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Jazz Appreciation Month: Classical to Jazz

The most classical jazz group, The Modern Jazz Quartet  1964
Phillips Records
public domain
The most classical jazz group, The Modern Jazz Quartet 1964

Classical music and jazz may seem to be worlds apart, but they have more in common than you might think. KNKX Music Director Carol Handley explores some favorite jazz/classical crossovers for Jazz Appreciation Month.

It’s true that some of the greatest composers in classical music were also excellent 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 many jazz artists have recorded some “jazzed up” classical music.

Fugue In A Minor (Bach) from 'Collaboration' by Modern Jazz Quartet with Laurindo Almeida

Ask a jazz listener to name a group that has synthesized classical and jazz music, and many would probably say The Modern Jazz Quartet. For a generation, this group 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. 

Valse Triste (Sibelius) from 'Soothsayer' by Wayne Shorter

In 1965, saxophonist Wayne Shorter gathered a stellar group for his "Soothsayer" LP: Freddie Hubbard, James Spaulding, McCoy TynerRon Carter and Tony Williams. The album closes with Wayne Shorter's arrangement of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius' Valse Triste.

Gymnopédie No. 1 (Satie) from 'Beautiful Love' by Eddie Daniels

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

Clair de Lune (Debussy) from 'Plays Debussy' by The Jacques Loussier Trio

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

Gavotte (Bach) from Bach in 'Havana' by Tiempo Libre

And we’ve arrived back to Bach. Of all classical composers, he is the one whose music is most frequently interpreted. In fact, the Cuban group Tiempo Libre devoted an entire album, Bach in Havana, to Latin arrangements of some of Bach's work. Listen to this version of Gavotte from Bach's French Suite No. 5 in G Major and get down and party with some classical music.

For Jazz Appreciation Month on KNKX – I’m Carol Handley