Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The joy of jazz

That is Michel Petrucciani in the photo; he made his first appearance On An Overgrown Path eleven years ago and in 2016 I derived many hours of listening pleasure from the 7 CD anthology Michel Petrucciani: The Blue Note Albums. Despite suffering from the genetic disorder bone disorder osteogenensis imperfecta which limited his height to 3' 0" [ 0.91 m ], Michel Petrucciani became a renowned jazz pianist. Originally influenced by Bill Evans and to a lesser extent Keith Jarrett, he went on to develop his own unique voice - watch a full length concert video via this link. Michel Petrucciani died in 1999 aged just 36 and is buried alongside Frederic Chopin in Paris' Père Lachaise cemetery.

Michel Petrucciani's resting place acknowledges the close links between jazz and classical music, and there are notable examples of the influence of jazz. George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue was originally commissioned for solo piano and jazz band by Paul Whiteman, and only later orchestrated by Ferde Grofé. Dave Brubeck studied with Darius Milhaud, and György Ligeti acknowledged the influence of Bill Evans and Thelonius Monk on his Études for Piano. André Previn has recorded a number of successful jazz albums; his 1956 My Fair Lady with Shelly Manne and Leroy Vinnegar became a best-selling jazz albums. At around the same time Randy Weston's jazz trio was resident at the Music Inn resort in the Berkshires and its audience included Leonard Bernstein and musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The trio's bassist was the African American musician Sam Gill, who went on to become principal bass for the Denver Symphony.

Leonard Bernstein championed jazz, and on his 1956 Columbia spoken word LP "What Is Jazz?" he argued against the critics who preached that jazz has low-class origins, is loud, and is therefore not art. But six decades later the barriers between Western classical music and jazz are still there. Supposedly we live in more inclusive times; but inclusivity is becoming increasingly politically correct, which means it is no more than inverted exclusivity. Much futile effort is expended on attracting new audiences into our concert halls. Yet jazz - music that can be loud and avoids the perceived elitism that dogs classical music - is still virtually ignored. Michel Legrand, who worked with many of jazz greats, has an uncompromising view*:

When it came time for [John Coltrane] to solo, he integrated himself thoroughly into my arrangements without sacrificing one note of his own conceptions. I thought about that later, after I followed Coltrane's career through Ascension and Meditations. I began to draw parallels with his music and that of some classical composers I knew, Luciano Berio and Luigi Nono. To me, both jazz and classical music have the same goal. There should be no lines of demarcation between them, for the end result should simply be - good music.

* Quote is from Chasin'the Trane by J.C. Thomas. Header photo via No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). No review samples used in this post. Also on Facebook and Twitter.


john fremont said...

One of the most influential jazz recordings in the latter half in the 20th century. Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, was an integration of classical concepts with the Miles Davis ensemble's individual styles of Davis, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderly, and John Coltrane.

"...To learn what Miles Davis thought of his music from his modal period (circa 1958-63), the best source is Davis' autobiography, Miles: The Autobiography, in which he states that he was prompted into this style of improvising on fewer chords by Gil Evans' arrangements of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. He also states that George Russell recommended pianist Bill Evans (no relation) to Davis around the same time period (1958) for his LP Kind of Blue on the strength of Evans' knowledge of the music of French Impressionist composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Davis subsequently became infatuated with Revel's Concerto for the Left Hand, and spent roughly the next 13 years incorporating the latter composer's devices from that particular piece into a distinctive Davis style of what some historians (Winthrop Sargeant, for example) termed Impressionist Jazz: unresolved melodic tensions, quartal harmony, non-functional chord successions (as opposed to progressions), extended pedal points, bi-tonality, and other salient early Twentieth century characteristics..."

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Philip Amos said...

I think that a key problem is that many people outside of the music world, and I include in this avowed music-lovers, hold views on music shared by few musicians. A rather fanatical jazz fan once told me a rather hoary joke about classical musicians with the punchline, "They can't swing". Having dutifully laughed, I mentioned that two most eminent classical pianists, Geza Anda and Friedrich Gulda, were also eminent jazz pianists; indeed, both were rated Best Jazz Pianist in the European Jazz Critics' Awards. And here's a good one -- the London premiere of Gershwin's Second Rhapsody was given in 1933 by...Solomon! But, as Gershwin surely found gratifying, things were different in the 1930s. Few realize how many jazz musicians originally trained as classical musicians, how many classical musicians have pretty good chops when it comes to jazz. It must be said that if people do, as I think, hold views that are in a sense wayward, it must be in good part because musicians are not communicating well about their art with the populace and potential audiences for music both classical and jazz. And they aren't. 'Social media', e.g., FB and tweeting and whatever the hell, are a matter of speaking to the converted in a closed vocabulary. Print media are useless, at most offering up interviews that could be taken out of stock. Nor does reproducing said interviews on certain blogs I have in mind (one in particular) help in the slightest. Thus there is the problem that there are musicians who could write fine articles about their art and issues such as the one under discussion, but where to publish them so that they reach the general public? Given the space, good music critics could do the job, but space for music coverage in print is disappearing and, off-hand, Alex Ross is the only good music critic I can think of. And so I've moved from a particular to a general problem I can't see any way out of.