Blurring lines between jazz and classical music

So, you like jazz?

Can the rigorous structure of classical music and the amorphous nature of jazz work together? Dr. James Kalyn and Dr. David Rogosin were determined to find out. Madeleine Hansen/Argosy

The notes were smooth, carefully sliding and slipping into each other, both joyfully off the cuff and rigorously rehearsed. Last Friday, Oct. 19, Becoming Jazz delicately took an audience through both the surprises of jazz music and the technical mastery of so-called “art music.”

Dr. James Kalyn (saxophone and clarinet) wanted to look at the intersection of classical music and jazz. This stylistic blending is fairly modern in concept because, as Dr. David Rogosin (piano) explained, jazz and classical music are traditionally seen as wholly separate schools. Rogosin noted that, although these barriers are breaking, they remain strong in certain arenas. “If you walk into a music conservatory and ask any of the teachers to play jazz, I think that’s not something they do,” he said.

As the night progressed, this barrier between classical and jazz music was explored, investigated, crossed once, and crossed again, all to challenge those divisive distinctions between genre and styles. Luckily for the audience, this dance across the line resulted in an excellent song variety, which ended up being another highlight of the night. There were spooky clarinet pieces, fanciful piano pieces and severe combined pieces. After the intermission Kalyn brought out his saxophone, and with it a whole suite of jaunty, frenetic, melancholic and surprising sounds.

The historic division between jazz and classical music underscored the entire night, and in some way, the exploration of these two styles represents a victory for jazz. “The classical tradition grew out of the tradition of teachers teaching in schools, traditions based on playing Chopin, Schubert and Schumann,” explained Rogosin. “Jazz was something regional and local, that started up in New Orleans.” Jazz was seen as unscholarly, and jazz composers who attempted to legitimize their school of music were kept to the fringes for decades.

Rogosin explain that the tides do seem to be turning, slowly, as the concept of improvisation in classical music has been gaining ground. Now, Kalyn and Rogosin have brought improvisational classical music into the scholarly arena. Sure, Brunton isn’t the Sydney Opera House, but it’s a good start.

Honestly, it’s hard to imagine a better venue for this kind of concert. Brunton has many strengths; chief among them is the auditorium’s intimacy. It’s big enough to not feel cramped, of course, but small enough that the performers can meet your eyes as they explain to you, the audience, why they’ve chosen these songs. This interaction is truly illuminating and adds another layer of value to these concerts at Brunton. Of course, the music students in the audience benefit from these mini-lectures the most, but even those entirely unfamiliar with musical intricacies can find value in them, as they reveal the logic behind the program.

In the end, Becoming Jazz was both a fun concert and a worthwhile scholastic exercise. If this lone performance was any indication, jazz and classical music are well-suited partners in the musical world. There’s a lot of good, creative music in the pairing. Hopefully it will be explored more. If not, then at least take it as a lesson of reconciliation: Two seemingly conflicting things, if bent in just the right way, can fit one another perfectly and create something wholly unique, potentially even surpassing the sum of its parts.

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