This was sparked by JD's latest piece on Wynton Marsalis. We spoke about it and I came up with some items of classical music played by jazz musicians. Some are their own interpretations, some are new works, suites, some are interpretations of standard classics and some is jazz/fusion - a genre that I generally have little time for, though as always there are exceptions.
I think with jazz fusion it was simply born out of a desire by the musicians that went that way, to tap into a more lucrative market than pure jazz, and who can blame them? But much was pretty turgid stuff and musicians like Miles Davis went too far on an ego trip and produced some very strange stuff that didn’t sell and was not well received, leaving him coming back into the jazz fold.
None the less there are some works that show the sheer musicianship that exists in the jazz fraternity and over a wide spectrum of work.
One of those special events was Art Tatum caught playing classical piano in someone's home and captured on a cheap tape recorder. Vladimir Horowitz said at the time he would retire if Tatum seriously turned to classical music. This came after visiting a jazz club and playing his own version of Tea for Two, something he had been working on for a while; Tatum responded with his own version and Horowitz was amazed he had played it as a straight-off-the-cuff interpretation. Rachmaninoff and Alfred Rubinstein were jazz fans and great admirers of Tatum's musicianship.
- and in ‘53 did this version of Dvorak's Humoresque:
Classical music has always had an influence on jazz as many jazz artists started out as classically trained musicians, Nina Simone being a good example.
This version of Love me or Leave Me has a piano solo that is full Bach influences:
I don’t have any doubts that George Gershwin was fusing jazz and classical as far back as the twenties; this 1924 version of Rhapsody in Blue shows that mix and also shows the genius he was:
Duke Ellington did several classically inspired works of his own and interpreted this version of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, Morning Mood:
Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo got the full works from Miles Davis on his Sketches of Spain album. By any standards this is as near classical as you can get, despite the jazz influence of Davis.
An early version by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli of a J S Bach movement also is not without merit in this genre for something early - the recording is also good:
Sibelius is not an obvious choice for a jazz angle yet Wayne Shorter made this version of Valse Triste one of his best known works, great musicianship from him and Freddy Hubbard on trumpet:
There are quite a few more worthy entrants in this sector including the jazz fusion works of Herbie Hancock, all well known, but I finish with a rendition of Ravel's Bolero by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention on their last tour in Barcelona, showing they also could do their bit for fusion: