By Taylor Roberts
Ever wonder what would happen if classical genius Bach and jazz master Coltrane met? Passion for Bach and Coltrane explores their story through an innovative blend of music and poetry on March 12 at The Lincoln Center.
“I have long desired to set poetry to music and was particularly drawn to the works of A.B. Spellman because of his strong references to both jazz and classical music as well as the question of faith,” says Jeff Scott, composer of Passion for Bach and Coltrane and member of Imani Winds.
In A.B. Spellman’s book of poems, “Thing I Must Have Known”, he speaks to the musical mastery of Johan Sebastian Bach and John Coltrane, relating the themes with religion and mortality.
“Passion for Bach and Coltrane explores the influence of spirituality on the art of these masters and asks the inevitable question, ‘What if J.S. Bach and John Coltrane might chance to meet?’,” says Scott. “It challenges the performer and listener to be comfortable with the seemingly polar opposites of the musical spectrum presented as equals.”
In doing this, Scott creates a new kind of Passion, a form of music that dates back to the 4th century that tells the story of the gospels through song. Bach had actually written several in his life, but only two survived.
“Though the work is original, it is anchored by this poetry with reference to two significant works by Bach and Coltrane, “The Goldberg Variations” and “A Love Supreme”,” says Scott. “Here the premise of the Passion is explored rather than the actual Biblical accounts. Orated poems in lieu of the intoned Gospel. Bach, Coltrane, Rubalcaba and Spellman in lieu of the traditional Biblical characters.”
With complex themes and a flair for composing pieces incorporating instruments not typically found in traditional jazz or classical settings, Scott knew Passion for Bach and Coltrane would require musicians that could handle a variety of styles.
“I knew that I was going to need, if not the exact people who are in the project, people with similar skills, and those skills are not very common,” says Scott. “Music conservatories are not known for teaching Mozart and John Coltrane at the same time.”
This seven-movement work is composed for wind quintet, string quartet, piano, double bass, percussion and orator, and is performed by some of the most well-known musicians in the industry.
Celebrating 20 years of music-making, the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds has led both a revolution and the evolution of the wind quintet through their dynamic playing, adventurous programming and imaginative collaborations.
Joining the wind quintet are additional jazz musicians as well as critically-acclaimed Harlem Quartet. Praised for its “panache” and “bringing a new attitude to classical music,” the New York-based Harlem Quartet is known for its diverse programming that combines standard string quartet canon with jazz, Latin and contemporary works.
Though audience members may be drawn to the performance to specifically hear the Imani Winds, Harlem Quartet or A.B. Spellman perform, Scott finds that the name of the work also inspires a musically diverse audience to attend.
“It’s called a Passion so you know you’re in for a long evening event, but you don’t know how it’s going to unfold because there’s nothing like it,” says Scott. “The average listener comes in knowing they’re going to hear something about Bach and something about Coltrane, but I think how the evening unfolds and uses the most beautiful music ever written by Bach and Coltrane will exceed expectations.”
“The average concert-goer that goes to hear Bach oratorios probably doesn’t also hang out in jazz clubs,” says Scott. “Consequently, your average person who goes to jazz clubs probably doesn’t go to too many Bach oratorios, so the combination challenges audiences to listen to music that not only celebrates both of these artists but is also a mix of the two sounds. It is this juxtaposition and fusion of styles that finds the audience’s musical senses being met on all extremes.”
Experience the interwoven melodies of these classical and jazz legends with Passion for Bach and Coltrane on March 12 at The Lincoln Center. Seats from $15 at LCtix.com.