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Identical twins reared in separate households, or under separate circumstances, have been a fascination for social scientists for decades, for obvious reasons. In the eternal debate between nature and nurture, twins raised apart gives us the best chance to zero out the genetic differences in order to get a true (or true-ish) measure of the influence of environment and upbringing in determining a person’s life path.
But what of identical twins raised in the same household and with the same influences? Does that lead to two people having identical lives?
Obviously, the answer to that is no. Like snowflakes and batches of fine Scotch, no two people are identical, no matter what the DNA says. But sometimes, two people who began from the same starting block can end up at similar places, albeit on entirely separate paths.
Such is the case study of Remy and Pascal Le Boeuf, Santa Cruz-born twin brothers who, at 36, have each carved out an impressive career as a composer, instrumentalist, band leader and teacher. The Le Boeufs have been playing together since they were teens in Santa Cruz, and they continue to do so — The Le Boeuf Brothers band visits Kuumbwa Jazz on Thursday. Their quintet is set to debut a new album titled “Hush,” which marks a step in a new sonic direction for the brothers.
But their success as a band could overshadow their accomplishments as individuals in the rarefied upper reaches of the jazz world. Remy (saxophone) and Pascal (piano) will visit the Kuumbwa this week from their respective perches as teachers at prestigious music schools. Remy is the director of the Jazz & Commercial Music Studies program at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music. Pascal is about a thousand miles to the east of his brother. He’s an assistant professor of music and technology at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Both brothers are involved in ambitious individual projects, and both have been nominated for Grammy Awards. In fact, both were on the ballot in 2023 — Remy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, for “Architecture of Storms,” the latest album from the jazz big band he leads called Assembly of Shadows; and Pascal for Best Instrumental Composition for his song “Snapshots.” In fact, Pascal Le Boeuf was recently named a 2023 Guggenheim Fellow in Music Composition.
“Remy and I were certainly the first twins, almost the first siblings, to be nominated at the Grammys in the same year,” said Pascal, who attended the Grammys in Los Angeles in February with his brother. “It was really neat to have a moment with Remy like that.”
The Le Boeuf twins grew up in Santa Cruz, the sons of Burney and Joanne Le Boeuf, the former a professor emeritus in the field of marine sciences at UC Santa Cruz, an internationally recognized authority on the behavior of elephant seals. The boys developed an interest in music at roughly the same time, and were nurtured largely by two local institutions. At the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, they were exposed to some of the world’s finest jazz players at an impressionable age. At Cabrillo College’s music program, under master teachers Ray Brown and Gene Lewis, they developed a passion for jazz. They then pursued it as teens and students at the newly opened Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz.
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“We were so lucky to grow up in Santa Cruz with that supportive community all around us,” said Remy Le Boeuf. “It was amazing to go to Kuumbwa at such a young age. It’s still my favorite jazz club in the world. And Ray Brown was such an incredible influence on my life. I was so fortunate to be able to take his classes, and to have parents who listened to everyone who advised them to put us in Ray’s classes at Cabrillo. I’m still influenced by Ray today. In fact, there’s a Post-It on my desk to call Ray and ask him if he can look over my syllabi.”
After the brothers left Santa Cruz, they both launched into the New York jazz world by enrolling at the Manhattan School of Music, where they began to hone their individual voices and interests as musicians. Saxophonist Remy developed a love for the jazz orchestra, collaborating with the celebrated Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, among others. In recent years, he’s marshaled his own jazz orchestra, Assembly of Shadows, inspired in part, he said, by such innovative band leaders as Maria Schneider and Thad Jones.
As a pianist, Pascal Le Boeuf has performed and recorded with a wide variety of collaborators in jazz, pop and rock. He’s maintained an abiding interest in cutting-edge technology and its intersections with music, and has pursued his compositional and improvisational skills with his trio, Pascal’s Triangle.
All the while the brothers have been committed to playing together in the Le Boeuf Brothers band. Their latest album together is titled “Hush,” and it’s designed to explore the realms of “quiet music.” In separate conversations, both Le Boeuf brothers evoked the 1959 masterpiece “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis in describing their approach to “Hush.”
“We wanted it to be a very quiet album,” said Remy, “that was recorded in such a way that you could feel the warmth of it. So we recorded it kind of differently. We turned the mics up and played very quietly into them. That compresses the sound a certain way to make it feel closer and more intimate and warm.”
“We tried to compose a bunch of music,” said Pascal, “that could be performed between mezzopiano [softly] and nothing.”
At their respective music schools, both brothers are also part of inspiring the next generation of jazz musicians. Remy is working on the next Assembly of Shadows orchestra recording, which he is aiming for a January 2024 release. As for his work at the University of Denver, he said, “I’m really trying to help people figure out who they are in the context of music, to become unique and special artistically.”
In Nashville, Pascal and his wife, Molly, also a faculty member at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music, just welcomed their first child, a son. And at Blair, he’s engaged in teaching music and technology, which should not suggest that he’s about to become an electronica artist.
“The idea is not to make electronic music,” he said. “It’s to use technology as an equalizer, so that people can record orchestral music, for instance, without needing to find a way to get access to an orchestra, which is a huge financial and hierarchical hurdle.”
The Le Boeuf Brothers band plays live at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center on Thursday.