The Charley Gerard Quintet Plays Mozart!?
The Charley Gerard Quintet, that is, four great jazz musicians (plus me, who am not a jazz musician, but Charley has so cleverly written me into the score that no one will notice), will play two shows at Twins Jazz Club on U St in DC on December 5.
The show features "Bukowski Liked Mozart" (plus a set of jazz standards). The former is a work I commissioned, and here is how it happened, as I recall:
It began one late night in one of my fits of perennial frustration with all the violinists who play Mozart's sonatas too fast, blithely ignoring the harmony, counterpoint, or anything else that might distract them from glib and narcissistic display. "I've had it with these damned fiddlers - why can't they slow down and play some real music? If only there was a drummer to keep them in line…"
I made a phone call: "Charley! I know it's 11 pm but I just had a really crazy idea. You could add a rhythm section to this Mozart sonata and make it swing the way it did in 1785! And you could work in a New Orleans funeral march and some other stuff." He thought it was a terrible idea. But two weeks later, to my surprise and delight, "Bukowski Liked Mozart" appeared in my email. He kept the violin part pretty much inviolate (weird), but snatches of Dylan and Beatles songs appeared here and there, along with the New Orleans dirge - I probably missed the beebop references.
The latest version of "Bukowski" throws out the violin part altogether, to which I say "good riddance", replacing it with Charley's alto sax and Syberen's funky guitar. Mozart and Bukowski would be thrilled.
Here is what Charley has to say about it:
Several years ago, Carl Banner of Washington Musica Viva commissioned Charley Gerard to convert Mozart’s violin sonata #25 into a jazz piece. Mr. Banner was intrigued by the bass note passage on the piano and thought, wouldn’t this work great as a “walking” bass part with a drummer playing along? At first Mr. Gerard was hesitant to reinterpret Mozart, especially since jazzin’ up the classics was at one time roundly condemned by the musical establishment. But after examining the work, Mr. Gerard saw the creative possibilities. Mr. Gerard retitled the work Bukowski Liked Mozart after writer/poet Charles Bukowski, America’s bard of the down-and-out. This is Mozart that would fit into a barroom setting.
The work has gone through a change since it was last performed locally with violinist Kathy Judd. There were new parts for bass and drums and the piano part was also altered, but the violin part unchanged. In the present work, the violin part will now be assigned to a saxophone, and there are several additional spots for jazz improvisation. In a way, this is not too different from the way Mozart’s works were performed in the 18th century when musicians inserted their own improvised lead-ins at key harmonic points, ad-libbed cadenzas and improvised between movements. Since the work ends with a series of variations, it was not much of a leap to add a few more variations in a style that jazz musicians would be accustomed to. The performers are: Mr. Banner, piano, Charley Gerard, saxophone, drummer Lennie Robinson, bassist James King and Dutch guitarist Syberen Van Munster. This group has performed at the Kennedy Center and at the Czech Embassy.