Adventures of the Mind
The natural onward journey in my musical adventure, that had taken me from Dave Brubeck to Stravinsky, was into the world of Baroque, but again, my entry into that genre was not through the front door.
In the days when advertising ‘death sticks’ on the box was legal, in 1966, a certain brand of cigars launched a series of TV ads. Apart from the humour, what made these ads so successful was the accompanying music which was the opening bars of Bach’s Air in D major from his orchestral suite no. 3, but not played by classical musicians, but by the Jacques Loussier jazz trio. This single ad set on fire the popularity of this amazing jazz musician. Although his improvisations were not prolific, his interpretations of Bach masterpieces gave them, for me, new life. He knew the pieces so well he made the music almost his own.
Of course he was not alone in jazzing up Bach. Amongst many others, that same tune that launched Loussier’s career also brought two 60’s power houses of modern jazz together, the Modern Jazz Quartet and the French singing group, the Swingle Singers. In their masterful album, Place Vendome, both chart topping ensembles blended perfectly. I include a link to, instead of their interpretation of ‘the Air‘, a composition by MJQ’s pianist John Lewis which is very much in the baroque style. It is the title track of the album, Vendome. For those who remember the 60's I hope you like the accompanying picture montage.
But this introduction did not mean I stuck to jazz interpretations only, there was no need, for Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, after all, were for me jazz in their own right, especially the opening movement of Concerto number 5. This great piece with piano, flute and harpsichord taking the solo spots, has much the same structure as most jazz pieces, chorus, solo, chorus, solo etc. It even builds up to this amazing cadenza on the harpsichord which is as wild as The Bird after which the whole piece is rounded off by a final chorus. The link included is to a very popular performance on Youtube, but so sad these guys could not break a smile once in a while, but they really do swing!
Finally, I must mention one of my bucket list items. For decades the one piece of music that prepares me spiritually most Sunday mornings for sacred worship is Bach’s life long work, the amazing, B Minor mass. Enjoying a live performance is, up until now, still on that list. The only thing is, because it is a large piece, I seldom get past the first Kyrie, but when I do sit and listen to it all, with out interruption, it is always a powerful spiritual experience.
So, Johann, you were an extraordinary music maker and your music is some of the greatest ever written, but what makes it even greater is that it is so adaptable to almost any genre and rhythm. Bach was and is the greatest!