Mozart not hip enough for jazz?
Although my main passion is for jazz, I got into Classical music through the work of Gil Evans which made me want to search out for the compositions of Debussy and Ravel who provided the arranger with much inspiration. As I read more about jazz composers it was fascinating to learn that many were very heavily influenced by the classical tradition whether it was J S Bach or Olivier Messaien.
What I think is intriguing is that the Classical composer who many would consider to be the greatest has effectively had little appeal to jazz musicians. Seeing as Radio 3 will be dedicating all of it's programming to Mozart, I though it might be interesting to read other people's opinions as to why Mozart has lacked the appeal of (to take the three most obvious examples) Bach, Chopin and Debussy. When I had piano lessons I was often given the task of sight reading classical music but Mozart was very, very rarely chosen and Bach dominated. My teacher (who actually studied at The Guidhall (I think) with Tovey at who actually edited the Bach Preludes & Fugues) and was an acquaitance of such diverse people as Colin Davis, Arnold Bax and George Shearing, was extremely disparaging about Mozart and once said (in exageration) that Mozart only had two ideas.
I can only think of one example of a jazz musician using Mozart's music as a vehicle for improvisation and that is Uri Caine and having once met him after a gig, would suggest that there is very little music he does not know about or if enthusiastic enough to extoll it's virtues. It was probably obvious that Mozart would fall under his scrutiny at some time. I cannot recall reading any interview by any jazz musician saying that he acquired his harmonic concept from Mozart or that his music was in any way an inspiration. Maybe this is to do with the rather "square" harmony of the late Eighteenth Century which wasn't as colourful or as exotic as Scarlatti or or Bach? Mozart does seem extremely primative from a harmonic point of view and personally I think that the harmonic language employed by Classical composers went into limbo between the Baroque era and the emergence of Fields and Chopin. Their use of harmony was just so much "sexier." As far as jazz musicians are concerned, I get the impression that Mozart almost didn't exist!
It seems odd that someone who is alleged to have been so great and radical has generated so little interest from jazz musicians.
I don’t listen to jazz now as much as I used to and have very little idea about what is happening at the frontline, so this is just an impression but I don’t think Mozart is by any means an exception.
Rather, is it not the other way round, i.e. the great classical composers whose works ‘generated interest in jazz musicians’, as you say, are the exceptions? Are there any works in jazz that are influenced by, say, Haydn or Schubert?
I wonder, perhaps, it may be more interesting to think what it is in those few composers’ works that interests jazz musicians. This is not to say that jazz musicians are not interested in any other classical music composers.
Fascinating topic! I'm not overfamiliar with jazz - but it does seem to thrive on syncopated rhythms. I don't think Mozart is the first name to spring to mind in connection with syncopation - unlike Bach (examples too numerous to mention). Beethoven too has a nice line in syncopation, eg Piano Sonata Op. 111. Just a thought, but perhaps irrelevant.
Last edited by Pianorak; 01-01-11 at 10:29.
Reason: correcting Op. number
...Brad Mehldau is a fine jazz pianist who certainly pays a lot of attention to Beethoven
A few years back I would have said that Beethoven and the 19th century German composers who followed in his wake had little influence either but as you say, Mehldau would be an exception as would Dave Douglas whose composition sometimes hints at an appreciation of Leider. I have never seen anything to confirm by suspicion but I would say that the influence is there.
Beethoven still suffered from the "boxy" kind of harmonies that abounded in the late 18th and early 19th century but he was a keen improvisor. I know Mozart was supposed to have superb improvisational gifts too yet for all the sophistication he had writing in the idiom of his time, I suppose the harmonic ambiguity that started to creep in with Chopin and then accelerate as the 20th Century approached is definately where the appeal would have been for the likes of Strayhorn, Gil Evans, Eddie Sauter, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, etc, etc. It is easy to see why Scriabin, Ravel, Debussy , Delius, Messaien, Bartok, Stravinsky, Chopin and Milhaud have all worked their way into jazz vocabulary as far as harmony is concerned.
I'm not an expert on Bach to say whether the syncopation exists in Bach as Pianorak suggests but the harmonies go through cycles of fifths and have other forms of harmonic construction within in them that are important tools in jazz improvisation. However, since the DNA of all great music is found within Bach, I don't think we should be surprised by this. I have heard of the likes of Schnittke and Messaien appreciating Mozart and finding qualities within his oeuvre that appeal but Mozart must be the most significant musical figure to have had little or no bearing on jazz.
BTW: Thanks for posting the Brad Mehldau notes. I don't know about you but I really struggle reading his articles!! Of the few albums I have by him, I don't think I have ever managed to get through the liner notes.
I know it's not jazz but I can't imagine Flanders and Swann bothering with Schubert or Beethoven. but they did do that wonderful version of Mozart's 4th horn concerto.To me it's humour in music that counts, where appropriate, not the jazz potential. They all have humour in different ways.
I learnt about syncopation from Mozart. Honestly!
Great Thread Idea.... But before I engage grey cells fully, one candidate springs easily to mind - another significant anniversary man (and a great personal favourite) - Brubeck's Blue Rondo (a la Turk).
Happy new year one and all!
Unfortunately the link is only in the title. The music is unrelated.
Originally Posted by Jonathan Swain