Improvisers’ Thoughts on Classical Music

July 1, 2023

By Masamichi Okazaki

As the boundaries of music continue to expand, many improvisers are deeply attached to classical music. Especially in Europe, many jazz musicians have received formal education in classical music, and the music they create is filled with attractions that transcend genres. From among such musicians, I listened to recent recordings by two European improvisers and an album of classical music interpreted by Keith Jarrett.

#220 Scriabin’s Jazz that Brings Us Closer to Essence of Composer

Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band / The David Gordon Trio

Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band / The David Gordon Trio
(Mister Sam Records PSAM CD-004)

This album features British pianist David Gordon’s flexible arrangements of works by Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915). Alexander Scriabin is one of the most famous composers representing modern Russia. His music, which gradually veered from romantic to mystical, was not widely accepted at the time. However, today, many players try to approach him from not only the world of classical music but also from the jazz side. The album, specifically entitled “Scriabin’s Ragtime Band,” was made in 2015, the 100th anniversary of his death. In nine of the 14 tracks, Gordon approaches Scriabin’s works head-on. As an improviser, he creates various ideas and makes the music fun and beautiful.

<Praeludium Mysterium,> which develops a spacey sound with Calum Heath’s guitar added; <Famous Etude,> where a fantastic performance unfolds with exotic beats; and <Choro Mazurka,> which is overflowingly romantic. It is interesting to note that these performances do not simply use Scriabin as materials, but all of their interpretations get to the essence of the music that Scriabin, the composer, created. It is also intriguing that other pieces, from <Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band,> which was selected as the album title, to Debussy’s <Cakewalk> and even Francisco Canaro’s tango piece, juxtapose to Scriabin’s works without a feeling of strangeness. The album was named the best jazz album of 2016 by Mojo Magazine, a music magazine published monthly in the UK. This is an album worth listening to that could only be created by David Gordon, who has been active across different genres.

#221 Adam Baldych’s Music Colored by Slavic Melancholy

Legend / Adam Bałdych Quintet, Agata Szymczewska

Legend / Adam Bałdych Quintet, Agata Szymczewska

Polish jazz violinist Adam Baldych performs pieces he wrote inspired by the music of Polish composer Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880). The works of Wieniawski, who was also a renowned violinist, often require excellent playing techniques. On the other hand, his attractive melodies, colored with Slavic melancholy, capture the hearts of listeners. Baldych also emphasizes such plaintive folk music melodies and makes beautiful sounds. The free interpretations are unique to Baldych, who has been active in jazz, classical, and pop music genres since he was a teenager. Marek Konarski’s tenor sax closely accompanies Baldych and further accentuates the melodies.

The other violinist, Agata Szymczewska, a winner of the International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition, a gateway to success for young violinists, joins the ensemble to deepen the group’s sound. Pieces such as <Romance sans paroles,> <Polish Song,> and <Caprice No. 1.> are filled with dusky and wavering melancholy. Anaklasis, which released such a fantastic album, is a label run by the Polish music publisher PWM Edition. The album released in 2022 is one of the REVISIONS Series from Anaklasis, which introduces improvisational music transcending genres to the world.

#222 Keith Jarrett’s Approach to Classical Music

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach:Wurttemberg Sonatas / Keith Jarrett

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach:Wurttemberg Sonatas / Keith Jarrett
(ECM ⇒ Universal Music UCCE-2104~5)

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (C.P.E. Bach), the second son of Johann Sebastian Bach (J.S. Bach), wrote <Wurttemberg Sonatas> when he was 30 years old. Among the works of C.P.E. Bach, who respected the classical style and wrote many elegant pieces with emotional ups and downs, the Sonatas are regarded as masterpieces of solo music. Tape recordings of Keith Jarrett’s performance of the Sonatas have been unearthed, and they are to be released on CD this month. These recordings were made by Keith in his home studio in 1994. At that time, Keith actively performed classical pieces such as J.S. Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” “Goldberg Variations” and “French Suites,” and made them into albums.

In this period, alongside his classical performances, Keith Jarrett actively played jazz and improvised solos with his “Standards Trio.” As Keith himself commented, “When I listened to the Wurttemberg Sonatas performed by a harpsichordist, I felt there was a possibility to play it on the piano,” his music here is filled with a joy to play. Keith plays the elegant classical pieces with his free and supple sensibility. The mastering technique is also excellent on this album, and although the recording was made about 30 years ago, the piano expression is as fresh as if it was recorded yesterday.

About the Author

Masamichi Okazaki

Masamichi Okazaki

Surrounded by various kinds of music from his childhood, Masamichi Okazaki joined Waseda University Modern Jazz Club. He started contributing articles to music magazines when he was a student. He covers wide range of music not only trad, modern and contemporary jazz, but also from pops to classics. He writes liner notes for CDs and LPs, and is a regular contributor to “JAZZ JAPAN,” “STEREO,” and others. He joined a big band, “Shiny Stockings,” as a saxophone player. He is a director of The Music Pen Club Japan (MPCJ).