You are on page 1of 2

The Influence of Jazz

with Professor David Baker

On this edition of Milestones of the Millennium we take a look at how jazz has influenced
classical composers. Performance Today host Martin Goldsmith is joined by composer David
Baker, a distinguished professor of music and chairman of the jazz studies department at Indiana
University, as well as artistic director of the Smithsonian Master Works Jazz Orchestra.
Early in this century, classical composers were attracted to the newness of jazz, which to
them would have seemed exotic and avant garde, says Baker. The external trappings of jazz
offered inspiration and provided new areas to explore. As early as the 1890s, Johannes Brahms
was experimenting with ragtime, an early precursor to jazz.
European classical composers were exposed to this adventurous American musical form
through recordings of early jazz artists like Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver of New Orleans.
In addition, the growing African American expatriate community brought jazz to Europes
cultural centers. French composer Darius Milhaud was an early adopter of jazz elements, with
his jazzy ballet "The Creation of the World" from 1923. Baker observes how Milhaud captures a
sense of swing as he imitates the New Orleans Dixieland sound by using polyphonic structure
and jazz instrumentation.
American composers were also quick to embrace the native jazz form. The Burlesque
movement of Aaron Copland's "Music for the Theatre" from 1925 provides one example.
Perhaps no work awoke classical composers to the power of jazz more than George Gershwins
Rhapsody in Blue from 1924. Gershwin was already a huge success in popular music, and was
beginning to establish himself in the classical realm. A pioneer in crossing musical boundaries,
Gershwin embraced jazz for its uniquely American characteristics, its complex rhythm, and its
passion. Baker and Martin listen to the bluesy middle movement of Gershwins Concerto in F.
While jazz became more evident in orchestral composing, Igor Stravinsky and Leonard
Bernstein both wrote jazz-inspired pieces for jazz ensembles. Martin and Baker discuss
Stravinsky's Ebony Concerto, written for the Woody Herman band, and Bernsteins "Prelude,
Fugue and Riffs." The latter employs jazz scales, improvisational melodies, and bending notes.

You still hear the musical personalities of Stravinksy and Bernstein even in the bluesy melodies
and driving rhythms of their jazz inspired music. Baker also explains that the marriage of jazz
and classical continues to advance as composers gain a fuller understanding of both traditions.
Listen to David Baker's discussion with Martin about the influence of jazz on classical
music.Note: music parts have been edited from the commentary because of internet rights issues.
(This stereo audio segment requires the free RealPlayer.)

Note: PT also aired a commentary by Jan Swafford on the 75th anniversary of the the
premiere of Gershwins Rhapsody in Blue at New Yorks Aeolian Hall on February 12, 1924.
You can also hear this commentary online.
"Jazz Influences" is the latest installment of PT's Milestones of the Millenium series.