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A Bach A to Z

A to Z - J
J is for Jazz

'Bach and Jazz' - Alyn Shipton

J S Bach has always fascinated jazz musicians, ranging from Keith Jarrett's strictly classical interpretations to Jacques Loussier's "Play Bach" trio, which adds a dash of rhythm and improvisation. Many jazz players who had a classical apprenticeship retained their love for Bach's music. Consequently Bud Powell often included a Bach piece in his nightclub sets, such as his 1957 recording of "Bud on Bach", and the blind Welsh-born pianist Alec Templeton wrote his own swinging two-part invention, "Mr Bach Goes To Town". John Lewis frequently improvised fugues in the style of Bach with the Modern Jazz Quartet.

One of the most interesting Bach gems in jazz is by the Trinidad-born pianist Hazel Scott.  Her version of the 2-part Invention in A Minor, from November 1940 shows her impeccable classical style, with J C Heard's drums bringing a little rhythm to her sparkling improvisations. Bach is also a source of quotations for those improvisers who cannot resist using a passing reference to something familiar. George Shearing has always been a master of this and the traditional Irish "Kerry Dance" on his BBC Jazz Legends CD has the "Kyrie" from the B Minor Mass woven into the theme, demonstrating Shearing's marvellous ability to make a verbal and musical pun at the same time. But it's not only pianists who have Bach in their hearts - Ron Carter's 1995 CD "Brandenburg Concerto" adds his pizzicato bass to a string orchestra for some exploratory improvisation, and drummer Max Roach paid tribute to Bach in a suite of pieces by his 1960s percussion ensemble. It seems Bach's influence is as all pervasive in jazz as it is in the classical world.

Alyn Shipton

Read what others have said..

Gavin Mist, York UK
I'm not surprised that Bach is so popular with jazz musicians as there seems to me to be so much 'jazz' in Bach's own music. Immediate examples I can think of are the aria 'Esurientes implevit bonis' from the Magnificat BWV243 which is just such a cool funky piece - easy to imagine, say, Cleo Laine singing with a flute and bass accompaniment. And in the third movement of Brandenburg No.1 the solo passage for the violin and horn sounds just like an improvisatory 'jam' session to me!

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