The article below also includes my motivations for writing the piece and my thoughts on living on the outside of the violin world as a classically trained jazz musician. I welcome your feedback on any or all in the comments.
Ever since I branched out from my classical training into the world of contemporary styles and improvisation, I've looked for ways to bring the worlds together. The further my training in jazz took me, the harder it seemed to reconcile the disparities between the two worlds.
As I watch my daughter venturing into her own conservatory training now, 25 years after I attempted to navigate the same compartmentalized college degree paths, I see that the same lack of understanding persists, as so many classical violinists view Jazz as a repulsive oddity, a recreational indulgence, or at best, some alien, "other" thing.
I suppose It's human nature to perceive things in accordance with the limitations of our familiarity, and we generally come up with ways to rationalize our prejudices such that the things we know and love are the "best" things.
There is no seeming way to appeal to a governing body to properly recognize the merits of this deep, profound, and beautiful tradition of music, deserving at least as much reverence as that of the classical tradition, which I studied avidly for decades. Readers of this post owe nothing to me or to jazz music. You are entitled to like what you want.
Although there may be a strong argument I could make for Jazz and other contemporary music, based on the ideals of multiculturalism, established firmly within academia as a mandate over 30 years ago, albeit mostly only paid lip service, I'm going to set this aside for now, and assume that it is up to me and other jazz musicians to persuade people of the inherent value of jazz music based on what their ears tell them, or otherwise learn to write grants to sustain the art form when audiences don't care, the same way classical music lovers do.
And the best way I can think of to do this is by offering a piece of through-composed music for unaccompanied violin. Stripped of the jazz rhythm section or classical chamber ensemble, a piece for solo violin has as its common denominator the one thing we all know and share in common, so it may be one of my only hopes for finding common ground and bringing disparate cultures together.
New music for solo violin is hard to come by. The masters like Bach, Ysaye, Paganini, and a handful of others have set the bar so high that it's no wonder why most composers would be daunted by the thought of even trying.
Jazz and other contemporary music for violin is equally hard to sift through. There are handfuls of instructional pieces written at more beginning levels, and transcriptions of more advanced jazz soloists have appeal mostly as study tools rather than as pieces for inclusion in a performance.
I have long thought that to perform and/or compose music for unaccompanied violin is one of the greatest challenges I could take on. Many violinists have told me that they would like to have more contemporary music to perform. This new piece welcomes improvisation (and was partially improvised in the recording above on this page) while allowing for performers to interpret as written. It synthesizes elements of traditional repertoire I've studied with my own, personal melodic and harmonic vocabulary influenced by jazz and other contemporary styles.
More than a desire to seek out different "styles" of music to play, my motivation in venturing outside of the classical canon was the aspiration to be creatively self-expressed, distinctive, and to say something personal. Not that classical music doesn't provide an outlet for these things. But any original work, and especially a solo piece, is imperative to my personal artistic identity. It tells my story. It also fits with the theme of my new album "American Spirit", envisioning our country as a new world connected to aspects of old world traditions.
I hope to make a connection to the classical community through this piece in order to create a bridge whereby non-jazz listeners will connect to the rest of the material on the album, or other jazz music in general. This is in keeping with my mission and that of the organization Creative Strings, to transform the culture of music education in a way which breaks down barriers conceived between jazz, classical music, and the participatory culture.
I welcome the readers at violinist.com to download the sheet music for free. Simply go to my website here to download: https://christianhowes.com/2015/11/30/11910/
Please share your feedback below and share this article if you know someone else who might enjoy a new piece of repertoire!
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