Celebrating the ‘Jazz Age’ Exhibit With Jazz Music

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With much attention focused on the Cleveland Museum of Art exhibit, “The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s,” Cleveland Jazz Orchestra’s artistic director Paul Ferguson wanted to kick of the CJO’s 2017-18 season with a nod to the music that gave the era its name.

So now the question became: what to play? Ferguson turned to a work that has come for many to represent the sound of the “Jazz Age.”

“George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ is just iconic. It’s the 1920s. It’s like ‘the American piece’ in a way,” Ferguson said.

While there are many arrangements of the work from which to choose, Ferguson turned to a jazz legend whose music also helped capture the 1920s.

“The arrangement we’ll play is the Duke Ellington band’s version of the piece. Ellington and Gershwin were born one year apart. Gershwin was born in 1898 in New York and Ellington was born the following year in Washington D.C., so they probably intersected a few times when Ellington moved to New York in the middle 20s. It’s said that Gershwin said, ‘I wish I would have written something as good as the bridge section of Ellington’s ‘Sophisticated Lady.”

Ferguson feels that “Rhapsody in Blue” continues to influence the way we think about jazz.

“People expect to hear sort of bluesy sounds in jazz that we’ve come to associate with “Rhapsody in Blue,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson draws on that blues tradition for a work he wrote for the concert, “The Jazz Bowl.” The piece is a tribute to the American artist Victor Schreckengost and his 1930 ceramic work, “The Jazz Bowl,” which is part of the CMA exhibit.

“I tried to include a lot of what I call ‘blues content.’ In fact, the piece turned out to be a blues, although it really doesn’t sound like it, because it has a lot of industrial age sounds, mixed in as well. It’s still there, it just gets hidden sometimes, which is part of the fun.”

The Cleveland Jazz Orchestra plays BLU Jazz + in Akron tonight at 8. The CJO also performs in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gartner Auditorium Friday at 8 PM.


Hear Paul talk about the other key element of the concert: The celebration of the music of four jazz legends born in 1917.




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