All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Profiles

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

5

Iva Bittova: Knowing, Feeling...

Ian Patterson By

Sign in to view read count
Iva Bittová is one of the most important figures in the history of Czech music. I can't think of anybody on her level, with her power —Vladimir Václavek
[Note: This article was first published in Music & Literature, a North American magazine dedicated to promoting artists worthy of wider attention]

Iva Bittová is a rare talent. She has developed a personal idiom and vocabulary that is almost entirely her own. Her sound, her very personal language, forged from the union of violin and voice, cannot be categorized yet is immediately recognizable. Bittová is, quite simply, inimitable.

Though she is not the first artist to create a hybrid language that draws from different roots, nobody has forged quite the same path as Bittová. Her artistic idiosyncrasies and virtuosity as a singer often draw comparison to Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk, though Norwegian Sami singer Mari Boine and Portuguese singer Maria Joao may also serve as references to some degree.

Bittová's innovative techniques with both voice and violin, her attraction to minimalism, and her multi-disciplinary career perhaps draw closest comparison to another all-rounder, Meredith Monk. However, it is unknown whether Monk has ever used a ping-pong ball as an objet trouvé to alter her voice, as Bittová has done on occasion.

In the end, these comparisons hardly matter. Bittová's performances, whether solo or accompanied, contain a dramaturgy that is every bit as natural as her improvisations. It is impossible to separate the actor from the musician, the entertainer from the artist. "In the language of an actor, to know is synonymous with to feel," notes Russian actor and theater director Constantin Stanislavski, and feeling is at the core of Bittová's expression, whatever setting she may find herself in.

Clarinetist Evan Ziporyn, who first played with Bittová when she collaborated with the celebrated New York ensemble Bang on a Can in 2000, observes: "When Iva first appeared in the U.S., I think there was some sense that here was this deeply Eastern European music, but I don't think it's that; she's a cosmopolitan person. She was very much in the center of Czech urban culture. She was a film star and kind of a pop star. She knows jazz, she knows rock 'n' roll, she knows classical music—she knows Janáček and she knows Mozart. Hers is an honest hybrid music that just reflects all of her musical experiences. She's not putting up any boundaries. She just responds to the whole sonic fabric of the moment."

Responding to the sonic fabric of the moment comes close to capturing Bittová's unique gift. One need only watch Bittová's original interpretation of the jazz standard "My Funny Valentine" at the Isole Che Parlano festival in Sardinia, 2011 (available on YouTube), to gain a sense of the in-the moment essence of Bittová's art. The megalithic, Bronze-Age Tomba dei Giganti provides the ideal setting for the singer's performance. Bittová seems to draw energy and inspiration from the silence that enfolds her and that frames her almost Shakespearean drama. Bittová conveys her feeling for Richard Rogers' tune and Lorenzo Hart's lyrics in gesticulations and body language that exude balletic grace and theatrical magnetism. Her voice runs a gamut of emotions, from susurrus, lullaby-delivery to the ululations and cries of a tortured soul. It's a performance that transcends genre.

The small crowd, mere feet away, is spellbound by the singer's seductive and sometimes startling idiom. Bittová's improvisations would no doubt have been a bit too avant-garde for the crowds who flocked to see the 1937 musical "Babes in Arms," which introduced "My Funny Valentine" to the world. In Europe, in another century, her performance might have brought forward accusations of demonic possession. But at the Tomba dei Giganti her performance inspires wonder. To borrow from Meredith Monk, Bittová's voice dances and her body sings.

Even in the early twenty-first century, however, Bittová's more outré music may initially dissuade people more used to mainstream music, but Ziporyn, who also currently plays with Bittová and guitarist Giyan Riley in the trio Eviyan, has seen Bittová's powers of musical persuasion firsthand: "The thing about Iva is that what she's doing is so transparent and so real that everybody gets it. I've performed with her in front of classical audiences, avant-garde audiences, and indie rock audiences. Everybody understands what she's doing because it's deeply personal; it's connected to the core values of music.

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Profiles
CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles
Iva Bittova

Iva Bittova

ECM Records
2013

buy
 

Mater

ECM Records
2007

buy

Related Articles

Read A Vintage Year For Jessica Felix And The Healdsburg Jazz Festival Profiles
A Vintage Year For Jessica Felix And The Healdsburg Jazz...
by Arthur R George
Published: April 19, 2018
Read Cecil Taylor: 1929-2018 Profiles
Cecil Taylor: 1929-2018
by Karl Ackermann
Published: April 7, 2018
Read Boston Celebration: The Legacy of Bob Brookmeyer Profiles
Boston Celebration: The Legacy of Bob Brookmeyer
by Doug Hall
Published: March 13, 2018
Read The Jazz Corner's Lois Masteller Makes It Happen Profiles
The Jazz Corner's Lois Masteller Makes It Happen
by Gloria Krolak
Published: February 21, 2018
Read Savoy Records: From Newark To The World Profiles
Savoy Records: From Newark To The World
by Jordan Levy
Published: February 6, 2018
Read Ranky Tanky: African Rhythms Preserved Profiles
Ranky Tanky: African Rhythms Preserved
by Martin McFie
Published: January 18, 2018
Read "Jon Hendricks: Vocal Ease" Profiles Jon Hendricks: Vocal Ease
by Greg Thomas
Published: November 23, 2017
Read "Denys Baptiste: Making the Late Trane Accessible" Profiles Denys Baptiste: Making the Late Trane Accessible
by David Burke
Published: October 10, 2017
Read "Savoy Records: From Newark To The World" Profiles Savoy Records: From Newark To The World
by Jordan Levy
Published: February 6, 2018
Read "Courtney Pine: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" Profiles Courtney Pine: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
by David Burke
Published: October 16, 2017
Read "BassDrumBone and the New Haven Jazz Renaissance" Profiles BassDrumBone and the New Haven Jazz Renaissance
by Daniel Barbiero
Published: September 4, 2017
Read "Malcolm Griffiths: A Man For All Seasons" Profiles Malcolm Griffiths: A Man For All Seasons
by Duncan Heining
Published: May 4, 2017