It's jazz — but by classical musicians
By Ruth Bingham
Special to The Advertiser
By Ruth Bingham
Way back when, in the 20th century, a concert venue typically hosted only classical music by classically trained musicians. Jazz crept in only as a risque foreign influence woven into classical pieces. In the U.S., the irony was that jazz is indigenous, while classical music is foreign. Meanwhile, abroad, concert venues began to feature jazz.
Those convoluted paths converged Monday at Windward Community College's Paliku Theatre to yield "Jazz Americaine," a concert of jazz by Chamber Music Hawaii's classically trained Honolulu Brass Quintet: Mark Schubert and Ken Hafner (trumpets), Wade Butin (French horn), Don Immel (trombone) and Dave Saltzman (tuba).
The program covered a broad swath of American music, from jazz standards (Dixieland, Ellington, Tizol, Hancock) to big band (Glen Miller), popular song (Frank Sinatra) to jazz-marinated contemporary classical (Enrique Crespo). It was a program of classical jazz, its breadth of genres and anchoring in masterworks mirroring straight classical programs.
Many of the pieces were longtime favorites: the smoky "Caravan," suave "Tuxedo Junction," funky "Watermelon Man," Sinatra's "My Way," and so on.
Honolulu Brass Quintet's most exciting performances were of less well-known greats: Horace Silver's hard bop "Sister Sadie" and especially Crespo's "Suite Americana," which was the only piece composed specifically for brass quintet.
Moments of glory surfaced regularly: Schubert's piccolo trumpet in "Sister Sadie"; Hafner's opening fanfare to "Tribute to Frank Sinatra"; Butin's melody in "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me" and his bottles in "Watermelon Man" (OK, you have to see the performance to understand that one); several beautiful solos by Immel, especially in "Ya Gotta Try!" as well as nice cowbells and a great chicken squawk (wild and woolly music, it was); plus a slew of lovely "walking bass" lines and solos by Saltzman, especially in "Sister Sadie" and "Suite Americana."
In general, the Quintet played well, and the concert was enjoyable, fun, interesting — all the things a concert should be.
If there is a criticism to be made, it is that the concert remained, curiously, and despite the music, a classical concert. The Quintet never quite broke free of its classical grounding to capture that signature jazz feel of letting go, of letting the music do the driving, and of riding along on the back of the beat.
Then again, is that a fair criticism? If you have only jazz musicians playing jazz and only classical musicians playing classical, the world would be a boring place indeed, bereft of the crossover artists and styles that keep music vibrant.
One has to wonder whether almost all the music at classical concerts is a kind of crossover: a hundred different genres and eras, all played by musicians trained today for our own aesthetics. We hear the differences between jazz and classical because they are recent. What about the differences between serious and comic opera in the 18th century? Mozart and Haydn?
As much as I love the "original," the "authentic," I find crossings-over equally intriguing: I hear new ideas, interpretations, meanings. Through different performers, I learn more about the piece, the style, and music in general.