Despite the successes of Benny Goodman, Andre Previn and most recently, Keith Jarrett and Brad Melhdau,I get nervous when jazz and classical musicians get together because they come from different bases. Jazz is swing, blues and improvisation. Classics is sticking to the written score. Classical conductors interpret Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, not improvise above its melody line. English conductor and the Birmingham Symphony put the concern to rest as they join with top rank jazz artists for more than an hour of dazzling performances of a cross section of Duke Ellington's music.
The album has both instrumentals and vocals. Of the former, several standout out, There's Clark Terry and Regina Carter on "That Doo-Wah-Thing", variations on "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing", with the members of the symphony swinging like mad. Bet they haven't that much fun in years. Terry, Bobby Watson, Joshua Redman. Joe Lovano and Regina Carter blast away on Ellington's signature, "Take the "A" Train". Individual members of the Symphony get a chance to show off as solists on a couple of cuts. John Barclay and Simon Gardner trumpets capture the blues on "Harlem".
But the gems of this album are the tracks when Lena Horne shows up. Turning back the clock, she engages the listener with as poignant "Something to Live" as you'll ever likely to hear with the Lovano tenor paying due respect to this doyen of song. Then she turns up the burners for "Maybe" supported by Watson's alto sax and an all star rhythm section of Geri Allen, Lewis Nash and Peter Washington. This rhythm section is on most tracks performing the seemingly impossible task of maintaining the jazz beat for each soloist without getting overwhelmed by the symphony. They pull it off without a hitch.
This is a fine album of Ellington/Billy Strayhorn music where the classical and jazz artist come together as one to honor the great composer. Recommended.
Track Listing: Take the "A" Train; You're the One; Sophisticated Lady; Harlem; Isfahan; Ad Lip on Nippon; That Doo-Wah Thing; Something to Live For; Come Sunday; Solitude in Transbluency; Maybe; Things Ain't What They Used to Be
Personnel: Clark Terry - Trumpet; Bobby Watson - Alto Sax; Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano - Tenor Sax; Regina Carter - Violin; Geri Allen, Mike Renzi - Piano; Lewis Nash - Drums; Peter Washington - Bass; Lena Horne - Vocals; The Birmingham Symphony Orch., Simon Rattle - Conductor
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.