Aaron Copland’s favorite jazz musicians

April 13th, 2018

 

Aaron Copland, c. 1958

 

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     Aaron Copland, the mid-century classical composer whose work was greatly influenced by American life, had an interest in jazz, particularly, as he told Don Gold in a May, 1958 Downbeat article “the marriage – the fact that the young jazzmen are composers, often bridging the gap between fields. “  He also had some sympathy for jazz musicians because “they have the same trouble getting a big audience we have.”

     The article, titled “Aaron Copland: The Well-Known American Composer Finds Virtues and Flaws in Jazz,” is of special interest because Copland spoke about jazz musicians of note…Here are brief excerpts from Gold’s piece regarding those musicians who “crossed his path.”

 

  • “I heard Charlie Mingus’ piece at Brandeis – he builds up a sense of excitement and freedom. I found it difficult to differentiate between the writing and improvised portions of his work.  He was incredible….My complete knowledge of Charlie Mingus is confined to his work at Brandeis.  After I heard it, I felt it would be worthwhile to go out and buy his records.”

 

  • “Another of my favorites is [Lennie] Tristano, who knows how to unify a piece.  He sticks to the point without being dull…I like his sense of harmonic freedom and his ability to write a piece on one expressive thing without being dull.  It seems like real composition to me, not happenstance.”

 

  • “I like what I’ve heard of Teo Macero’s, too. He’s one who, once in a while, must reduce his tone to make it salable.  I thought his ‘Fusion’ was lots of fun.  He has a keen sense of sound and sound combinations.”

 

  • Jimmy Giuffre has things every once in a while that are “very striking.”

 

  • “Duke Ellington is an old admiration of mine. The originality of his work!  There’s something to think about.  He has a real personality.”

 

  • “I like some of Shelly Manne’s work, too.”

 

  • “In a way, I realize that Louis Armstrong’s work is terrific, but don’t miss it.”

 

  • “George Russell’s material is fine, but a little on the arranger’s side.”

 

  • “Stan Kenton, for orchestral excitement, appealed to me in the old days.”

 

  • “And there’s nothing in ‘serious’ music quite like the down-in-the-mouth aspect of the cool jazz and that guy Davis.”

 

 

     To conclude the article, Gold wrote an anecdote Copland shared:  “I once took Serge Koussevitzky to 52nd St. to hear jazz.  He listened carefully, then said, ‘It’s just like the gypsies; it’s just like the gypsies.’  And it is.  Like the wild, impassioned, improvised music of the Russian gypsy.”

 

 

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