You’ve heard the music they create, but have you ever wondered what’s on the playlists of our Jazz Orchestra musicians?
We’ll be revealing just that in our What I’m Listening To blog series.
This week, we caught up with NYJO Trumpet 2 chairholder Harry Evans to give us an insight into what he’s listening and what inspires him.
The “Balcony Scene” from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet
When the Kirov Ballet commissioned composer Sergei Prokofiev to Romeo and Juliet in 1935, neither knew that they would create one of the best-loved ballets of the 20th Century. Following a fraught writing process with several revisions – the original draft had a happy ending! – the ballet premiered in 1940 to international acclaim.
This selection is from the height of Act I, when the star-crossed lovers finally get to dance away from the prying eyes of their warring families. Prokofiev unites all the leitmotifs he’s developed throughout the first act, depicting the passion of the characters through leaping violins. Prokofiev also foreshadows the tragedy that awaits the couple, through often angular melodies and doses of lurking dissonance.
Romeo and Juliet re-entered my playlist after I went to see it with NYJO trombone chair Ed Parr a few weeks ago at the Royal Opera House. I highly recommend going!
“Mi Chiquita Quiere Bembé (My little one wants Bembé)” from Dance mania (1958) – Tito Puente
Tito Puente was a mainstay of the New York Afro-Cuban scene from the 1940s onwards; first as a percussionist in trailblazing bandleader Machito’s orchestra, then as frontman of his own ensemble. This record is a fantastic example of Puente and arranger Mario Bauza at the height of their powers during the 1950s mambo craze, and remains the best-selling Latin jazz album of all time.
Mi Chiquita features all the hallmarks of the genre – blazing trumpet-led mambos, sax montunoes, the stylistic vocals of Santos Colon and catchy Coro sections, but also features a particularity inventive section in the 6/8 “Bembé” feel towards the end – the same Bembé referenced in the title!
Symphony no.3, Mov. 6 – Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler’s ten symphonies are all enjoyable – if very long! – listens, and are performed frequently in concert halls around the world. His third symphony, composed in 1886, uses his typical huge orchestra, singers and offstage brass.
I’ve chosen the last movement as it demonstrates his powerful composing; it begins with a quiet string chorale and peaks at a huge perfect cadence. It’s also worth noting how the initial theme bears a striking resemblance to the jazz standard I’ll Be Seeing You – Sammy Fain must’ve been a fan!
Humouresque, Cornell University Concert 1948 – Duke Ellington
On A Turquoise Cloud – Carnegie Hall concert 1947 – Duke Ellington
I thought it’d be fitting to include two selections of Duke Ellington, as he remains my most-streamed Spotify artist for the last three years. The Duke’s work in the 1940s is not as well-known as the rest of his career, due to the American Federation of Musicians recording bans of 1942-44 and 1948 and the big bands therefore falling out of fashion.
Despite this, he continued to write some of his most daring music, drawing on contemporary classical influences. He kept the band in work by maintaining a busy schedule of concerts. Luckily for us, a number of these concerts were recorded and released decades later.
Humouresque is an arrangement of a piece by Antonin Dvorak, popular amongst jazz musicians at the time (Art Tatum’s recording is worth checking out), featuring Ellington stalwart Ray Nance on both violin and trumpet, before giving way to rousing finale featuring the high note trumpet of Shelton Hemphill.
Ellington penned On A Turquoise Cloud for singer, Kay Davis. He pairs her operatic tone and control with the clarinet of Jimmy Hamilton and trombone of Tyree Glenn, and also writes a muted trombone solo for Lawrence Brown.
On A Turquoise Cloud: