, conservative suburb of New York—Greenwich, Connecticut,” Bova tells Pancouver over Zoom from his Los Angeles studio.

He says that he and his sister, Kim, looked different from all the white kids because they were one-quarter Chinese. 

“So, there were some challenges,” Bova says. “There were definitely some challenges.”

As an example, kids often played a game called Cowboys and Indians in those days. He wanted to be a cowboy, but that wasn’t possible.

“Kids told us that my sister and I would have to be the Indians because we were Chinese,” Bova recalls.

Their maternal grandfather was a Cantonese merchant seaman who had immigrated to Philadelphia in the 1920s. He had a family and they later moved to New York. (The southern Chinese city of Guangzhou was formerly called Canton.)

His granddad married a white woman and did not teach “real Cantonese” to their five children, including his mom.

“They picked up what they could,” Bova says.

One of his uncles became a New York City cop who policed the Chinatown precinct for many years.

Dad played in band linked to Glenn Miller

Bova’s paternal grandparents were Italian immigrants from Naples. His dad is a retired 94-year-old trumpet player who played in an Air Force band, the Airmen of Note, during the Korean War.

The same band was fronted in the Second World War by swing-music legend Glenn Miller, who died in a plane crash in 1944.

From his father, Bova learned the importance of getting along with fellow musicians.

“It was about being really good at what he does and [being] a pleasure to work with,” he says. “Definitely, I’ve tried to carry that with me in everything I’ve done.”

On November 30, Bova will be at the Vancouver Playhouse to offer a workshop at the inaugural Jade Music Festival, which is celebrating Chinese-language music.

TD is presenting the six-day conference, which also includes concerts, networking opportunities, and an exhibition. The Society of We Are Canadians Too organized the festival to put Vancouver on the map as a production centre for Chinese-language music.

Jeff Bova in his studio
Jeff Bova spoke to Pancouver from his studio in Los Angeles.

Reconnecting with his Asian heritage

Bova plans to speak about how his identity influenced his musical career.

“I’m going to be sharing and exploring my experience growing up with Chinese heritage—and all the complications—as well as my experiences out in the world and eventually, reconnect with that Asian part of myself,” Bova says.

He has worked with many Japanese artists and worked in Japan dating back to the 1980s. But it wasn’t until 2017 that he visited Taiwan and China for the first time. Bova felt a great deal of excitement in that environment.

He also enjoyed a sense of connection with many Chinese people after telling them that his granddad was from China.

At the Jade Music Festival, he plans to talk about how he’s benefited from being so open to mastering different genres and having that as part of his musical toolkit.

“I can bring some of those influences into other people’s music,” he states. 

It raises a question whether his Chinese heritage—and the ancestral knowledge passed down through generations—may account for the flexibility and dexterity that he’s repeatedly demonstrated in his career.

“That’s a very complicated piece,” Bova replies. “I see there are a lot of layers and levels to this.”

From there, he segues into commenting on the history of Chinese immigrants in North America, the relationship between the West and East, and the role Chinese workers served in society here. 

To him, it feels like different musical genres are coming together as the lines are starting to blur. He wonders if this is a reflection of a growing shared consciousness on a global level.

Authenticity is the key

For example, in his own career working with Céline Dion, he could draw on his work with jazz greats Herbie Hancock and Bill Laswell. This enabled Bova to incorporate unique sounds that added a new dimension.

So why does he feel that Dion has been so successful?

“I think it comes purely down to one’s heart and being authentic,” Bova responds. “She’s really authentic.”

And while Dion has “virtuoso chops”, according to Bova, she’s not singing at that level to simply show off her talent. Rather, he maintains that this talent is employed to convey something deeply meaningful to her audiences.

He says that the same is true of musicians in many other genres around the world. They are true to themselves.

“It comes back, as an artist, to being really authentic,” Bova says. 

Moreover, he says that Dion placed a premium on excellence that for him was unparalleled. “Her song choices go so much again to the heart of why we’re here, how we want to reach people, and touch people in those places.”

He admits to being surprised that they won the Grammy for Falling Into You because they were nominated alongside the Smashing Pumpkins, who had just put out a revolutionary double album.

“It was so surreal when they called our names out,” Bova says.

Jeff Bova will offer a workshop at the Vancouver Playhouse at 11 a.m. on November 30 as part of the Jade Music Festival.

 

~*~

 

葛萊美得獎音樂家 Jeff Bova 將於溫哥華 Jade Music Fest 緬懷來自廣東的祖父

 

身為鍵盤手及製作人的 Jeff Bova 在音樂界的成就非凡,合作歌手包括席琳·迪翁、賀比·漢考克、麥可·傑克森、蒂娜‧透娜、凱蒂·佩芮等。

Jeff Bova 在他輝煌的音樂生涯中曾就不同話題接受訪問。

他曾以席琳·迪翁《Falling into You》專輯其中一位製作人的身份獲得葛萊美獎,並就此發表感想。這名才華橫溢的鍵盤手還與眾多歌星合作,包括蒂娜‧透娜、麥可·傑克森、凱蒂·佩芮、比利·喬爾、辛蒂·羅波、諾娜·罕醉克斯及賀比·漢考克等。

根據 Bova 的個人網站,他參與製作的暢銷專輯數目超過300張,實在是一項傲人的成就。

然而,這名美國出生的音樂家此前從未就他的華裔背景接受媒體訪問。

Bova 透過 Zoom 視訊會議,在他位於洛杉磯的工作室向 Pancouver 表示:「我在康乃狄克州的格林威治鎮長大。那是紐約市的市郊地區,人口以白人為主,而且非常保守。」

由於他和他的妹妹Kim擁有四分一華裔血統,因此外貌有別於其他白人孩子。

Bova指出這的確為他的生活帶來一些挑戰。

例如當時的孩子都喜歡玩「牛仔與印第安人」的遊戲。他渴望能扮演牛仔,但總是事與願違。

Bova 回憶道,由於他和他的妹妹都是華裔,其他孩子說他們只能扮演印第安人。

他們外祖父是一名在1920年代移民到費城的廣東籍商船船員。爾後他成家立室並遷居到紐約(中國南方城市廣州[Guangzhou]過去的譯名為Canton)。

他的外祖父和一位白人女性結婚,也沒有向他母親在內的五名孩子教授「真正的廣東話」。

Bova 說他們只能靠自己來學習廣東話。

他其中一名舅舅後來當上了紐約市警察,駐守唐人街警區多年。

Bova 父親的樂團與格林·米勒有關聯

Bova 父親的父母則是來自意大利那不勒斯的移民。他的父親是一名年屆94歲的退休小號手,在韓戰期間是空軍樂團 Airmen of Note 的成員之一。這個樂團在二戰期間由搖擺樂傳奇格林·米勒帶領,但他不幸於1944年的一次空難中離世。

Bova 從他父親身上學習到與其他樂手和睦相處的重要性。

Bova說:「當中的要訣在於精益求精,以及與其他人愉快地合作。的確,無論我做甚麼事情都會嘗試貫徹這個理念。」

11月30日,Bova 將在推廣華語音樂的首屆 Jade Music Fest 期間於 Vancouver Playhouse 舉辦工作坊

一連六天的活動由道明加拿大信託呈獻,當中亦包括演唱會、商務交流以及展覽。The Society of We Are Canadians Too 藉由舉辦這個音樂節,企圖讓溫哥華成為華語音樂的產業中心。

重新接觸他的亞裔背景

Bova 計劃闡述他的身份如何影響他的音樂生涯。

Bova表示,他將會分享及探討具有華裔血統的成長經驗、伴隨的挑戰、在世界各地的音樂經歷以及重新接觸自己亞裔身份的過程。

他曾多次與日本音樂家合作,早於1980年代便前往日本工作,但直至2017年才首次踏足台灣和中國。在那樣的環境下,Bova感到非常雀躍。

當他告訴其他中國人他的祖父來自中國時也讓他感到格外親切。

在 Jade Music Fest 上,Bova 將會剖析自己樂於求知並掌握不同音樂風格為他帶來的益處。

他指出,自己可以將這些元素加入其他人的音樂當中。

這不禁令人好奇,到底他對音樂的靈活度和才華,是否源自他的華裔背景和家庭世代相傳的智慧。

Bova 認為,這是一個非常複雜的問題,背後蘊藏著不同成因。

他亦提到美洲的華人移民史、中西關係,以及華工的社會地位。

對他來說,不同音樂類別之間的界線已逐漸變得模糊,並開始混為一體。他認為這可能反映了全球的集體意識正日益壯大。

關鍵在於真誠

舉例而言,Bova與席琳·迪翁合作時,便曾借鑑與著名爵士樂手賀比·漢考克和比爾·拉斯威爾合作的經驗,讓他注入獨特元素,為音樂增添層次感。

當被問到席琳·迪翁為何如此成功,Bova回答:「這關乎一個人的內心和真誠度。她是一個非常真誠的人。」

雖然席琳·迪翁的音樂造詣精湛,但Bova認為她演唱不單是為了展現才華,而是為了向聽眾表達更深層次的意義。

他表示其他音樂風格在全世界也有這些忠於自己的歌手。

Bova覺得,作為一名音樂家,關鍵在於真誠。

此外,他說席琳·迪翁對卓越的追求是無可比擬的,而她所選的歌曲往往都能夠觸動聽眾的心。

他承認對《Falling into You》專輯獲得葛萊美獎感到意外,因為當時獲得提名的還包括剛推出革命性雙專輯的碎南瓜樂團。

Bova憶稱:「當我們的名字被宣布時,我簡直是難以置信。」

作為 Jade Music Fest 的其中一環,Jeff Bova 將於11月30日早上11時在 Vancouver Playhouse舉辦工作坊

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam Indian Band), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish Nation), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation). With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.

The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.