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Monteverdi and Jazz

Blog
Monteverdi and Jazz

06.12.2017

Text: Cem Kayıran

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

In this quotation, Beirach is referring to his unawareness of the relationship between jazz and Monteverdi.  Monteverdi remains as an underrated genius whose music is still very much influential in our day. Even though 2017 marked the 450th anniversary is his birth, his music still serves as a both technical and theoretical foundation for all musical genres that are influenced by opera and classical music.

It would be historically wrong to say that Monteverdi, who shaped music all by himself while vocals in music were stepping out of Baroque influence, is the founder of opera. Yet his potential was definitely up there since he is considered to be one of the names who transformed opera into an art. That is the reason why on the 450th anniversary of his birth, his unforgettable opera “L’Orfeo” is coming back to stage with a wonderful production. An enormous world tour under the direction of Sir John Elliot Gardiner’s direction will be unearthing Monteverdi and all that he represents. Speed, tension, emotion and a music that embraces all humane motives. Even when you ignore the genres, how many musicians can you think of who achieved such glory?

Of course, we need to take Monteverdi’s works as reference points. This is also why Monteverdi is timeless and still relevant today. Starting off from these thoughts, it is possible to explore Monteverdi’s influence on the jazz genre. Let’s start from the most obvious: Igor Stravinski was very much influenced by Monteverdi. Especially, Monteverdi’s theoretical work inspired Stravinsky deeply. When you look towards the end of Stravinsky’s Russia period, as his interest shifted into jazz, you will come across “Ebony Concerto”. This concerto, which can be taken as a love letter to jazz, has close similarities with Monteverdi’s work in its emotional structure. Another good example to the Monteverdi influence is the emotional precession in Shostakovich’s "Suite For Jazz Orkestra No 2".

Monteverdi is a genius who understood the dialogue between silence and tension. I believe that the leading names of jazz were deeply influenced by his work. It would be right to say that Monteverdi created the jazz music of his times with the limited sources he had. And this is what Richie Beirach, who I quoted at the top of this article, is saying that he knew very little about.

If we were to think that Monteverdi’s music is enclosing all human emotion, then we realize that this genius was all about creating but never spent time on restructuring. Isn’t that vision identical to how jazz legends created their music? Can’t we see that creating tension and release through bass and melody structures was a predecessor to the technique that made Oscar Peterson a legend?

Much like the jazz’s fundamental philosophy that feeds its own soul, Monteverdi was a music man who devoted himself to translate emotions into musical expressions. After all the jazz genre is an opera. And the heroes of this jazz opera know that it is a tragedy.

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