Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”: Anne Akiko Meyers

Smile, composed by Charlie Chaplin as the love theme for his 1936 film, Modern Times, was inspired by the soaring, romantic melodies of Puccini’s Tosca. Here is an excerpt from the film with the music in its original form. Lyrics were later written by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons and the song became a standard. It was first recorded in 1954 by Nat King Cole. Later, it was performed by artists including Barbra Streisand, Josh Groban, and Michael Jackson. Violinist Anne Akiko …

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Stravinsky’s Jazz-Inspired “Ebony Concerto”

Earlier in the month, we listened to Leonard Bernstein’s 1949 Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs, a uniquely-American hybrid of classical music and jazz, written for Woody Herman’s big band. (Due to the band’s 1946 dissolution, Benny Goodman gave the piece’s premiere). This reminded me of the Ebony Concerto, a similarly jazz-inspired work written for Herman by Igor Stravinsky a few years earlier in 1945. Stravinsky developed a fascination with jazz as early as 1916 when he said, I …

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The Music of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”

Music was at the heart of the long-running PBS children’s television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I was reminded of this last week as I watched the timely new documentary film, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The film opens with a youthful Fred Rogers, seated at the piano, relating far-flung harmonic modulations to difficult adjustments in children’s lives. Rogers, a talented pianist, wrote all of the show’s songs. Dialogue between characters in the “Neighborhood of Make-believe” …

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Bartók’s Surprising Influence on Jazz

There are some fascinating connections between jazz and the music of Béla Bartók. Both have a pristine, highly-ordered sense of structure. Both are built on complex rhythmic grooves which grow out of a folk tradition. Jazz pianist Dániel Szabó delves into this subject in a recent article where he writes, Whenever I hear the second movement of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, the extraordinarily tight rhythm, the shifts in emphasis, inserting 3/8 phrases …

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Keith Jarrett: “Ol’ Man River”

Jazz is there and gone. It happens. You have to be present for it. That simple. -Keith Jarrett Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert were all masters of keyboard improvisation- the ability to use a well known melody as the basis for completely new, spontaneous music. Perhaps no one alive today continues that tradition more eloquently than jazz pianist Keith Jarrett. Jarrett describes the process in mystical terms. He says that his hands take over …

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Remembering Steely Dan’s Walter Becker

Walter Becker, the songwriter, guitarist, bassist, and record producer, passed away on Sunday. He was 67. Becker is best known as the co-founder of the band Steely Dan, active between 1972 and 1981 and again from 1993 on. He played guitar and bass and co-wrote songs along with the group’s lead singer and keyboardist, Donald Fagen. Steely Dan’s music is a unique blend of jazz and rock. Filled with ear-catching harmonic sophistication, it …

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Remembering Allan Holdsworth

Allan Holdsworth, the legendary British-born jazz fusion guitarist, passed away earlier this month. He was 70. Holdsworths’ stunning virtuosity and harmonic innovations influenced rock guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen. He was called “the John Coltrane of the guitar.” In 1983, the New York Times’ Jon Pareles wrote: He pours out notes in a liquid rush without slurring a single one. His sense of harmony reveals itself in daring melodic extrapolations and in chords that …

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