In-Studio: Matt Herskowitz Trio with Philippe Quint Bring Jazz to Bach
Bach has long proved irresistible to artists drawn to reimagining his music through a contemporary prism. Mahler and Busoni transcribed his works, and Leopold Stokowski orchestrated them. More recently, Bach has been arranged for banjo, accordion, jazz trumpet, string quartet, and even theremin.
The pianist Matt Herskowitz, no stranger to straddling the borders between jazz, classical and global styles, came to the WQXR performance studio with his jazz trio, plus two violinists from the classical world: Philippe Quint and Lara St. John. They performed three of his jazz-inflected arrangements of Bach's work, starting with the prelude to the Cello Suite No. 1.
Quint, Herskowitz and his trio (featuring bassist Mat Fieldes and drummer David Rozenblatt) have joined forces for a recording called Bach XXI, featuring the pianist's arrangements of eight Bach favorites. Speaking with host Terrance McKnight, Herskowitz said that Bach's music can be molded to jazz because of its formal construction. "Bach's got one idea and builds upon that," said Herskowitz. "He doesn't just abandon an idea and go to something else. This makes it very fertile ground for arranging."
While Herskowitz has explored Bach in various settings over the years (including an arrangement from the Well-Tempered Clavier for the film "The Triplets of Belleville"), Quint admits that he is a relative newcomer to jazz. His childhood in the Soviet Union, he says, was "unbelievably conservative and strictly classical, where improvisation was not part of the vocabulary." But upon moving to the U.S. in 1991, he bought his first CD, a recording of John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things." After more than two decades of playing with orchestras and in recitals, he decided it was time to revisit his love of jazz.
"I like to be outside of my comfort zone," said Quint. "Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it's a disaster." Below is the Aria from the Goldberg Variations.
Joining the musicians in the final piece was the violinist Lara St. John. She has devoted much of her career to traditional readings of Bach (over several albums, going back to her 1996 debut). But she grew up in Canada listening to Celtic music, tango, old-time fiddling and Stéphane Grappelli albums (her next recording, called "Shiksa," contains music from the Jewish Diaspora).
"Philippe and I are yin and yang," she said. "He comes from a very straight-laced conservative background and I'm basically renegade, D.I.Y. background. So I've never been inside a box so I don't know what the outside is." The two violinists find common ground in Herskowitz's freewheeling arrangement of Bach's Double Concerto. Watch the performance below and listen to the full session at the top of this page.
Video: Kim Nowacki; Audio: Irene Trudel; Interview: Terrance McKnight; Text & Production: Brian Wise