Who is Your Favorite Jazz Musician to Play Classical Music?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Throughout the history of jazz, many of the genre's practitioners have explored classical styles and forms. Benny Goodman played Bartok and Copland. Duke Ellington adapted symphonic suites for jazz orchestra. Wynton Marsalis and Brad Mehldau have written for major symphony orchestras while jazz pianist Keith Jarrett has played Bach in addition to his work as a master improviser.

Who has made the jump from jazz to classical most effectively in your view? Take our poll:

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Comments [20]

Michael Meltzer

It's 12/08/10, a bit late, but WQXR today has aired Keith Jarrett's "Adagio for Oboe & Strings," a first class and absorbing composition.
Just one more facet of one of the most complete musicians of our day.

Dec. 08 2010 05:50 PM
Jay Eisenberg from Maplewood, NJ

Not only were Goodman's performances of Mozart astonishing, but perhaps even more admirable was his commissioning and performing Bela Bartok's Contrasts for Violin, Piano and Clarinet. Not only did Goodman commission the work in 1938 (with Bartok's friend, the great violinist Joseph Szigeti) and record it (1940), but performed it in 1940-1 with Bartok and Szigeti at Carnegie Hall and in Boston (and possibly elsewhere). This was a time when Bartok's health was poor and he badly needed the money. Bravo Benny Goodman!

Nov. 27 2010 07:26 PM
Ann Millikan from Saint Paul, MN

The Duke.

Nov. 24 2010 02:48 PM
Shadeed Ahmad from New York, New York

Mr. Meltzer you are extremely civil , intelligent and thought provoking in your comments, so I cherish them.

Your immense respect for Clifford Brown will possibly get someone interested enough to query Wynton Marsalis about his feelings concerning the great, Clifford Brown. If he chooses to, I'm sure any response Wynton gives will be interesting.

Nov. 23 2010 09:51 AM
Michael Meltzer

No offense, Mr. Ahmad, I'm sure Mr. Marsalis is kind to dogs and small children and washes his socks every day, that is not the issue.
The issue is that the jazz trumpeter with the most profound influence on how the instrument was played in the second half of the 20th century was Clifford Brown, in spite of the few years that we had him before his tragic accident.
When Mr. Marsalis offers his jazz history commentaries on public television, Clifford Brown doesn't exist. That in itself becomes a huge distortion, and considering Brown's obvious influence on Marsalis' playing, one wonders why?

Nov. 23 2010 07:23 AM
Shadeed Ahmad from New York, New York

Mr. Marsalis is and always has been phenomenal. There have been Jazz musicians in the past who have not gotten as much notoriety as him and should have.

Wynton Marsalis may make some people feel he is not humble. The way I see it, he has been so often in the past been accused of not being worthy of all the accolades he has achieved, especially when he was much younger, so he has had to present himself as extremely confident.

There are fellow musicians who will for lack of a better word be "jealous" of him and would rather he show some level of ineptitude in speaking and performing to justify their lack of respect for his magnificent GOD Given talent.

In Jazz or Classical music he is superb and I especially love the grand work he does with children. He is a force like no other today. If he appears to know it, I'm glad he does because there are plenty of people out there who wish he had no clue as to what he has to offer humanity.

At times it has to be tough being so talented and so misunderstood, as well as having so many people approaching you and having to have your game face on so as not to offend anyone.

I know Wynton stands on the shoulders of those great Jazz and Classical performers that came before him, but he would never get a performance done if he acknowledged individually all those who have impacted his style. When he does acknowledged them it is with great eloquence and loving sentiment.

He does the greats of the past proud by having accomplished all that he has by virtue of their courageous and outstanding presentations of their inspirations and gifts that feed his talents and spirit.

Wynton may "appear" lacking in humility but with the seen and unseen powers he has tuned into to support his already prodigious gifts we best acknowledge we are witnessing someone who is definitely ahead of his time and trying to make us all immensely sophisticated and evolved people through sound.

And remember, through out all his efforts he is still human and I believe he does not mean to offend anyone or their sensibilities. GOD Bless Mr. Marsalis and all who benefit and appreciate his mission.

Euphemistically speaking, I definitely believe Wynton Marsalis is one the greatest musicians and humanitarians of all time, regardless of any perceived human frailities he might have.

Nov. 22 2010 02:38 AM
Shadeed Ahmad from New York, New York

Mr. Meltzer, in the most euphemistic of ways I agree with your every word. Shhh.....

Nov. 20 2010 04:55 PM
Michael Meltzer

Interesting proposition by Mr. Ahmad, the humility of Wynton Marsalis. If such a thing existed, you would occasionally hear in his lectures, an acknowledgment of his enormous stylistic debt to the great Clifford Brown.
Mr. Marsalis pays lip service to Louis Armstrong, but that's not who he sounds like.

Nov. 20 2010 04:03 PM
David A.G. Johnson, Jr. from Jamaica Estates, New York

Duke Ellington was overlooked by the Pulitzer Prize Committee but remains a "classic". He should be acknowledged here above any other. His classical work has not received full recognition.

Nov. 20 2010 12:31 PM
Shadeed Ahmad from New York, New York

This survey is preposterous at best. All the listed jazz musicians are off the chart when it comes to playing classical music. However, this chart was designed by the glory of Mr. Wynton Marsalis. I'm sure he is humble enough to not mind WQXR's supposedly innocent concept of reality.

Actually, the person(s) who came up with this survey is trying to give me a headache. These musical geniuses would be best served by putting them all in a Hall of Fame dedicated to the subject. I love them all.

Nov. 20 2010 11:54 AM
Michael Meltzer

Dave Brubeck is nearing 90 and alive & well and composing in Connecticut. He made an appearance and played, with his son Chris, two years ago at the memorial service for Dick Westenburg at Madison Avenue Presbyterian.
He hasn't lost a thing.

Nov. 19 2010 07:54 PM

I admire Keith Jarrett, but for me, it is Dave Brubeck with his Octet, writing real fugues and bringing them off.

Nov. 19 2010 07:27 AM
Michael Meltzer

I vote for Keith Jarrett, not only because he's a crossover, but for his variety and his depth in those efforts, including fine harpsichord work in early music.
A few notes, for Goodman fans of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, Side B was the Clarinet Quintet, also a gem.
After hearing what Art Tatum did with the Massenet Elegy (and I saw him do it in 1956 at Brandeis University, his left arm was a blur), it's too bad he didn't dig further into the repertoire. I don't know if any other jazz pianist ever had Vladimir Horowitz in their audience.

Nov. 19 2010 03:19 AM
Mary Heller

There is just no one like the Duke! He is New York through and through. Everytime I take the A train just guess what melody goes through my head!

Nov. 18 2010 10:48 PM
Ruy Mauricio de Lima e Silva Neto from Buragiru

Enough for Goodman (although excellent)! Enough for Marsalis (although ultra-showoff)!
My personal tip is the great Bill Evans (the pianist, of course).Although he left us with a single album in this realm, it shines brightly with a piece of sensibility and keyboard mastery that you won't stop repeating its 700MB till it's reduced to a mere 7MB (the average Britney Spear album of intelligible content ).

Nov. 18 2010 07:26 AM
Harry from Brooklyn, NY

I see an additional dimension to the question, namely how much time and effort do these artists devote to the dialog between classical and jazz performance. This question is, I know, unfair to Goodman and Ellington, since such the idea had not even been conceived during their careers. Marsalis, who has some gorgeous classical recordings to his credit, has frankly announced that he finds jazz more rewarding. Jarrett and Mehldau continue to work in both worlds, to provocative effect. I pick Mehldau, the first jazz musician to be named "composer in residence" at Carnegie Hall.

P.S. Goodman's recording of K626 is beautiful, but I've got to give credit to Mozart. He wrote the piece for a virtuoso who was also a friend, whom he wanted to give a triumph. Any clarinetist good enough to be booked as a soloist by a major symphony can enjoy Wolfgang's gift; I have never heard a disappointing performance.

Nov. 17 2010 10:32 PM
Michele Caplan from South Egremont, MA

Wynton Marsalis is my choice, though just barely. His Baroque Duet album with Kathleen Battle is stunning beyond belief. And his jazz ain't so bad either!

Nov. 17 2010 10:00 PM
jacqueline george

mr wynton marsalis is the greatest living trumpet player to play jazz and classical music. his handling of various handel and bach concertos is beyond belief. thank you wqxr for playing his wonderful music and all the players. alison balsom is heading straight for that same kind of power and talent on the trumpet.

Nov. 17 2010 09:55 PM
Arthur Nash from Monroe Township, NJ

Exactly my sentiments! I never heard Mozart's Clarinet Concerto played so beautifully!

Nov. 17 2010 08:57 PM
Dottie Gutenkauf from Plainfield, NJ

Benny Goodman's recording of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto is an absolute gem!

Nov. 17 2010 06:46 PM

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