Take Five: A Weekly Jazz Sampler

From Bach To Satie: Jazz Takes On Classical

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Can classical music get down and party? i i

hide captionCan classical music get down and party?

Photo Illustration: Lars Gotrich/Photos: Hulton Archive/Getty Images, iStock.
Can classical music get down and party?

Can classical music get down and party?

Photo Illustration: Lars Gotrich/Photos: Hulton Archive/Getty Images, iStock.

It's sometimes forgotten that most of the greatest composers in classical music were also superb improvisers. Bach amazed audiences with his improvisational keyboard skills, Beethoven was always game for an improvisational showdown with other musicians and, by all accounts, Liszt drove women crazy with his flights of romantic fancy during performances. No wonder, then, that the history of jazz is peppered with "jazzed up" versions of classical compositions. Here are five of them. By all means, add your favorites to the list.

A Classical Approach To Jazz

Cover for Collaboration

Fugue In A Minor (Bach)

  • Artist: Modern Jazz Quartet with Laurindo Almeida
  • Album: Collaboration

Ask a jazz listener to name the group which best embodies the synthesis of classical and jazz music, and most would probably say The Modern Jazz Quartet. For a generation, this group — consisting of John Lewis (piano), Milt Jackson (vibes), Percy Heath (bass) and Connie Kay on drums — elegantly and effortlessly fused jazz, blues and classical music on a number of great recordings. We'll hear the band here with Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida for a performance of Bach's Fugue in A Minor. Although the players don't improvise a great deal in this 1964 performance, the lovely instrumental counterpoint for which The MJQ was noted is strongly in evidence and beautifully enhanced by Almeida's guitar playing.

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  • "Fugue in a Minor"
  • Album: Collaboration
  • Artist: Modern Jazz Quartet with Laurindo Almeida
  • Label: Label M
  • Released: 1964
 
Cover for Soothsayer

Valse Triste (Sibelius)

  • Artist: Wayne Shorter
  • Album: Soothsayer

In 1965, saxophonist Wayne Shorter gathered a stellar group for his Soothsayer LP: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), James Spaulding (alto), McCoy Tyner (piano), Ron Carter (bass) and Tony Williams (drums). The album closes with Shorter's gorgeous arrangement of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius' Valse Triste. It's interesting to note that Shorter had flirted with this piece a year earlier when he used it as a basis for his own composition, "Dance Cadaverous," on the Speak No Evil LP.

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  • "Valse Triste"
  • Album: Soothsayer
  • Artist: Wayne Shorter
  • Label: Blue Note
  • Released: 1965
 
Cover for Beautiful Love

Gymnopédie No. 1 (Satie)

  • Artist: Eddie Daniels
  • Album: Beautiful Love

In the world of classical music, the work of Erik Satie rests somewhat uneasily. Although he is invariably thrust into the classical composer category, his music was more of a bridge from the 19th-century conventions of classical music to the early-20th-century experiments with avant-garde minimalism. His three Gymnopedies, published in 1888, are his best-known works, with Gymnopedie No. 1 being the most frequently recorded of the three. Here's clarinetist Eddie Daniels' treatment of Satie's sweetly haunting melody.

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  • "Gymnopédie No. 1"
  • Album: Beautiful Love
  • Artist: Eddie Daniels
  • Label: Shanachie
 
Cover for Plays Debussy

Clair de Lune (Debussy)

  • Artist: The Jacques Loussier Trio
  • Album: Plays Debussy

French pianist Jacques Loussier has spent much of his recording career adapting classical music to the jazz piano trio format (piano, bass, drums). Here, he explores Debussy's beautiful Clair de Lune with a variety of rhythms and tempi. If you've always wanted to hear a version of Clair de Lune that includes a drum solo, you can't miss this.

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  • "Clair de Lune"
  • Album: Plays Debussy
  • Artist: The Jacques Loussier Trio
  • Label: Telarc
 
Cover for Bach in Havana

Gavotte (Bach)

  • Artist: Tiempo Libre
  • Album: Bach in Havana

And we're back to Bach. Of all the classical composers, Bach is the one whose music is most frequently interpreted by jazz musicians. In fact, the Cuban group Tiempo Libre recently devoted an entire album, Bach in Havana, to Latin arrangements of some of Bach's work, which is great fun to listen (and dance) to. Can classical music get down and party? Listen to this version of Gavotte from Bach's French Suite No. 5 in G Major and decide for yourself.

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  • "Gavotte Son (French Suite in G Major)"
  • Album: Bach in Havana
  • Artist: Tiempo Libre
  • Released: 2009
 

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