From Hollywood comes an announcement by The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts that on October 15 the Harlem Quartet will perform at the center. The ensemble from upper Manhattan specializes not only in the usual suspects among classical composers for string quartet—Schubert, Grieg, Debussy, Barber, et al—but they also regularly perform pieces by Leonard Bernstein, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Chick Corea, Billy Strayhorn and Dizzy Gillespie. The best classical musicians have long had the technical ability required for jazz, but it often seemed that asking them to learn to improvise, much less to swing, was akin to suggesting that they practice blasphemy.
That conviction has softened to the point that there are several string quartets with jazz repertoires, among them the Turtle Island quartet, Germany’s Modern String Quartet, the Take Five String Quartet in Singapore, South Africa’s Soweto String Quartet and in California, Quartet San Francisco.
Here’s the Harlem Quartet with Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia.” Left to right in the video: Imar Gavilán and Melissa White, violins; Felix Umansky, cello; Jaime Amador, viola. Whoever posted this on YouTube didn’t give it much volume. You may need to turn up your speakers.
For details about the quartet’s Hollywood concert, go here. For more about classical music and improvisation, see this post from the Rifftides archive. It involves Andre Previn and the Vienna Philharmonic and, separately, a jazz pianist sitting in on a folkish jam session in a Scottish pub.