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Musicals That Inspired the Jazz World

Blog
Musicals That Inspired the Jazz World

11.01.2018

Text: Cem Kayıran

Jazz music’s interactions with different genres have always created exciting results. Jazz musicians and composers, who chase inspirations, have been feeding off from countless musicals. Bertol Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, which was staged on 31st August 1928 in Berlin for the first time, was the inspiration behind one of the most important jazz standards: “Mack The Knife”. Let’s not forget that the same musical also inspired The Doors’ “Alabama Song”.

On the anniversary of The Threepenny Opera’s first performance, let’s remember some of the musicals that inspired the jazz world.

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

Adapted from various stories of Sholem Aleichem, Fiddler On The Roof is a musical that has won the prestigious Tony Award for a total of nine times. The musical seen many productions by various companies since 1964, but legendary Cannonball Adderley was the musician who gave it a treatment at the same year of its initial run. Adderley released an album carrying the same name with the musical, bringing his own approach to the soundtrack with jazz arrangements.

WEST SIDE STORY

One of the musicals that left a major mark on the popular culture is West Side Story, a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Staged with Jerome Robbin’s direction and choreography in 1957 for the first time, musical’s soundtrack by Leonard Bernstein has been interpreted by many musicians to this day. The jazz renditions of the musical is also numerous. Stan Kenton’s Kenton’s West Side Story album, which came out around the same time with the musical’s white screen adaptation, is undoubtedly one of the first examples that come to mind. We should also note that the album brought a Grammy win for the musician as well. Buddy Rich’s 1966 Buddy Rich's Swingin' New Big Band album was also paying homage to Bernstein’s compositions with its “West Side Story Medley” track, arranged by Rich himself. Chick Corea’s 1986 album from GRP Records, The Chick Corea Elektric Band, also includes a great interpretation of the song “Rumble” from the musical.

A CHORUS LINE
Receiving a total of twelve Tony nominations and winning nine of them, the musical A Chorus Line from 1957 was holding the longest running musical record until Cats claimed the title towards the end of 90’s. Bringing in classics like “The Music and The Mirror”, “What I Did For Love” and “Sing!” to the music world, the songs from the musical have been interpreted by various musicians. One of the most memorable renditions came from Aretha Franklin on her 1977 Sweet Passion album to “What I Did For Love”. Philadelphia based vocal group The Three Degrees also included the song in their Standing Up For Love album in the same year.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC

Inspired by Maria von Trapp’s diary, The Sound Of Music is a timeless musical that has been staged on and off by both Broadway and West End productions up to this date. While the last production toured in UK during 2015-2016, the musical is also popular with its numerous television and cinema adaptations.  Even though mainstream pop music stars like Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue and Gwen Stefani have covered songs from the soundtrack, the name of The Sound Of Music evokes a single unforgettable rendition in the jazz world: legendary jazz musician John Coltrane’s 13 minute interpretation of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s “My Favorite Things”, which also gave its name to the musician’s 1961 album from Atlantic Records. After Coltrane, many musicians including names like Dave Brubeck, Sun Ra and Tony Bennett, also included the song in their repertoire, especially performing it for various Christmas themed albums.

THE WIZ

The Wiz, the musical adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, won a total of seven Tony awards including the “The Best Musical” category. Charlie Small’s wonderful compositions, which turns L. Frank Baum’s classical tale into a story of African American experience, create a wonderful experience together with The Wiz’s captivating atmosphere. Motown singer Diana Ross was starring as Dorothy in the musical’s 1978 film adaptation and she also recorded a soundtrack to the musical’s songs for her record label. Even though the soundtrack wasn’t released fully because of the film’s low box office performance, Ross’ duet with Michael Jackson for “Ease On Down The Road” song brought the singer a Grammy nomination. The album was finally released fully during 2015 fall, first on digital and then on printed formats.

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