What Happens When Jazz Musicians Team Up With a String Quartet?

Classic Arts Features   What Happens When Jazz Musicians Team Up With a String Quartet?
 
Woodwind virtuoso Eddie Daniels and friends perform with the Harlem Quartet in The Appel Room June 1–2.
Eddie Daniels
Eddie Daniels Courtesy of the artist

As Leonard Bernstein once put it: “Eddie Daniels combines elegance and virtuosity in a way that makes me remember Arthur Rubenstein. He is a thoroughly well-bred demon.”

Eddie Daniels, the Harlem Quartet, and Ted Nash all come together to bring you an exciting evening of Jazz in the Chamber on June 1–2 in The Appel Room.

Ted Nash
Ted Nash Frank Stewart

You can expect to hear everything from Mozart to Charlie Parker as these elements join forces to blur the lines between jazz and classical. “I want to challenge the strings,” Daniels smiles, “because a lot of times musicians who are using strings use them to hold long notes and blow over it, like Bird with Strings. The musicians in this quartet are all virtuosic players and can play as fast and as jazzy as I can. So they’re going to be burning! I want to kick their butts a little, and I told them this, and they loved it!”

The evening is anchored by the respected, seasoned jazz veterans Helen Sung on piano, Scott Colley on bass, and Mauricio Zottarelli on drums. Sung is a classically trained pianist who has worked with the late Clark Terry, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, Wynton Marsalis, and MacArthur Fellow Regina Carter. Colley is a three-time Grammy Award nominee and has performed on more than 200 recordings, eight as bandleader and composer. Zottarelli is a New York–based drummer from Brazil whose expertise in jazz and Latin jazz has allowed him to play with everyone from Eliane Elias and Paquito D’Rivera to Esperanza Spalding and Hiromi.

Daniels explains how he plans to harness all this creative energy into one room. “I called this performance ‘Jazz in the Chamber’ because The Appel Room is like a chamber room and with one of the best string quartets ever. There will be a slight classical tinge to it, and Ted’s going to do all the charts, and he’s going to play a couple of the tunes with me. Ted Nash is an old friend. At one point when he came to New York, he took a couple of lessons from me, and so I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a fabulous musician who won two Grammy Awards last year, and he’s just got a head that thinks outside of the box!”

A multi-instrumentalist woodwind player with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis for many years now, Ted Nash has also successfully stepped out on his own with exciting album releases. Nash is proficient on soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones as well as clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, and piccolo. His extraordinary career as a performer, conductor, composer, arranger, and educator brings some serious heat to the stage. In addition to premiering an anticipated new composition, Nash will debut inventive versions of pieces by Vivaldi, Bach, and Ravel.

Nash exclaims, “I have been a big Eddie Daniels fan ever since I heard him in the 1970s on the radio. You can’t have a discussion about the clarinet and not include Eddie Daniels. He reminds all of us we need to practice more!

“I am so excited about this opportunity to play with and write music for Eddie and the other killing musicians for these concerts at The Appel Room. With the exception of one piece from Eddie’s new release, Sound of Brazil (for which I wrote several arrangements—release date June 1), this will be all new material.

“Eddie and I have had many discussions about the program. Our desire is to incorporate the sound of modern jazz into the environment of intimate chamber music. But this is not going to be some tame, classical parlor music, but an experience that will be exciting, swinging, beautiful, and challenging. The Harlem Quartet is one of the greatest string quartets I have ever heard. They can play anything. And Eddie and I are going to make sure they do!”

Harlem Quartet
Harlem Quartet Courtesy of the artist

Eddie Daniels started making waves in the jazz world back in the mid-1960s with the Thad Jones–Mel Louis Orchestra, playing tenor saxophone. Daniels began playing clarinet at age 13 and later received his Master’s in Clarinet at The Juilliard School. He has since gone on to gain many Grammy Awards and nominations and has revolutionized the blending of jazz and classical, so working the Harlem Quartet came as a natural step. Since its inception in 2006, the quartet has performed in 47 states as well as in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Brazil, Panama, Canada, Venezuela, and South Africa. The Grammy Award–winning Harlem Quartet consists of violinist Ilmar Gavilan, violinist Melissa White, violist Jaime Amador, and cellist Felix Umansky.

“The string quartet is easy to play with,” Daniels continues. ”They’re right there with me, they can swing, and we’ve worked together before. I fell in love with their music. The thing that ‘now this is classical, and now this is jazz’ has gotten to the point where I have blurred the lines. It’s all in the transition; how do I get from here to here? We go from a classical feel to a burnin’ version of ‘Cherokee’ or ‘Giant Steps.’ It’s good that I have Ted in here to pull that off!

“There’s going to be a lot of bebop, and I want to do Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, and some [Billy] Strayhorn. I want to mix it up and be free with the rhythm section and have the string quartet there just burning. I’m going to play some tenor, but especially with the clarinet and the strings… it puts me in another place. The openness of the sound of the strings, especially when you get a good writer like Ted, it puts you in an environment where you feel something different is going to happen. This is a little bit out of the box.”

Come savor the blend of jazz and classical with Jazz at Lincoln Center’s final Appel Room concert of the season, Jazz in the Chamber, on June 1–2.

Scott H. Thompson is an internationally published writer and jazz publicist.


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