John And Johann

John LewisIt is not news that J.S. Bach influenced John Lewis.J.S. Bach The Modern Jazz Quartet pianist and his wife Mirjana recorded two-keyboard albums of pieces by Bach, and many of Lewis’s compositions for the MJQ contain harmonic and fugal elements that are direct reflections of Bach. The Baroque master introduced into music so many structural, rhythmic and harmonic aspects beloved by jazz players that Dave Brubeck, among others, said if Bach had lived in the 20th century, he would have been a jazz musician.

Whether the adagio movement of the Violin Concerto 2 in E Major and Lewis’s celebrated “Django” share technical elements, I will leave to the analysis of musicologists. However, it seems beyond doubt that they have common spiritual DNA. Here is the young violinist Kyung Wha Chung in 1982 with the second movement of the Bach.

Now, let’s hear the MJQ—John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath and Connie Kay—in a slightly eccentric, brilliant, performance of “Django” at the Zelt Musik Festival in Freiburg, Germany in 1987. It doesn’t take the MJQ long to get the unruly audience’s attention.

For an appreciation of Django Reinhardt, some of his music and a fresh take on Lewis’s “Django” by bright young stars of 21st century jazz, see this recent Rifftides post.

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  1. David says

    In the mid ’80s, Lewis recorded a couple of albums for Phillips playing selections from Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” with sections of jazz improvisation interspersed. On some of the fugues he enlists the help of a violinist, violist, guitarist and bassist.

  2. says

    The Jacques Loussier’s trio version (on YouTube) of Bach’s “TOCATTA and FUGUE in D MINOR IS THE DEFINITIVE marriage of Jazz with Bach. Loussier has refined this synthesis for 30 years. He now swings like mad!

  3. David says

    It’s perhaps fitting that Lewis’ tribute to Django should sound a bit like Bach since Django was one of the first to record a jazz version of Bach. In 1937 he collaborated with violinists Stephane Grappelli and Eddie South on a their version of the first movement of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto. Actually this was the idea of producer Charles Delaunay. Django, who could barely read music, presumably learned his part by ear.

    • says

      Thanks for posting this great piece of music, David —

      It’s always a joy to listen to Django Reinhardt, even when he is “only” playing rhythm guitar; he indeed has learned Bach’s chords right on the spot, and delivered one of his superbest comping ever.

      There’s also the initial (and shorter) version of the Bach Double at JazzTube, and a very interesting essay on how the two trio recordings from November 23 & 25, 1937 came to be.

      Here’s a link to Benjamin Givan’s essay, and another one to a couple of his Django Reinhardt solo transcriptions.

      I have both tracks on a brilliant German LP, entitled “Die andere Saite”, meaning “the other string” (making fun of the word “side” = “Seite” in German), which contains more of Django Reinhardt’s interpretations of classical pieces.

      • Doug Ramsey says

        When you have viewed the video and documents on the sites to which Mr. Leicht’s links take you, simply close them and you will return to Rifftides. That is true of all links in this blog.

  4. Terence Smith says

    I thought about Dave Brubeck’s remark above ( that Bach today would be a jazz musician ) when I was rereading the Les Tompkins interviews with Bill Evans. Tompkins quotes Joe Vandyl asking Bill Evans, in 1972.

    ” Do you still practise classical music now? ”

    And Evans answers:

    Well, not much, not enough to really count; I would like to, because there’s no substitute for spending a couple of hours with Bach, and I know it’s necessary because it makes your fingers think in ways you would never let them think themselves.