Culture Crush Music: Interview with Cellist Jodi Burnett, Part 2

Jodi Burnett during sessions for the feature film A Reason with original score composer Kim Planert.   
Los Angeles-based cellist Jodi Burnett sits down with aspiring young cellist Maya and answers all her questions about being a working studio musician and the effort it took to get there. We get a glimpse of the more intimate aspects of a this creative and unique musician's life, from growing up in Los Angeles with parents who were also musicians, to her life now as an established and sought after professional cellist.

What does cello mean to you?
The cello has been a good best friend that’s hung in there with me over the years. Even when I’ve dumped it, the cello has always waited for me to get over whatever I was distracted by, and then there it is, ready to create more adventures with me. And like any solid relationship, it seems that the more I’ve invested in it, it’s always met me at least half way if not much more.

At first, the cello helped me find something that I enjoyed doing, like a fun hobby. That segued into helping me learn how to set serious goals and accomplish them. Overall, the cello has taught me about gaining self esteem that can only come from self discipline, even if that seems to be a lesson I get to keep learning! Ultimately, the cello has given me the gift of self sufficiency and a channel for creating what my heart desires. Now that’s a real BESTIE!

What kind of sound do you like? Warm? Clear?
I’ve always been a sucker for a big, warm, sweet sound with a strong, centered pitch. I used to listen to Jacqueline Du Pre for hours when I was just starting out. She was my rock star for sound.

Do you prefer slow pieces or fast pieces?
Fast pieces are flashy and fun to play; they’re always crowd pleasers and have usually won the auditions or a higher placement in cello sections. But the cello is so perfectly set up to sing deep, gorgeous phrases that I’ve always chosen to spend more time, getting to the heart of those slow, intense pieces. Lately, my new favorite piece has become a piece by Carl Bohm titled “Calm As The Night.” It’s just long tones and ridiculously slow; a “beginners” piece. But it’s deep and poignant. I perform it at memorials and everyone asks, “What WAS that?” Can’t beat that.

Who are some of your favorite composers and why?
I love a variety of composers for so many reasons that I could write a 20 page paper on them! Trying to keep it simple, for cello pieces, I’ve always loved the Bach Suites For Solo Cello. They might as well retitle those “The Bible Of Cello Playing.” I don’t think I really fell in love with playing the cello until I began to master the Samuel Barber Sonata for Cello. Currently, I’m preparing the Kol Nidre by Max Bruch for the Jewish Holidays next month. It’s such a great piece, and it’s like visiting with a dear, old friend.

The impressionistic composers always seem to catch my attention. I love how images can be captured with notes and instrumental colors and shadings, so I love anything written by Debussy, and Ravel. We used to have Rite of Spring parties in college, so as far as Stravinsky is concerned, need I say more?

How long did you study cello in college, where and with whom?
I studied at the University of Southern California for 2 years with Eleanore Schoenfeld. I took a year off from school and returned to Joe DiTullio, my primary private teacher. I returned to college to study with Peter Rejto at California State University, Northridge, for 2 years. During that time, Peter was often on the road with his solo career, so he brought in guest teachers. This gave me the opportunity to work with Peter’s father, Gabor Rejto, Ronald Leonard and Yo Yo Ma.

Do you prefer wood or carbon fiber bows and why?
I’m impressed with the carbon fiber bows. Some of them draw a good sound and I’d recommend them to any student, especially if they’re not ready to spend big money or make a life-long commitment to playing an instrument. But I’m old school when it comes to my bows. I love the feel of hand carved wood. I’ve never regretted investing in good, well made bows that created with love and expert craftsmanship. However, my carbon fiber cello case is a life saver!

How many cellos have you had/have? What can you tell me about the cello you play currently?

I started playing on cellos that I borrowed from school. The L.A. Unified School District provided fairly decent instruments at that time so my parents didn’t feel that it was necessary to buy me an instrument until I’d proven that I was serious, about three years after I started studying.

When I got into USC, I bought another cello that I played on for several years until I was established as a professional. After I’d been working in the studios and various orchestras around L.A., my mentor and studio colleague felt that I needed a better instrument, and he just so happened to have a good cello that he wasn’t playing, taking up space in a closet.

The cello is missing its label so it’s a bit of a mystery. I’ve heard that several fine instruments were stripped of their labels in order to expedite smuggling them safely out of Europe during the Nazi invasion. In any event, I have a feeling that this cello has had an interesting life. I’ve been told that it was probably created in France in the early 1800’s, but I’ve also heard that it could be Italian. Nobody knows for sure, and I kind of like it that way. What I do know is that I love it’s sound. It’s a beautiful cello, inside and out. Even better, it’s easy for me to play. I can’t imagine ever loving another cello as much as this one, and I’ve played it for most of my professional career, over 20 years.

Any notable artists or conductors you played/worked/toured with and where?
I haven’t toured that much since most of my work has been in the studios. But early in my career, I loved touring all over Japan for a month with The Percy Faith Orchestra. The orchestra was treated well, the audiences were packed, I made some money, and I got to enjoy a trip to a country that I never could have paid for or experienced as much on my own. 

As for more notable artists, that leads to the next question...

What are your favorite movie soundtracks or audio recordings that you enjoyed playing on?
I have so many great memories of working on movies, TV, and records that it’s almost impossible to pick favorites, but some are memorable.

I loved working on Back To The Future 3. I’ll always be a fan of the trilogy, and working on that score was a blast! Forrest Gump was also a great experience, since I knew from the start that we were working on a masterpiece. I’ve also worked on several Danny Elfman movies and those were always fun, especially the collaborations with Tim Burton like Nightmare Before Christmas.

I’ve always loved working on anything that I knew would become a timeless classic like Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable. I’ve worked a lot with with Barbra Streisand including two tours. She only surrounds herself with the best conductors and arrangers in the business, so those opportunities have always been sublime. Recently, I worked with Paul McCartney, recording a web-cast from Capitol Records on the day he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I also performed with him at the 2012 Grammy’s. Yes. It was AMAZING! So. Much. FUN!
But my favorite gig has not been with big celebs and orchestras, but working with composers in their private studios, helping them to “sweeten” their synthesizer tracks for TV shows and movies. Years ago I played solos on a lot of episodes of a show called Party Of Five, on music by Steve Graziano with his big puppy dog laying at my feet. More recently, I’ve worked on a lot of solos on one of my favorite TV shows Castle and Last Resort that have both earned composer Robert Duncan Emmy nominations. 

Some great links to listen to some of Jodi's recent recordings: 

Composer Robert Duncan's site has cues of Jodi's solos for Last Resort: "The Peacock and The Crane" and "Fall of the Colorado," Castle: "I Just Want You" and Big Thunder: "Abel Emerges":


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