547

From Bach To Bop

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
One does not have to look far into the Jazz or Classical world to find the improvisational thread that connects the two.
Stravinsky said that Jazz is the only art form that America can call its own. Although I generally agree with Stravinsky I also believe that the spirit of Jazz has danced through many centuries of music including the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

Most musicologists will agree that J. S. Bach's intuitive quality was that which gave his music its most profound effect. Bach's ability to improvise, or rather his improvisational mastery, set him apart and above most, if not all, of his contemporaries. The master lutenist Silvius Leapold Weiss, a personal friend of Bach's, was also known for his improvisational skills and the two frequently attended and/or held what were called improvisational meets where they would improvise fugues, etc. These events nowadays would likely be called jam sessions.

Although we must have most surely lost an enormous amount of improvised music from Bach and Mozart and a host of other great artists of the past who loved to spend a great deal of time blowing, we still have a library of music from these greats that reflect the fruit of their improvisational inspirations. One has only to listen to pieces like the Double to the Bouree from the B Minor Partita for Unaccompanied Violin by Bach to realize its similarity to an improvised double time Bop solo over the changes to a jazz standard.

David Underwood, a masterful guitarist whose specialty is Classical music, understands that Bach was not only a great improviser but also really swung. David's interpretation of Bach's music is certainly indicative of this understanding. His career as a performer and instructor has taken David from the master classes of Andrea Segovia and Julian Bream to resident guitar instructor at Trinity University in San Antonio Texas where he now has Underwood Guitar Studies, his private studios.

David and my personal and musical friendship has existed for many years and became a musical collaboration several years ago when we began experimenting with improvisation over Classical compositions. Although this was not an original idea, our concept of it is and we undertook the project and the music very seriously without, of course, taking the humor out of it. Although David and I never intended this musical adventure to go beyond our own enjoyment, it blossomed into such an interesting and amazing project that it has grown into live concerts, several recordings and still continues to expand.

David and I decided to release some of these recordings on a small scale in a CD which we entitled GUITAR: Improvisation-Composition, which is exactly what it is -a lot of guitar playing in a setting that you've not heard before. The first section of the CD is devoted to Bach and consists of the Sarabande, Bouree and Double from the B minor Partita for Unaccompanied Violin, followed by the unparalleled Chaconne which has been called Bach's triumph of spirit over matter and although written for solo violin has been transcribed for and performed by a large variety of instruments as well as orchestra. All of the improvisation was spontaneously played together with David playing the original composition. We both felt prepared and mature enough to attempt this musical venture as we had played the original pieces for years and were very familiar with them. The Chaconne is followed by a seven minute Fantasy that David and I improvise. This piece is inspired by the feeling invoked upon us by the Chaconne during and after our performance of it. The third part of the CD consists of four Etudes by Heitor Villa-Lobos, the 20th century composer whose compositions for solo guitar are acclaimed to be among the greatest written. The Etudes are numbers 1, 4, 7, and 8. The improvisational approach to these pieces differs because of the composer and the contemporary time period in which they were written. We feel that bringing the spirit of improvised jazz into the magic of these great compositions and composers was justified and realizing that this is a somewhat controversial issue, leave subjective judgement up to the listener. I would, by the way, love to hear from any of you who hear this CD any thoughts or comments about it. At any rate I think David Underwood's performance on this recording was brilliant and would urge any lover of Jazz or Classical music and guitar to hear it.

Shop

More Articles

Read Jazz Stories: 2016 What is Jazz? Jazz Stories: 2016
by Michael Ricci
Published: December 31, 2016
Read Words and Music: Why Liner Notes Matter What is Jazz? Words and Music: Why Liner Notes Matter
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: September 19, 2016
Read Jazz Popularity and You What is Jazz? Jazz Popularity and You
by Douglas Groothuis
Published: August 26, 2016
Read Jazz: The Sacred and the Profane What is Jazz? Jazz: The Sacred and the Profane
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: May 13, 2016
Read The Virtues of Jazz What is Jazz? The Virtues of Jazz
by Douglas Groothuis
Published: April 12, 2016
Read "Jazz Stories: 2016" What is Jazz? Jazz Stories: 2016
by Michael Ricci
Published: December 31, 2016
Read "Jazz: The Sacred and the Profane" What is Jazz? Jazz: The Sacred and the Profane
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: May 13, 2016
Read "Jazz Popularity and You" What is Jazz? Jazz Popularity and You
by Douglas Groothuis
Published: August 26, 2016
Read "Words and Music: Why Liner Notes Matter" What is Jazz? Words and Music: Why Liner Notes Matter
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: September 19, 2016
Read "Panama Jazz Festival 2017" Live Reviews Panama Jazz Festival 2017
by Mark Holston
Published: February 21, 2017
Read "Brilliant Corners 2017" Live Reviews Brilliant Corners 2017
by Ian Patterson
Published: March 27, 2017
Read "Balé Folclórico de Bahia at Zellerbach Hall" Live Reviews Balé Folclórico de Bahia at Zellerbach Hall
by Harry S. Pariser
Published: March 19, 2017
Read "Hiring a Publicist: Is It Worth It?" In The Biz Hiring a Publicist: Is It Worth It?
by Kathy Sanborn
Published: August 25, 2016
Read "Jazz Education: The Next Generation, Part 1" Under the Radar Jazz Education: The Next Generation, Part 1
by Karl Ackermann
Published: December 30, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM RECORDS | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!