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10 Great Names That Captured the Harmony Between Jazz and Classical Music

Blog
10 Great Names That Captured the Harmony Between Jazz and Classical Music

28.12.2017

Text: Haluk Damar

"I’ve been involved with music for my whole life, but this was something I knew very little about.” - Richie Beirach 

In my opinion, the compability of jazz and classical music is very much expressed in Richie Beirach’s quotation above. The basic engineering of jazz genre carries many similarities to classical music. Obviously jazz brought in the human factor – the emotional intensity – later on and evolved into a very advanced music. Yet when you strip its composition structure from what it represents and expresses, you might be surprised how similar the engineering behind both genres is. Of course, the figure Beirach referred as beyond music was legendary composer Claudio Monteverdi, whose 450th anniversary of birth is being celebrated this year.

Born in 1567 in North Italy, Monteverdi is still considered as one of the most important composers of the opera history. And it can easily be said that Monteverdi’s thinking on music was carrying similarities to jazz spirit. In honor of the 450th anniversary of the legendary composer’s birth and considering that fusion is about taking a bite from both sides, we are remembering names that created inspiring music, showcasing the harmony between jazz and classical music.

George Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue

I cannot think of a more perfect example for the unison of jazz and classical music than George Gershwin’s ‘‘Rhapsody in Blue’’. Chasing after innovation in modern music at 1924, Gershwin managed to create the first waltz of the classical and jazz.

Duke Ellington - Jazz Symphony 

While preparing for his first performance at the legendary Carnegie Hall in New York, Duke Ellington decided to create a special composition named ‘‘An Afro-American’s place in American history’’ without realizing at the time that he was creating what is later came to known as one of the most important compositions of jazz history.

James Price Johnson - Yamekraw 

George Gershwin’s ‘‘Rhapsody in Blue’’ inspired many jazz musicians to think deeper on the classical forms. One of these musicians, Harlem based pianist James Price Johnson, created one of the biggest jazz references on classical music forms by the orchestration and structural integrity of his ‘‘Yamekraw’’ composition.

Leonard Bernstein, Young People's Concerts - Jazz In The Concert Hall, Slow Blues, Fast Blues, Very Fast Blues

Leonard Bernstein’s 1964 performance in New York was consisted of three tracks, which were based on jazz but evolved into classical music form. The performance reached a higher level of originality and creativity with the inclusion of violins.

Ornette Coleman - Forms and Sounds

Ornette Coleman’s 1965 composition, ‘‘Forms and Sounds’’, which was based on his own jazz theories, is a unique jazz creation that stands on both improvisation and classical music traditions.

Claude Debussy – Viola

Debussy was one of the classical composers who sought after the emotion rather than the period’s dominant tone of classical music. Even this feature is enough to name him as a classical composer close to jazz genre, which he never lived to experience.

Dimitri Shostakovich - Suite For Jazz Orchestra No.2

Even though Debussy never got to experience jazz, Dimitri Shostakovich, a jazz-loving classical composer from 1920’s, was developing theories on how to melt both genres in one pot. While he worked on jazz on a theoretical level until 1930’s, his work gave fruit in the form of a suit that he composed for the National Jazz Orchestra of Russia in 1938.

Aaron Copland - Piano Concerto

A very important figure in American classical music, Aaron Copland’s 1926 ‘‘Piano Concerto’’ is also referred as the ‘‘Jazz Concerto’’. It is no doubt that this work is very close to jazz norms and especially to the genre’s mysticism. The saxophones added to the orchestra also helped to highlight the contrast between the classical and jazz.

Bernd-Alois Zimmermann - Nobody Knows The Trouble I See

Alois Zimmermann is definitely on of the more interesting names of this list. This masterwork from him, which is referred as one of the legendary trumpet repertoires of our day, also marks a rare moment where the line between the classical and jazz almost disappears.

Igor Stravinsky - Ebony Concerto 

Stravinsky’s first engagements with jazz falls into his final period in Russia. His ‘‘Ebony Concerto’’, which showcases a jazzier, slower motion as well as a tighter range than his classical work, is a high praise to the jazz genre that he has been influenced by for a long time.

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