From Gottschalk to Gershwin: The Missing Link
This program explores Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s multi-ethnic music from the mid 19th century and the influence it had on Ragtime some 50 years later. This concept was first proposed to me in 2016 by the director of the Barrie Jazz and Blues Festival, Robin Monro, who thought it would be a really interesting project to explore the connections between Gottschalk, Chopin and early Jazz. He sent me a bunch of material on Gottschalk, and I was intrigued. Although I’d heard of him as a composer, I hadn’t ever played any of his music, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I began listening, and was pretty floored by how modern his rhythms and musical styles sounded. I was immediately struck by his New Orleans Creole/Afro Caribbean pieces, particularly Bamboula and The Banjo, so I started with those. I then discovered that I had actually heard some Gottschalk before when I recognized his Spanish Etude de Concert, “Manchega”, a spritely piece with an incessant left hand ostinato of 2 against 3. I ended up choosing five pieces in contrasting styles for the program, highlighting the range of his music. Gottschalk’s musical structure is often very much like Ragtime in its repeated binary sections. It occured to me that Gottschalk, known to be a great improviser, perhaps embellished the repeated sections in his own performances, but didn’t write them down in the score; the more I got into the music, the more this seemed likely to me. So I decided to add my own embellishments to some of the repeated sections in what I thought might be “Gottschalkian” style, although allowing myself to go a bit further stylistically than what Gottschalk himself would’ve done, if only because some of the styles I use didn’t yet exist in his time. However, they fit really well in his music, so I imagine he would’ve approved :).
In my program I begin with Gottschalk’s music, then continue with two Chopin Etudes that I arranged in Cuban Salsa and American “Boogie-Woogie” styles, which mirror the styles that Gottschalk himself used, although from much later eras, of course. The program then continues with two Rags by Scott Joplin, and people are always amazed at how much they recognize Gottschalk in these pieces! I then continue on to Fats Waller, who used Ragtime “stride” style in his music but within a simpler song-form structure, and, after the initial statement of the melody and harmony, proceeded to improvise over the chord changes rather than performing a fully composed piece. This brings us to Gershwin and his famous, seminal song, “I’ve Got Rhythm,” in which Gershwin created a whole new series of chord changes that ended up being borrowed by hundreds, if not thousands, of tunes that followed.
A little background on Gottschalk:
L.M. Gottschalk first introduced himself to European audiences with his debut at the Salle Pleyel in Paris at the age of 16, where he enchanted the musical elite with his own compositions based on Creole and Afro-Caribbean folk dances from his native New Orleans, along with various popular European works of the day, including pieces by Liszt, Thalberg and Chopin, the latter himself being in attendance. Following the performance, Chopin approached Gottschalk and said “Give me your hand, my child; I predict you will become the king of pianists!” And that he did, touring non-stop all over Europe, the United States and South America until his death at the age of 40. Gottschalk’s music was a true hybrid of European pianistic virtuosity and what today we might call ‘World’ music, capturing rhythms and harmonies unfamiliar to European audiences. Some of his pieces are considered “proto-Ragtime”, as they invoke an identical rhythmic and pianistic style to Scott Joplin’s, who composed his music some 50 years later.
Is Gottschalk the missing link between European classical and American jazz? It’s up to you to decide. But it seems clear to me that Gottschalk’s music had a profound influence on some composers that followed, as well as on the musical styles that eventually became known as Jazz.
MHT (Matt Herskowitz Trio)
Matt Herskowitz, piano
Mat Fieldes, acoustic and electric basses
David Rozenblatt, drums
Equally accomplished as jazz and classical musicians, the Matt Herskowitz Trio has performed at major jazz and chamber music festivals throughout Europe and North America, including the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the Naumburg Orchestra Concerts Series (Central Park, NYC), the Northwest Bach Festival (Spokane, WA), Jazzfest Bonn (Bonn, Germany), Musikfest Bremen (Bremen, Germany), the Singer Festival (Warsaw), the Rhino Jazz Festival (Lyon, France), El Paso Chamber Music Festival (Texas), the Mineria Chamber Music Festival (Mexico City), Classic Chamber Concerts (Naples, Florida), Luzerne Chamber Music Festival (Lake Luzerne, NY), and the Lyric Chamber Music Society of New York, of which Matt is artist-in-residence. Programs they’ve performed over the years include:
MHT’S jazz arrangements of pieces by Frédéric Chopin, including four Etudes and the complete Sonata no. 2 in Bb minor, op. 35. Here is a short video demo of this project: https://youtu.be/z1I84aAv3hI
Matt’s cross-genre arrangements of selected pieces by J.S. Bach for the trio, as well as for the trio with violin or cello. Also the title of their album with violinist Philippe Quint on the Avanti Classics label.
From Bach To Brubeck
Features Matt’s arrangements and original compositions based on the music of both composers.
Matt’s original compositions and arrangements in a seamless fusion of Jazz, Classical, Arabic and Jewish musical styles and genres, at once traditional yet thrillingly new. Also the title of their 2010 album (Justin Time Records)
Matt’s “reconstructed” arrangements of classic Gershwin songs in styles including jazz, R&B, pop and minimalism.
MHT has also performed Matt’s piano concerto, Undertow, for jazz trio and chamber orchestra on several occasions with cross-genre chamber group Absolute Ensemble. The piece was commissioned by Absolute for their program Bach Reinvented, and is loosely based on Bach’s three-part Invention no. 9 in F minor. Their performance at the Philharmonie in Cologne, Germany, was filmed and aired by WDR German television.
Their debut album, Forget Me Not (Disques Tout Crin, 2004), received rave reviews and was nominated for Québec’s prestigious Félix award for “Best jazz album of the year.” Their next album, Jerusalem Trilogy (Justin Time Records, 2010), features Matt’s original compositions and arrangements. The centrepiece of the album is the title track, a quintet for the trio plus violin (Lara St. John) and cello (Mike Block). The album represents a unique, integrated fusion of written music and improvisation, blending together Jewish and Arab musical styles and grooves. Among the album’s fans was the late great Dave Brubeck, who commended Matt on the recording, saying: “Congratulations! You have transformed the concept of ‘world’ music as I conceived of it half a century ago. You have carried it further than I could imagine.” In 2007, they recorded an album with Barry Manilow, In The Swing of Christmas, for Hallmark, in which Barry features the trio in several arrangements. This album was nominated for a Grammy in 2008, and re-released on Arista Records in 2009. Their newest album, Bach XXI (Avanti Jazz, 2015) showcases Matt’s original arrangements of selected Bach pieces in a variety of contemporary styles and genres, and features acclaimed classical violinist Philippe Quint as soloist.
Our eponymous debut album was released on Justin Time Records in October 2016. Our victims include Bach, Debussy, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Gershwin and Brubeck. The album has received rave reviews since its release. For more information, please visit our website: www.pianocameleons.com
Lara St. John/Matt Herskowitz Duo
Lara and I tour with music from our album Shiksa, which features original compositions and arrangements of Eastern European folk songs that Lara has collected throughout her lifetime. We also perform some of the great classical warhorses, including the Franck Sonata in A major, Ravel Sonata and Tzigane, Beethoven Sonata no. 3 in Eb major and Bartok Sonata no. 2.
All our concerts are listed on the Events page. You can also see videos of our live performances, as well as her creative and innovative video productions of pieces from the album, on the Videos page. You can find the album on the Discography page, with links to buy on itunes and Amazon. For more information on Lara, please visit her website: www.larastjohn.com
A jazz/classical crossover trio with flutist François Richard, violinist Helmut Lispky and myself. We’re all jazz and classical performers and composers, performing our original compositions and arrangements in our unique combined style of jazz/classical fusion. Our album, Azimuth, features a string quartet, with whom we also perform. You can find our upcoming performances on the Events page, and our album on the Discography page. For more information about François Richard, as well as reviews and how to buy our album, please visit: www.francoisrichard.net
Soloist with Buzz Brass: Préludes et Rhapsodies/Buzz Salutes Gershwin
I perform Rhapsody In Blue as soloist with Buzz Brass. I also perform new arrangements of Gershwin’s Three Preludes and Cuban Overture with the quintet. The above video is a demo of one of our concerts, featuring selections from our performance. Throughout the video you can find clips from our performance of Rhapsody In Blue. Much of the repertoire is from our album Préludes et Rhapsodies, which can be found on the Discography page. For more information on this group, please visit their website: buzzcuivres.com