Every epoch has had its group dances, and they have always been a source of inspiration to composers. In the interwar period, the Blues and Charleston meant as much to composers as the Sarabande and Gigue did to Johann Sebastian Bach and the Polonaise and Mazurka to Frédéric Chopin. The advent of American jazz and dance music in Europe was a gift from the gods for young composers hungry to find new paths and means of expression. Even though the word jazz meant little more than syncopated march and dance music based on ragtime, there was no stopping the rage.]
The Ebony Band has occupied itself intensively with this music, as its collection of CDs with works by Milhaud, Weill, Wolpe, Schulhoff, Burian and others goes to show. More information on this repertoire can be found on the other part of this website: ‘Banned, Forgotten Music from the interwar period’.
In the 1990s the Ebony Band, in bigband formation, devoted itself extensively to a new musical mix which was described as 'crossover'. In a genre that emerged in the USA in the 1940s, the worlds of jazz and modern classical music were combined as they had been in the ‘roaring twenties’, but now more intensively. Modern classical composers employed elements from real jazz (instruments, improvisation, rhythms, jazz effects), and jazz composers began to write out their pieces completely, with a less prominent role for improvisation but a larger one for sounds and techniques from modern classical music (atonality, tempo and time changes). One of the most famous pieces in this genre is Stravinsky’s ‘Ebony Concerto’, written in 1945 for the jazz clarinetist Woody Herman and his band.
An important contribution to 'crossover' music of the 1940s was made by Stan Kenton (1911-1979). In an attempt to shake off his 'dance-band' image, the celebrated bigband leader instructed his arrangers to compose 'concert jazz' – modern music with a 'jazzy feel'. With this in mind he formed his 'Progressive Jazz Orchestra' (1947/48), followed later by the 'Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra' (1951/52). The pieces were written by his regular arrangers Robert Graettinger, Pete Rugolo, Franklin Marks and Johnny Richards, the most progressive of whom was Graettinger.
In 1993 and 1997, after an exhaustive search for scores thought to be lost, the Ebony Band (in bigband formation) brought this fascinating music to life once more. The concerts were recorded on CD and the scores are now to be published in the Ebony Band Edition.
In 1996 the Ebony Band performed another 'crossover' programma, entitled 'Border stretchers’. With the collaboration of the pianist Guus Janssen and his trio, the programme featured pieces by composers whose roots lay in the so-called cool jazz of the 1950s, but who were strongly influenced by the language of modern classical concert music. The American composer, writer and conductor Gunther Schuller coined the term 'third stream' for this genre. One of the best-known 'third stream' compositions was a suite by John Lewis in which the then world-famous Modern Jazz Quartet joined forces with the Symphony Orchestra of Stuttgart.
The pieces on the ‘Border stretchers’ programme were composed by George Russell, Jimmy Giuffre, William Russo and Johnny Carisi.
Image: Graph of composition (Walking) by Robert Graettinger