Is It Jazz or Is It Classical?

  • While many of us are still in quarantine, we have had time to take on projects that we have not had time to consider before. One of these was carried out by a pianist, Daniel Vnukowski, who took a simple nursery rhyme song, Old MacDonald Had a Farm and put it into the style of Beethoven. As the article I found this in says, “ Classical music history tells of composers reworking the great music of their predecessors. From Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini to Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, some of today’s most famous classical works are variations on a theme by an earlier composer.”
    THE LINK TO THE ARTICLE AND VIDEO IS BELOW. I would contend that what Mr. Vnukowski did would fall into the category of Jazz perhaps in a Classical style. What are your opinions? Is this music a brilliant form of Jazz, Is it classical, or is it something else? Were the classical composers that reworked their predecessor’s works the first Jazz Artists?


  • Textures of both. Kenny Drew Jr, did a compilation of classics that he transitioned between classical and jazz... just amazing beautiful, especially at that transition point. He gave me a copy and if I can figure out how to copy it to post I will provide you with a sample. Kenny wanted to get this CD out for distribution, but his untimely death prevented this. He recorded it in a French Cathedral and the sound is just amazingly beautiful.

  • I don't know why you even mention Jazz in the title. To me it's pure Beethoven, with the caveat that he probably wouldn't have used the original theme to Old McDonald, in the first place. To me there's nothing brilliant about it, just a good pianist who knows his Beethoven.

    A really good blending of classical and jazz, is Ellington's Nutcracker Suite.

    An interesting piece that is jazz but which uses classical forms is Lalo Schifrin's Marquis de Sade.

    Here's a great example of a Jazz composer writing in the classical mode, but not completely. Beautiful writing and singing/playing. Maria keeps her music closely guarded, so this is a promo instead of the full recording.

    Here's an interview from Maria regarding classical and jazz.

    Then, there's Cecil Taylor, a guy with a deep jazz history yet morphed into a technique that incorporates contemporary-music techniques.

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    Playing Maria Schneider’s charts definitely feels more like wind ensemble than big band. I’ve found that my practice and preparation for her stuff is much closer to what I do for wind ensemble, with some changes thrown in. Her music really needs a director unless you’ve performed the piece multiple times with the same group. She writes some very interesting music - some I have enjoyed, but for me some of it is rather a chore. Not saying it doesn’t have tremendous value, it’s just not my personal taste in Jazz. I find some of the crossover stuff very interesting, but not all of it suits my personal taste. I have, however, been getting into Meg Okura lately, which falls into this category, I think.

  • @Kehaulani said in Is It Jazz or Is It Classical?:

    I don't know why you even mention Jazz in the title. To me it's pure Beethoven, with the caveat that he probably wouldn't have used the original theme to Old McDonald, in the first place. To me there's nothing brilliant about it, just a good pianist who knows his Beethoven.

    The posting of this topic was an attempt at starting a musically relevant discussion.
    Please keep in mind that I am not a professional musician, I do not have a Doctorate or any other degree in Music, but I enjoy listening to music and as a musician, I am a novice hobbiest, I played the character Ludwig van Beethoven in a third grade play, and I slept at a Holliday Inn Express. Now that we have my qualifications out of the way I made the statement based on one important aspect of jazz that clearly distinguishes it from other traditional musical areas , especially from classical music. The Jazz performer is is primarily or wholly a creative , improvising composer. He or she is their own composer, sometimes composing wholly original pieces, but more often, modifying existing pieces. In classical music the performer interprets and expresses someone else's composition note for note. Generally the performer of classical music does not modify the piece composition wise.
    In the particular piece, Old MacDonald, 95% of what was played was composed through improvisation by the performer around the simple melody of Old MacDonald. The improvisation was in the style of Beethoven, but not written by Beethoven. The style could have been improvised in the pentatonic patterns used by John Coletrane, making it clearly recognizable as jazz, but the performer improvised using patterns made most recognizable by Beethoven.
    Admittedly, Beethoven, Mozart, and other classical composers improvised within their genres, but performers play their compositions back note for note and vary the nuances as their interpretation. Both Daniel Vnukowski in Old Mac Donald, and Duke Ellington in his interpretation the Nutcracker Suite accomplished the same goal in different directions. They took known musical pieces and modified the genre and playback though creative improvising composition. Thus my question, and conclusion. I knew that there was going to be debate over the correct answer, if there is one, and welcome the opportunity to learn from the discussion, since sleeping in the Holliday Inn Express does not universally make one an expert at everything.

  • Is It Jazz or Is It Classical?

  • SSmith - I don't know the point of your post. Can you simplify it?
    p.s. the link for the second video gives a Certs Breath Mint commercial. What should I be listening for?

  • @Kehaulani said in Is It Jazz or Is It Classical?:

    ... the link for the second video gives a Certs Breath Mint commercial. What should I be listening for?

    Substitute "Jazz" for "candy mint" and "Classical" for "breath mint".

  • There is currently an active thread that in general is promoting increasing our posts about music related topics. I saw the article that I presented and was impressed that the performer was able to present “Old MacDonald” as a Beethoven like piece by essentially improvising, using the same skills as a Jazz Musician would in the same situation, although the skills will be used differently. See below video for an example to contrast with the Beethoven linked video.

    The Certs commercial was J.Jericho’s post, not mine. He is a man of mystery, but this post demonstrates that he might be a member of the Diplomatic Corps!!!😀

  • Improvisation, and improvisational techniques, some even the same, predate jazz. There's a long pre-jazz tradition of that.

    I think the observation that there is jazz music that contains classical elements, and classical music that contains jazz, and some music where these are so subtly merged that one can't tell the difference, is a good topic for conversation. I gave my initial response. Are there others?

  • I believe this adequately fits the bill:

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    When I did a semester of jazz band, Maria Schneider's music was very, very tough. I was second or third trumpet and the harmonies are very complex and difficult to hear.

  • Then try this on for size. And it's a great merger of both Jazz and Classical. Stan Kenton's Neophonic Orchestra.

  • Jimmy Owens spoke in terms of Eastern and Western approaches instead of Jazz and Classical in a clinic I attended. This piece sounds Western to me, and therefore, in a classical style.

  • Germany has a different division. E-Musik (Ernst/Serious) od U-Musik (Unterhaltung/Entertainment).

    This example is U-Musik for me.

  • I believe the OP's question is classifying something as classical as opposed to jazz. Is this (and listen to all cuts) either/or, or is it a successful fusion of both?

    (Paraphrasing) "The composers put out non-serious music, entertainment music?" I beg to differ. Some of it makes me grind my teeth, LOL. Hardly relaxing and/or light entertainment.

    In my working in music in Germany for twenty years, what I experienced was a diversion of opinion regarding what some pieces of music fell into which E-Musik or U-Musik categories. Some, usually classical musicians, were more dogmatic and the jazz/pop musicians were more flexible. But, of course, even here, these are just stereotypes, and there are exceptions. But the exceptions were just that, exceptions. Point being that plenty would classify some of these pieces as "serious" music.

    Back to the original question, to my ears, some of these pieces definitely are successful in avoiding being stereotyped.

  • I just accidentally came across this, peripherally, (was looking for something different), but thought I'd post it as a superb, yet different, way of blending jazz (actually Ragtime) and classical elements into one piece of music.

    This is a well-known piece by Mozart but with a seamless blend right into Ragtime.
    BTW, I wish I had the pianist's chops.

  • @Kehaulani Wow!

  • Here is a link to a timely article from today’s issue of The Guardian on this subject:


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