Thursday, April 29, 2010

Violin week, I guess

NPR's music blog ran a feature on five jazz violinists that Felix Contreras thought you should know. There's two I'd add to the list:

Joe Venuti: the most glaring oversight. If it wasn't for Grappelli's later career (when he finally branched out to genres of jazz other than gypsy), I'd probably place Venuti at the number one spot on the top violinist list without hesitating. Here's the audio for a recording of Venuti and Lang.

Interestingly, Venuti got bluesier with age.

This is reminiscent of the second violinist I'd have wanted in a top five, Stuff Smith. Where Venuti approached jazz like every song was a concerto for violin, Smith adapted New Orleans clarinet-like lines to the unique characteristics of the violin.

In another post at NPR, contemporary violinist Mark Connor talks about music education. I'm not sure about his goal to "re-brand America's various musical traditions as American classical music." But I'm all for recognizing music from the Mexico through the Northern Territories as North American music and paying more attention to how genres mix and musicians exchange ideas across supposed borders. The old style of field work - trying to find the oldest, most local-sounding players to record - really misses out on what's most exciting about American music: the number of ingredients that come together within it and the way it continues to evolve. That said, I'd be interested to hear these students, because the usual result of formally teaching violin students jazz or folk music is that they learn the melodies but not the feel or color. Learning the tunes by ear is a start, but I wonder if the deluge of styles will mean the students won't quite learn what separates the rhythm of a strathspey from swing or blue notes from the bent notes of Scottish and Irish music that originated in the imitation of bagpipes.

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