即興小提琴的過去與現在 Improvising Violin ~ Past and Present
謝啟彬 (Chi-pin Hsieh)
This is the Thesis I wrote in 1998 for the Jazz History Course while I was a jazz student in the Royal Conservatory Brussels, Belgium, hope some of the info help the people who are interested in this topic...
*[Due to the author isn't English or American-oriented , there will definitely be certain grammer and expression errors for using the language]
Improvising Violin ~ Past and Present
Thesis for Jazz History Course of 2nd Kandidatuur in KCB
Professor : Mr. Ron Van Rossum
Student's Name : Chi-pin Hsieh 謝啟彬
Date : 27 April , 1998
- Preface ~
- Improvisation In Classical Music ~
- A sunny instrument
- Old time folk and dance music
- Theme and Variations
- Loss of ability to improvise
- Evolution of Figure & Sound ~
- Baroque violin
- Modern violin
- Tuning and resonance
- Weak instrument in jazz
- Experiments of amplification
- Amplifier , microphone and sound men
- Sawing violin yet hardly to be heard
- Electric violin
- Use of effects processors
- MIDI capability
- Multi-function and various circumstances to play
- Styles & Influences of Non-classical Violin Music ~
- Violin isn't an easy instrument to study
- Classical violin influence
- Gypsy music
- Blues origin
- The jazz tradition
- Young classical-trained lions in 1970s
- More and more
- My Personal Point of View and Brief Opinion to Several "Important" Jazz and Improvising Violinists ~
- Stephane Grappelli
- Jean-Luc Ponty
- Zbigniew Seifert
- Lockwood , Urbaniak & Blake
- Regina Carter
- Mark Feldman
- Epilogue : Sources & Resources ~
- WWW sites on internet
- Appendix : Audio Instruction of Improvising Violinists ~
- Solo Transcription ~
Violin , as everybody knows , is an established "classical" instrument . Its lyrical , voice-like and nobiliary characteristics has already earned the name of "Soprano of Instrument" . For hundreds of year , people had developed huge repertoires and technics for it , obviously , it was according to the improvement of the figure , instrumentation , playing methods , and most important of all , to the demands of music styles .
For lots of year , not only musicians but also audiences are accustomed with classical , or "conservatory" repertoires of violin , we practice hard from childhood for intonation , tones , specific techniques , and do all the ways to control the instrument as perfect as possible throughout the whole career . However , violinists are districted in written music , we have to know the scores well very precisely , then try to interpret the pieces in our own concepts . But after all , the music is written down , the principle is listed , and there are always a lot of predecessors played better versions , all we have to do seemingly become to emulate them , and reach the pretty high level of both music and technique . Since violin is very "virtuoso" and "expressivo" , it should be human-natural and can express ourselves minds . So , besides composer's requests and imaginations , does improvisation exist in violin music ? How do they work ? Are there some common or different conceptions distinguished from what we've learned ? Then , how to integrate them if we desire to play something different ? All above are the subject matters this thesis will discuss .
Improvisation In Classical Music ~
A sunny instrument
The famous conductor and instrumentalist Mr.N.Harnoncourt once said " Remember that violin was invented in South of Europe , it should be a Sunny instrument ." As he mentioned , Italian violin school really developed the basic of violin , even J.S.Bach was so influenced by its style ( He never went to the Holy Land he would like to study - Florence ) . The names such as Corelli , Vivaldi , Viotti , Locatelli , Tartini and Telemann all developed the possibilities on " Baroque Violin" , when we listen to them today , there are a lot of sequences , inversions of intervals and variations of motives . The harmony progressions are not complex , they used "Basso continuo" , then played ornamentations on it . As we can imagine , the register of melody wouldn't "jump" so much , either the bowing on right hand , it is more straight and even , almost no articulation , and the dynamic changed stepwise-like . But since it was based on " Basso continuo" , the melody was improvised yet related to the "Basso continuo" strongly , we can equalize it with jazz , the concept is the same , although at that time the term "chord" hadn't came out .
Old time folk and dance music
As far as the form is concerned , at that time , there were a lot kinds of dance music , the titles like Siciliana , Sarabande , Gigue , Ciaccona , Gavotte , Menuet and Bouree etc. all came from European's folk tunes . Since during the days instrumental music was less important than voice music , the music were played much more by amateurs , and they really improvised a lot ! Because the forms were so simple , and people wanted to dance , they inevitably should be played for more than one choruses to extend the time , and it would be very boring if the player repeat the theme again and again , so they would take one part of melody and vary it , or change the theme but still based on the same progression . This kind of approach can still be heard in the countryside of Europe , and they spreaded out to America becoming such styles like Cajun , Bluegrass or Country style , but still in Europe , classical composers took old folk music as their materials , like Brahms , or more obviously , Chopin's music .
Of course , it won't be appropriate to say just "In Europe" , because Europe is so vast , if we continue further on European folk music , they are not only Irish fiddles , Tzigane fiddles , Jewish fiddles , but also fiddle music in almost every European areas and countries . Moreover , we can't ignore the string music out side of Europe , like Africa , Asia and Latin America , but it's too huge to go deeper , and won't be the main subject of this thesis , although I will still mention some of them when they affect the styles I am going to discuss . Just keep in mind that " Improvisation , in one form or another , is the normal way in most musical cultures ."
Theme and Variations
Back to the classical music , composers tended to use the other kind of approach as well , it was called "Theme and Variations". They used that for proving the skill of their composition , from time to time it would be as complex as we can't tell it from the original melody . In Baroque style we have forms such as Ciaccona and Passacaglia by J.S.Bach and G.Handel , actually it's somewhat like the Bass(o) Ostinato we call it today . In classical period , J.Hayden , W.A.Mozart and L.V.Beethoven all wrote numerous "Theme and Variations" , of course , their predecessors had already done that ( Such as the famous "Goldberg Variations " by J.S.Bach ) , but they always developed the concepts more and more , until J.Brahms and later , the ability of variation but based on simple theme had been grew up into an incredible and marvellous level . Taking the violinist and composer N.Paganini for example , the pieces he wrote were actually all the possibilities he tried on the violin at that time , then transcribed by himself afterwards , but the themes are just lovely Italian folk style songs . Obviously , besides violin category , the other instrumentalist / composer like F.Liszt did the same thing on the piano , even they didn't write "Theme and Variations" on the top , they always used certain kinds of approaches on their compositions . From their show-off-like scores , or by another points of view , transcriptions , we know how great the improvisers they were .
However , the "Cadenza" in the back of concerto is probably the most well-known part for improvisation of classical music . Normally it was placed after the second inversion of a I chord and ended upon a V chord . Between the two chords the soloist was given an opportunity showing his ability , and the length was decided by himself . There were a legend said when playing piano concerto written and performed by himself , Beethoven used to play an one-hour-long cadenza ! and the whole symphony orchestra had to wait for him expressing throughout his mind . In fact , Beethoven was also the first composer to write down the cadenza part forcing later performers to play his version , and Mozart would write some notes for reference , but soloists still had the right to play their versions of cadenza until the beginning of 20th century . A lot of accomplished violinists all left one or more great transcriptions with their concept while interpreting the immortal violin concertos , as my personal collections , there are already 13 cadenzas of Beethoven's violin concerto , and 15 for Brahms' ! The most greatest violinists in the century such as Heifetz , Kreisler , Joachim , Ysaye , Vieuxtemps and Milstein are all on the list . From the year they were we can see how the technique and interpretation improved , it's harder & harder , deeper & deeper , sometimes they are even too hard to play , but it refers the extremely high level of that time , what they wrote is what they played ! In some aspects they are really like the legendary solos of Miles Davis and John Coltrane in jazz , it's really meaningful !
Loss of ability to improvise
But gradually , the ability and right of improvisation started to lose from violinists , until now I am still not so clear about the reason , but maybe it's because of the enormous repertoires , techniques , interpretations and spirits , our seniors left too much to us ! we have endless grades to reach , and they are so high that we need a very long time to build the fundament . Further more , there are more and more educational systems , and fostered more and more excellent young violinists , but as we can see and hear , it's really hard to find an unique and personal one , besides techniques and over-the-age virtuosity , we are seemingly losing something , I think one among them is the Art of improvisation , and rests are Bravery , Creativity and Comprisal . Several years ago , the unconventional violinist Nigel Kennedy tried to put a Real cadenza on Beethoven's violin concerto during a concert ( It was released as an album ) , although according to my consideration , he played some Arabian scales and strange stuffs so that it's not a really good cadenza , but the idea should be encouraged and go on .
Still , classical violin music is great , it's so evergreen and so hard that sometimes non-classical musicians can't imagine . we can not ignore the respectable tradition , and it's not really necessary to be taken over by building another system . We have already had enormous repertoires and etudes , all we have to do is adapting them to fit other music styles . For instance , all the approaches the seniors had done were still be used in the music present , because the needs and the essences of music for human being are constant , just style and function changed , for us we should treasure the assets and utilize them appropriately . The most dangerous attitude for different styles musicians is considering their own one is superior than others , every style should be respected and instructed to each other and public , though they are all like high mountains , our predecessors had really adventured before , even it took long life-time .
Evolution of Figure & Sound ~
In my opinion , the sound of violin and relativity of accompanists and circumstances are so important that sometimes more than other elements , because the violin should be heard ! We have to be heard before we talk about representing music and ideas . On the other hand , violinists and luthiers (violin makers) all asked specific demands for handy and pleasant to play , and composers tried them as well from past to present , this situation didn't only exist in classical , but also every kind of music in the world , the instrumentation and music are complement each other .
Back to 17th century , when J.S.Bach wrote his "Six sonatas and partitas for violin solo" that later on became the most important violin repertoire for classical-trained violinists , he wrote for "Baroque Violin" we call it today . It is a gentle instrument , although it looks almost the same , the distance between each string is flat , and the gut strings are closer to the fingerboard . So , plus the loosened bow which looks more like a real bow for hunting , we can even play 3 or 4 strings at the same time , and it's easier to play more parts which were written by the approach of "Counterpoint" . Above all are the reasons why junior violinists who use modern violin have to adjust or change the way they interpret the Baroque pieces like the six solo violin sonatas and partitas by Bach . Within paying a lot of attentions they have to play 3 or 4 notes on the same beat separately , and change some fingertips . Incidentally , the distance between fingerboard and bridge is larger , which means the neck is shorter , we can go to higher positions more easier , so sometimes we would hear the sequence of melody could continue into high register , it's more difficult to do that on modern violin .
But after all , since the structure was loose and flat , the Baroque violin's sound was really small and gentle . However , the other instruments in the same time all can compete the volume , because the place Baroque musicians played was mostly in "Camera" ( Chamber ; Kamer ) , not outdoor , and the audience normally were emperor and noble , the music wouldn't be represented in front of 1000 people . Then , accompanied with the music environment changed , which means violin were played to larger and larger publics , luthiers do did effort on improving the sound and volume . So gradually , the shape of the violin changed , there are more tensions on it , and the bow is tighter , the string are developed more , the meaning of all the changes is creating bigger sound , and up to classical period it can compete with 40 members chamber orchestra .
In 18th century , Leopold Mozart , father of W.A.Mozart , wrote a book called "Grundliche Violinschule"( Thoroughly Treatise of Violin Playing Method ) , this book built a foundation of modern violin playing method , from that step , a lot of violin teachers all left great etudes and literatures for their pupils and juniors , we can say they are really the basic for studying violin , and almost the resources for every great violin work . In the etude books like Kayser , Kreutzer , Dont , Mazas , Sevcik , Rode , etc . ( They are all names of authors ) all give the student textual approachs to develop techniques , dynamics , and most important of all , punchy , beautiful & expressive sound . Though violin looks gentle , but Italian luthiers such as Stradivari and Guarnani all proved their violins can sound perfectly and can be heard in large concert hall or music theater . This is the reason why the antique violins is still be held and searched by professional violinists around the world , and their values are so high , because those fine instruments were designed to play eternal classical violin works . Incidentally , The bow designed by Tourte became the standard , when meeting with Stradivari or Guarnani violin , they produce probably the best sound in the world !
Before going into 19th century , the modern violin had been transmit to India and North-America by European colonizers , and they all continue to have interesting stories , we will talk about them later . In romantic period , composers and violinists cooperated to explore more possibilities , and it became a fantastic era , although the music concept didn't evolute so much , but musicians tried their best to play as exciting as possible , and even compete with 70~100 members symphony orchestra , work such as P.I.Tchaikovsky's violin concerto in D , when it had been done , Tchaikovsky even was laughed by his teacher said it is impossible to play ! But the popularity of the concerto until today proved that almost everything is possible , just try it !
Later on , the figure of violin didn't changed ( Because we need antique violin ! ) , but the late 19th century and early 20th century composers tried out more and more possibilities , either rhythmically and harmonically , they are all hard and marvellous , and it's fun to listen to and get idea from them , jazz-rock violinist Jean-Luc Ponty took them a lot , because he was calssical-trained .
Tuning and resonance
Let's take a look of the violin tuning : they are G-D-A-E from low to high , physically speaking , the most common scale is D major scale (including relative b minor key and parallel d minor key) , it is easier to play and be resonant , so it would sound brilliant and composers love to use that key . Check out most immortal violin concertos : Beethoven , Brahms , Tchaikovsky , Stravinsky , Mozart No .4 , and Paganini No.1 are all in D key . The second important key is G key , then A key , mostly they are open-string keys , and more sharp than flat , it will be more natural to play . Listen to the greatest Jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli carefully , we will find out that he chose those keys a lot , then he could play one of his trademarks - harmonics ! In other words , Grappelli is a gifted musician , he never studied violin , just by watching and listening , but he can make the violin sound naturally . By the way , although he didn't use Stradivari or Guarnani violins , according to jazz violin anthologist Mr.Matt Glaser's report , Grappelli played Italian-made Nicola Gagliano and Gioffredo Cappa violins , then Domenico Montagnana made in 1740 , they are all luxury antique violins , of course it sounds well !
Weak instrument in jazz
Alright , we are in jazz now . Unfortunately , in jazz , violin becomes Weak instrument immediately ! Compared with saxophone , trumpet and drums , violin is really too gentle . although in the beginning of 20th century , the New Orlean had full of blues fiddlers , and there were a lot of string band in Kansas City , Chicago and Mississippi area , their instruments weren't amplified , and in the same group there were "just" voice , fiddle , guitar and banjo ( mandolin joined in later , by the way , they constituted the group form of most American folk fiddle music ) , so it didn't matter at all . However , accompanied with horns and percussions showed up , violin couldn't be heard gradually , violin players had to give their favorite instrument up . If they still love to play jazz , they would turn to other "easier-to-survive" instruments , such as Claude Williams played guitar in Count Basie's big band , Milt Hinton played double bass and Ray Nance played cornet in Duke Ellington's big band .
Experiments of amplification
If someone didn't want to be defeated , they would like to amplify their violin . The earliest one that we know started to experiment is Augustus Stroh who lived in the beginning of 20th century , he invented a type of violin that incorporated elements of the gramophone ( the Belgian luthier Jan Strick owned one hanging on the wall of his workshop ) . And after couldn't be heard in Jelly Roll Morton's band , the other great violinist Stuff Smith started to experiment . First of all he used the Augustus Stroh's model - they called it "phonofiddle" at that time , but soon he wanted his own electronic amplification , he did his effort on all the way such as attaching a microphone to the lapel or even on the violin ! Obviously , it wouldn't only looks but also sounds awful , but at least his sound can be heard while playing with his Onyx Club Boys in 1936 .
As time went by , violinists' sound is weaker and weaker , because other instruments are louder and louder . Just like we see , it's really rare to see a violin player played in a big band , it's impossible , we can not hear ourselves ! Although violinist / trumpetist Ray Nance was given chances by Duke Ellington in some occasional solos , but I assume those were done in recording studio or lowered down the volume of the band when violin is playing . I read the literature about Joe Venuti , when he was playing in Roger Wolfe Kahn and Jean Goldkette's big band , he had obliged to play a duet with guitarist friend - Eddie Lang while the rest of the band appeared to take a 32 bar tea break ! So unless using small combo plus a microphone with stand or rough amplification , violin wouldn't be heard in front of publics .
Jazz is horns and rhythm section's world Going into bebop era , the situation became worse . Have you ever heard a really "bebop" violinist's name as big as Charlie Parker , Dizzy Gillespie or Bud Powell ? Though in every violin anthology books there was a Gypsy called Elek Bacsik on the list , it's hard to find out here , because his main career was more based on playing guitar than violin ( He used to play with Dizzy Gillespie ) . we can say jazz had already been occupied by horns and rhythm section , it's a heating era . According to violinist Claude Williams from Oklahoma , he recalled the situation "Kansas City was saxophone-country . If I played at a jam session I always tried to play one of the first solos . Once those guys got started you might as well forget . You'd just be back there riffing the rest of the night ..." . However , violinists still played and be influenced by bebop style , just hard to be heard , we will talk about them in the styles chapter .
Amplifier , microphone and sound men
Focusing on sound , violinists tried microphone , pick-up or transducer adding on their acoustic violin , but there were no perfect ways . The other problem people noticed less is the amplifier , there was no specific violin amp for a long time , violinists had no choice but plug into guitar amp ( The P.A. men always thought guitar and violin are the same - because they are "high-register" instrument ?! ) . But the sound of guitar amp is more shrill and sharp , sometimes plus low-quality microphone or piezo pick-up on violin ( which catches detail , but too much high tone ) , it would sound very flat , cold and unspontaneous , that's the sound we heard in most early jazz violin recording , it lacked the original warm , expressive and charming violin sound .
But there is one can still be pleasant to listen to - Stephane Grappelli . As we mentioned before , he uses luxury Italian-made violin , and knows how to make it sounds well , what's the secret of his amplification ? Instead of using "high-technology" , Grappelli always carries his acoustic violin with him , and plays in front of a normal microphone , then the P.A. man or engineer will take care of him , so his sound would never be drowned in the group . Later on he started to use big gooseneck condenser microphone , which the sound can be kept naturally and warm , like original acoustic violin sound .
Sawing violin yet hardly to be heard
Yet not everybody is as lucky ( or rich , maybe he hired the sound men ) as Grappelli , normally the common frustrating experience of jazz violinists is during the jam session , even we used our strongest energy trying to "saw" our violins , we were still looked like a fool to put a quart into a pint pot on stage , because we couldn't relax ! we had to worry about our sounds . Now situation is a little bit better , I've tried SD System's mini gooseneck condenser mic which can be clipped on violin recently , when I was playing I become Grappelli immediately ! But the only big problem of microphone is it's too easy to feedback , when horns joined in ( I'm sorry for horn players , but your sounds are really too strong ! ) , and violinist or sound man had to adjust the volume , then we became noise-maker right away . So microphone is really suited for playing in a small compo with lead violin or string band ( Turtle Island String Quartet use similar CROWN microphones ) .
If violinists are braver and tend to compete with Coltrane-influenced saxophonists and Jones-like drummers , inevitably they need a more powerful instrument . In 1968 , Jean-Luc Ponty was the first one started to use Barcus Berry electric violin , it's a violin with pick-up on the bridge ( some models have volume knob ) , and can be connected with a phone jack , it isn't necessary to worry about feedback , then violinists can play like electric guitarists ! Barcus Berry divided the bridge with pick up for sell individually , which means violinists can buy one and set it up on their acoustic violin , so jazz or rock violinists around 1970~80's all used that model . If we listen to the recordings of Ponty , Michal Urbaniak , Zbigniew Seifert who played modern jazz or fusion style , we can recognize the tone immediately , it sounds thick , flat , aggressive and sometimes like adding a bit wah-wah effect ( because of too much middle frequency ) , but if violinists insist to be heard , they got to give something up .
Use of effects processors
With the advantage of full amplification , violin sound can be added various effects like electric guitar . The one of the most famous effected tone was made by Jean-Luc Ponty in 1970's , he put wah-wah and phaser effects on electric violin , which produced a aggressive , sharp , floating and a bit mysterious "funky" tone . Seifert used the same device , but with different taste it sounded a little bit distinct . Plus their virtuosities , the solos sometimes sounded like a synthesizer tone , but that certain kind of sound was widely used in 1970~80's . Check out the Brecker Brothers in 70's , they tried the same thing .
Extending the ideas and searching for the new sounds Of course , the standard jazz sound during and just before that period are like Miles Davis' coldness and straightness , or John Coltrane's uncompromise and sheets of sound , so jazz-rock violinists didn't have to worry about the sound quality like we did on acoustic violin , Ponty even gave up to use vibrato , because it was originally used for warming the color , and it would be useless when playing that kind of music and throughout from hard amplification . On the other hand , at that time musicians were very enthusiastic to find out new sounds , just like synthesizer showed up and appearance of various effect processors , violinists experimented as well . They used reverbs , digital delays and patched some kinds of popular effects , and those would affect the original violin playing method , such as used less bow and added more pressure on right hand , or even played with stroke to produce percussive sound . French violinist Didier Lockwood often played with just auto wah-wah effect that sounds cute and humorous , and it needs more accentuations on right hand . Polish violinist Michal Urbaniak used 5 or 6 strings violin and violectra ( a violin with octave-lower strings ) as well as Ponty , it can be played basically and stretched the register , Ponty used it twice in the albums with John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra .
The former violinist of Mahavishnu Orchestra - Jerry Goodman arranged to add distortion on his playing , and in 1991 a fabulous hard rock violin player came into the field and played like Joe Satriani , this guy's name is Mark Wood , although someone would criticise him played like electric guitar too much , but from other point of view , it's truly interesting ! He even made "Flying V" 5-strings violin and double-necks violin . However , Mark Wood was not the first one making and playing double-necks violin , in 1970's , Indian violinists Shankar made 10-strings double-necks violin by himself , which combined register from double bass to violin , and they functioned as inter-sympathetic .
Furthermore , a brand called ZETA , which produce solid body electric violin , were widely used by most noted non-classical violinists , Ponty said it's the first " high-quality" electronic violin he ever played . The sound is smooth , powerful but highly equalized , when going into 80's , Ponty used that first for most of his late albums and tours . I owned one too , personally , I quite like it ' cause it's very characteristic , the sound is "powdered" and "flaxy" , means it's really an "electric" violin , but it will be easily distinguished even in a large combos like fusion , funk , rock and Afro-Cuban styles . The other unique character is its transducer is MIDI capable , with " Pitch-to-MIDI" converter , we can use it for a MIDI controller ( like EWI - Electric Woodwind Instrument used by saxophonist ) . Nevertheless , I found it just for show off and played some long notes or pad for the moment , it hasn't be as perfect as they declare ( and it's expensive ! ) . It didn't follow my playing 100% , which means it always delayed , and since violin is fretless , unless highly classical-trained and pay particular attention , it's hard to "pitch-to-MIDI" . Both Ponty and Lockwood all use that function for laying an octave-lower or higher pad or MIDI some synthesizer-based "effects", and avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson use the device a lot in her theater music . Although the other company ROLAND released MIDI Synths as well , for me it's not really interesting to try it out , the first reason is I prefer keeping as much violin's characters as possible , too much synthesizer sounds will be confused as keyboard player's solo . Secondly , it's not so good to lost in technology then forget music itself !
Multi-function and various circumstances to play
Nowadays violinists are lucky , we have more than 20 kinds of brand to choose for , either solid body electric violins , piezo pick-ups , magnetic pick-ups , mini microphones , preamps , effect processors , etc. . However , no one can reach the ideal level , they are inter-compensative . Generally speaking , no matter solid body or pick-up were used , a preamp and equalizer are necessary , because through the amplification , violin sound will changed ( normally the mellow resonance of low string would be lost , and high string is too sharp ) , if we would like to have more original violin timbre , we should equalize it . But a concept should be clear : Just like difference between acoustic guitar and electric guitar , the playing way , the function , the situation and the circumstances changed more often , sometimes we should distinguish from each other . For example , when playing with Latin band and jazz quartet , the sound we choose and equalize should be completely different and fit the ambience . Some friends used to tell me that the highly-effected tone of Didier Lockwood's fusion violin playing made them feel it's not violin at all , but take a look of Charlie Christian , didn't we say something about electric guitar is worse than flamingo guitar ?
After all , music is the most important thing , if we can make people feel good , they won't care which kind of instrument we played . Just like Michael Brecker plays EWI and Vinnie Colaiuta plays electric drums , a lot of people still love them , and besides learning the "new" instrument , they still respect the tradition , and play like masters . So luthiers shall continue to develop violin technology as perfect as possible , players and audience shall get accustomed of it , then try to manage it .
Styles & Influences of Non-classical Violin Music ~
Violin isn't an easy instrument to study
In jazz education , students all be taught to emulate the masters of their instruments , such as alto sax goes to Charlie Parker , trumpet goes to Freddie Hubbard and guitar goes to Wes Montgomery , etc. . However , in violin category , it's a little bit hard to find out just only one influential "jazz violin" source , because violin's history is so long , and the tradition is too big ! Seldom jazz violinist can "escape" from the territory even nowadays , the reason is simple : violin is not an easy instrument to play and learn ! Have you heard a saxophone or double bass player learn their instrument from 4~5 years old ? Logically and physically not , yet in violin world it's very common . Since violin is fretless and hard to cooperate with both hands , children have to establish their fundament , sense and the factors we've talked in the beginning of the thesis in the childhood ( Don't worry , we have all sizes of violin up to 4/4 ) , generally speaking , it's quite hard to self-study .
Classical violin influence
Let's take a look of early noted jazz violinist , besides Stuff Smith , the rests are all Europeans or lived here for a long time . There are French such as Stephane Grappelli and Jean-Luc Ponty , Danish Svend Asmussen , an Italian immigrant Joe Venuti then grew up in America , and Eddie South , though he is a black came from Louisiana , he studied classical and gypsy violin and travelled in Europe for a long time . On the other hand , almost all of them were classical-trained then participated into jazz . I am not a European racialist ( I come from Asia ! ) , but the truth tells us even early jazz violinists still continued the fine European violin tradition .
The other influence is relative : The gypsy music . In the late 19th century and beginning of 20th century , there were a lot of gypsy musicians active in Europe , especially in west European Cities like Paris and Brussels . It's a kind of exotic fashion so that musicians in conservatory , club , hotel and restaurant all played or be influenced by it . And at that time , a lot of remarkable classical violinists such as Sarasate , Hubay , Joachim , Ysaye , etc. wrote violin music imitating that style ( some of them are even come from Hungary , or are gypsy themselves ) , we played a lot mostly for encore piece in the end of recital nowadays . The gypsy fiddle music and improvisation had already influenced all the violinists at that time , even self-studied genius - Stephane Grappelli .
Among the gypsy musicians , guitarist / violinist Django Reinhardt started to organized a band playing in Paris , with young Grappelli joined in , they made a success , then gradually spreaded this kind of music out of Europe . However , Grappelli was not the only one at that time , he played piano in the band originally . The other American violinist Eddie South even studied gypsy violin with Jazoz Derzo in Budapest Conservatory , applying his academic virtuosity , he played jazz in a marvellous way . In 1937 he worked and recorded with Reinhardt and Grappelli in Paris , and appreciated each other a lot . Inspired by South plus duo style of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang , Django then reorganized the band into Quintet of Hot Club of France and individualised Grappelli on violin .
In the birth place of jazz - America , the blues oriented violinists were growing meanwhile . The black slaves who played fiddle were as old as voice in 1700's , and they were two primary instruments involved in creating the blues . The reason is violin can imitate the blusy sound like voice - it can slide , bend , shake which could produce blue notes and sustained notes . Since blues fiddlers hadn't been academic trained , the timbre and the feel were absolutely different from European classical violin , of course it included intonation , maybe that's why some European would say it was out of tune and non-virtuostic . However , we should take a serious look of the feel and groove , they are the unique elements we should learn ! Take Howard Armstrong , Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Stuff Smith or Ray Nance for listening , their rhythm and sense are so spectacular , though it's won't be comfortable if we listen to them for a long time .
I think I should give my personal opinion for why blues fiddlers ( especially insisters like Papa John Creach and Don "Sugarcane" Harris play in R&B style , etc. ) sound unpleasant quite often . First of all we come back to the same problem : Violin is fretless ! If other instruments tuned with care , they never think about that problem , but for violin , if just an 0.05mm difference we place our finger , it won't be the same note , so if blues fiddler slide , gliss , bend or shake too much , it won't give audience steady feeling , this occurred especially while blues fiddler was playing with other instruments , which they were improved more and more technologically , fiddlers stayed the bad quality instrument ( no Italian-made now , someone even made one by themselves ! ) , rough amplication and the same playing way , surely it wouldn't sound well . On the other hand , blues wasn't a pleasant music originally , fiddlers tried to emulate crying and yelling tone on their violin , and maybe it's an important matter .
Of course , when blues was evoked by jazz , rock or R&B , we had different kind of meaning gradually , we would learn hundreds of blues licks and play thousand times of 12 bar blues form , such as one of the most noted patterns by Ponty is a fast blusy pattern for getting the heat , but the sense we tried to know should be owned by listening to as much blues as we can .
The jazz tradition
Back to the tradition , if we figure the black , Stuff Smith took the cake , his rhythmical approach , emotional expression and excellent swing feel earned other musicians' respect , Dizzy Gillespie even told others that Stuff Smith is one of his musical resources . Obviously , we won't expect he playing like a bird ( just like his European contemporaries ) , but we should listen to him carefully to know how he could "parch" the session into "hot" boundary .
The other influence was made by white , Joe Venuti and his colleague Eddie Lang contributed the development of swing , then affected Grappelli and Django to confirm their band style in 1930's . And Venuti affected Danish violinist Svend Asmussen as well , Asmussen copied group form and style of Venuti's Blues Four , than became famous in Denmark , even Benny Goodman tried to invite him to play in his small group , but he denied . Since there were a lot American jazz musicians lived or toured in Europe in 1940's , he absorbed the woodwind and horn's vocabularies , resulting his theoretics-oriented style , sometimes that involved into more bebop approach later .
Violinists who still lived in American jazz scene were infected by other jazz musicians also . Though they were less known , Claude "Fiddler" Williams , Joe Kennedy Jr. and later John Blake all proved they can improvised in bebop and R&B style, and had strong relationships with accomplished jazz musicians , such as John Blake played with McCoy Tyner and Grover Washington Jr. , Joe Kennedy played with his cousin Benny Carter , Stuff Smith played with magnificent musicians including Oscar Peterson , Dizzy Gillespie and Herb Ellis , and 90-years-old Claude Williams is still be proud by Kansas City musicians .
Young classical-trained lions in 1970s
Then , the young classical-trained lions came in , Jean-Luc Ponty , Zbigniew Seifert and Michal Urbaniak proved their virtuosities and imaginations , but they didn't follow their seniors' pace . They listened to the mainstream jazz instruments like saxophone , trumpet , piano and guitar , then absorbed a lot of vocabulary from them . So , bebop scale , diminished scale and pentatonic scale were used more than diatonic scales and arpeggios the earlier jazz violinists used . Furthermore , they like to match the volume , dynamic and power of modern jazz musicians such as John Coltrane , accompanied with improvement of amplification , they would reach them , and shocked the audience . Personally I consider it's the second-time inspiration for violinists , 'cause they didn't feel scared when playing in jazz combos at all ! And they were given opportunities to develop their personal style and music , most of all had earned the recognition of musicians , critics and audiences .
On the other way , some violinist felt like playing heavier music style , and they organized or joined rock bands . The groups such as Sea-Train including Richard Greene and Jerry Goodman with The Flock , of course we won't forget Jerry Goodman and Jean-Luc Ponty's contributions to Mahavishnu Orchestra and Ponty with Frank Zappa . And the violinists we mentioned above all participated in fusion style , and probably they were all famous of that more than their straight-ahead jazz style capability .
However , Some violinists felt like going far from their step . Inspired by Ornatte Coleman and post-Coltrane style , Leroy Jenkins and his pupil Billy Bang evolved into free jazz territory . By using fretless and virtuostic characters they played "everything" on violin . Although the sound and music represented would drive audience away from violin quite often , and in fact it's a bit out of my favorite , but it's interesting to listen to them from time to time for getting ideas . I particularly enjoy contemporary violinists Mark Feldman and Envind Kang's music with John Zorn and Bill Frisell , they are fabulous great for me !
More and more
In present day violinists can receive more information and knowledge by listening and education , and we don't district in just violin music but also interest in other music . On the other hand , more music styles were instructed and developed to young violin players , such as Latin , funk , new age , world and hip-pop , just like Alfredo de la fe and Susie Hansen on salsa and Latin-jazz , Noel Pointer on R&B and funk , Steve Kindler and Charlie Bisharat on new age , Mark O'Connor on country , L. Shanker and L. Subramaniam on India , Michal Urbaniak on hip-pop and acid-jazz , Mat Maneri on microtonal and Regina Carter on multi-style , etc. , whether you like them or not , they are all developing their style and appreciate others , that's a good aspect .
Out side of U.S.A. , more and more improvising violinists contributed them into the interesting scene . In Europe , there are lot of jazz and fusion violinists who inspired by Seifert or Ponty , such as French Didier Lockwood was inspired by Seifert and promoted by Grappelli , and what he did and is doing are really interesting for me . Others like Pierre Blanchard , Jean-Luc Pino , Debora Seffer , Dominique Pifarely , to name a few in France . Wolfgang Kliegel , Jorg Widmoser and Ulli Bartel in Germany , etc. . Even in Japan , new violin players we've never heard such as Kaneko Aska , Sachiya Kawana and Naoko Terai (who plays with Kenny Barron) appeared in the articles of critics . There are huge numbers of improvising violinists to be found out and listen to , and they all can play , it's not for fun now !
Next paragraphs I would like to give my personal point of view and brief opinion to several "important" jazz and improvising violinists . Regardless of chronological and alphabetic order , I would like to concentrate on their influence and practical assets for us :
My personal point of view
Stephane Grappelli -
Undoubtedly , Grappelli is the most well known jazz violinist in the world , and he is worthy of the fame . His uncommon virtuosity and classical violin sound distinguished from his peers could satisfied audiences , classical violinists and conservatory students . However , he is not the only one ,because there were a lot less-known violinists who played different characteristically , but I can say he is the most "Violinistic" one ! He made the violin sound excellent , and had endless energy to play in heating mood . we've analyze some of the elements constituting his style in the previous chapters , yet musically , he stayed in his own concept almost whole his career : Relaxant , happy , elegant and charming ! Like the early jazz style , he stayed in more diatonic scales , arpeggios , modulated patterns , harmonics , certain licks , and played by listening to the harmonic and rhythmic structure of music , then "feel" them rather than merorizing them . One thing should be known that he was an excellent jazz pianist as well ! Just because there were too many pianists in his beginning of career , then he turned to violin , "Violin is just my gimmick !" he said . By knowing the harmonic aspect he knows where to go , then where to out .
The other thing that amazed me is he never study violin ! Just by watching and emulating classical violinists at that time , he could control the instrument so well and never play out of tune . However I assume it's because of the circumstances around him . First of all , he grew up in the first half of 20th century , where music was easy to get , and easy to concentrate , and he lived in Paris , worked in a high society , it's hard to "escape" the fashion music during that era - classical and gypsy music , so those became his big sources . Secondly , for the style he played , I can say he almost didn't change his style , although he told interviewer he had to adapt his style into the musician he cooperate such as McCoy Tyner and Martial Solal , but actually they are pianists , they adapted for him ! So although he is probably the musician who recorded most albums in the history , the concept is always the same .
Nevertheless , he is still one of the greatest improviser in the world , because he improvised really from heart , from thought , his playing is his personality . Moreover , it's not fair to analyze him stringently , just like Art Tatum never played like Bill Evans , but they are unique !
A lot of classical-trained violin players were impressed by Grappelli then tended to play like him , even a lot of bad restaurant violin players stole some of his licks and approachs then thought they played like him ! But it's not that easy , we never learn his charming feel , like swing , it's too natural to be "detected" . Practically , it's nice to listen to him and enjoy it , but not concentrate too much . Though I still transcribed his solos , it won't fit the modern music demands much , and no one will invite me to their band or jam session . I heard he played one time in Nigel Kennedy's album "Kafka" , and it's a horror for me ! For Grappelli , we should appreciate , respect and treasure his style and person .
I wrote down so much for Grappelli because he is the most famous and one of the greatest jazz violinists , and he will eternally be .
Jean-Luc Ponty -
We are in second-time inspiration for violinist now . Ponty is my favorite jazz / fusion violinist for the moment . One of the reasons is he was classical-trained , and his adaption from classical to jazz and fusion is a good example for my study . The most famous contribution of him is he is a pioneer to use electric violin in jazz , and I agree he declared himself he is the first one to break Grappelli's style as well , though the atmosphere had already been formed in late 1960's by everyone .
However , the early period of Ponty is really an interesting part , we can hear very clearly that he absorbed bebop vocabularies a lot , then represented it in an ideal way . By checking out his three jazz standards live recordings with Daniel Humair and Eddy Louiss in 1968 , or "Violin Summit" album in 1966 , we found out that he was a perfect bebop violin player ! Then gradually while he was playing with George Duke , he became modern and modal more and more , inspired by John Coltrane doesn't mean he played exactly like Coltrane , yet he learnt the sound , the phrase and the power from the master . During the colaberations with Frank Zappa and John McLaughlin , he changed his interest to fusion because he found jazz musicians were somewhat conservative .
However , Ponty himself was also a little bit conservative as we hear today . His best performances were all found in his early jazz-rock / fusion period , then the later albums were almost the same , though he still played clean and marvellous constructed solos with excellent syncopation and pitch as before , the composition idea was limited on sequenced arrangements and rush accompaniments , it makes people boring . His latest interest turns into west African music and rhythm , I assume he still insists a lot , though his popularity has dropped down a little .
Zbigniew Seifert -
Seifert died very young in 33 years old because of cancer , and didn't leave a lot of recording to us , I have 3 albums recorded between 1974~1979 . But I bet if he is still alive , the history of jazz violin will change ! " I've never heard such a violinist before ." quoted from McCoy Tyner in 1976 . Seifert respects John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner a lot ( he even had at least two pieces dedicated to McCoy ) , he always told other musicians when he was playing violin he would imagine Coltrane was playing on it , so that he tried not to play the instrument as usual , although he was classical-trained as well . He was deeply influenced by Coltrane at all , just compare Coltrane's soprano saxophone sound with his violin sound , we can hear a lot of similarities . I can say the power he circulated is the strongest among jazz violinists , and when we have interest to touch modern jazz , we should check him out for reference .
The first album I have - "Man of The Light" is a real modern jazz violin playing with Billy Hart , Cecil McBee , Joachim Kuhn and Jasper van't Hof . The second is unusually a fusion album featuring Brecker Brothers , and the third one is a memorable album after he died , which contained eight pieces he ever played with Wolfgang Dauner , Jan Hammer , Richie Beirach , Hans Koller and Philip Catherine , to name a few . Young Didier Lockwood saw his playing then decided to play jazz violin , we still can hear some inspiration on Lockwood's early recording , but maybe too much pentatonic scales ?!
Lockwood , Urbaniak & Blake -
In 1986 , one French , one Polish and one American were gathered and released an album called " Rhythm & BLU." , which showed the flavor of their music styles and attitude - They tried to replace the position of lead saxophone on funk , R&B and fusion , so three of them all paced the fashion of contemporary .
Firstly let's take a look of Didier Lockwood : He has exactly the same academic education as Ponty ( they all graduated from National Superior Conservatory in Paris with First Prize - they are all good classical violinists even now ) , and truly in the beginning he proved he can play like Ponty did . But unlike Ponty insists in his style , Lockwood is very changeable , he always catch the smell the fasion they plays them on violin , and more "funkier" than jazz ( Although he still play excellent ! ) . Compared with Ponty and him , I found Lockwood is more on-the-stage , let's say it simply - more commercial ! He knows how to make audience crazy , and often goes to the climax quicker , you have no idea but just listen to him , I've seen Lockwood played live once , his virtuostic playing , big sound , body movement and smile made me believe he is saying "Hey , look at me , I am a different violin player than others !" , and Ponty is more attentive and calm to build up his solo . And the other difference is Lockwood used more guitar-like effects than Ponty ( Ponty is more general ) , so if we say Ponty plays saxophone on his violin , I would consider Lockwood plays more like electric guitar player - very aggressive as well , his several fusion album shows his comprisal of all kinds of fiddle music . However , accompanied with the growth of the age , he " goes" back to acoustic violin and plays jazz more and more , the 1995 "New York Rendez-Vous" album which he played with top jazz musicians David Liebman , Peter Erskine , Dave Holland , Dave Kikoski , Gil Goldstein , Mike Stern and 1996 "Storyboard" album featuring Steve Gadd , Joey DeFrancesco and James Genus proved he is not only a straight-ahead violinist but also in the spotlight .
Compared with his senior Seifert , Michal Urbaniak earned more recognition as a polish jazz violinist . However , he is a pentatonic user at all , I heard his jazz standards playing ( featuring Dave Kikoski as well - he is a good sideman ! ) , which were not so interesting for me , 'cause he would utilized tricks that actually not so difficult by violin players but would flattered the audience , and again , too much pentatonic scales ! Though he even groups a hip-hop "Urbanator" for several years , I can say he did efforts on music styles more than on violin .
John Blake is the other good example . Living and educated in U.S.A. , he is more participating into mainstream American music , if we listen to his album , it combines soul , R&B and pop , yet easy to listen to , even sometimes I feel his timbre is too gentle and soft . Mr.Blake ( sometimes added Jr.) is also a active jazz violin educator in U.S.A , and helps a lot of young lions , Regina Carter is one of his protegee .
Regina Carter -
She is the type of young educated jazz violinist - plays with standard jazz approach , and used to cross over different music styles . She is quite well known now in U.S.A. , and released two albums under her name ( she appeared on Down Beat's critic and reader's poll often these years ) . I enjoy her playing quite so well and be happy to hear her trying out in multi-styles , let's wait and see for the young female violinist !
Mark Feldman -
This guy is a monster ! He absorbed everything including classical , contemporary , jazz , Latin and beyond , then no one can play like him . Cooperated with John Zorn and founded a string trio "Arcado" , they play the style sometimes critics call it "third-stream" or "avant-garde" , but regardless of names , it's really a must to listen to him , although he "hid" in Nashville's studio for a long time as a session player , his playing with Arcado , John Zorn , Billy Hart and Phil Haynes can easily be found .
Of course , there are still more and more improvising violinists are waiting to be discovered , above all are just my favorites for the moment , and their background and contribution all react the successive changes of jazz violin . I wish we can learn a lot from them , know the experiences of them and take them to examine ourselves , then introduce and instroduce them to audiences , musicians and students .
Epilogue : Sources & Resources ~
Since there aren't a lot of anthology and study books concentrating on non-classical violin , the list below is the information I've found and studied , which includes books , articles and www sites on internat , they might be useful for interested people .
"Jazz Violin" by Matt Glaser and Stephane Grappelli / Oak - This is a detailed anthology book paying a lot of attention on early jazz violinists and styles , of course mostly on Grappelli himself . Solo transcriptions and interviews with Grappelli and Ponty , etc. , very basic . By the way , Mr. Matt Glaser is a jazz violin teacher and now director of String Department in Berklee College of Music .
"Improvising Violin - Revised Edition" by Julie Lyonn Lieberman / Huiksi Music - The "newest" instructional book that introducing more contemporary violinists and styles even including blues , rock , folk and new age . However , although she seemed to integrate the jazz violin education , but personally I smell a atmosphere of commerce . She introduced her "friends" in U.S.A. more than general , and held a lot historical recordings and literatures to be "sold" , but her research should be respected still .
"Blues Fiddle" by Julie Lyonn Lieberman / Oak - The same author's first anthology book , but just researched blues fiddle and blues-origin violinists derived from American culture . Yet it's an excellent literature for study .
"Jazz Violin - Roots and Branches" by Gene Lowinger / G.Schirmer - More general that discussed from Joe Venuti to Michal Urbaniak including solo transcriptions and opinions . However I didn't find the background data of the author in the book .
"Anthology of Jazz Violin Styles" by Dave Reiner & Glenn Asch / Mel Bay - An old book that seldom to be found in bookstores , but it contains several different styles , and talks about the position of violin in non-classical styles . One thing amazed me is they not only analyzed each styles , but also wrote tunes by emulating them , which is quite so interesting !
"Jazz Violin" by Hanno Grasser / Voggenreiter - The only book I've ever seen that contains analyse of Zbigniew Seifert ( Of course it contains the other important jazz violinists as well ) . From the transcription and analyse I assume it's a good anthology , although there is only German version !
Numerous articles from New Grove Dictionary , Down Beat , String , Strad and other magazines , liner notes from artists' albums and internet , etc. .
*2000 Additional Items :
"Down Beat Music Workshop Jazz Improvisation Method 1 - Strings : Violin and Viola" and "Jazz Treble Clef Expressions & Explorations" by David Baker / Alfred(out of print) ; Jamey Aebersold - David Baker is a veteran jazz educator and bandleader , Trombonist and Cellist . He pulished a lot of books for learning jazz improvisation , this two aim at string instruments , making them being valuable . Personally I prefer the former one , 'cause the information inside is fruitful , and it contains more resources , however it was out of print ; The second book emphasizes on "fret" concept (equal to "Position" concept on violin) , memorize the phrases and chords in the way guitar players use , making them much easier to be transposed , the rest are general David Baker-style writing , which is more basic .
"Reading Key Jazz Rhythms (for violin)" by Fred Lipsius (Violin by Evan Price) / Advance Music - Seldom books can deal with jazz rhythm , yet this series did a great job . Based on 24 jazz standards chord changes , the author wrote "written solos" which include beautiful lines and important notes . And every etude concentrates on certain jazz rhythm and syncopation , Play-A-Long and demonstration CD was enclosed .
WWW sites on internet -
"Mark Chung's Jazzstrings" - The most detailed database and information center , it's a sort of improvising violinists' association , we can get news , history and development here monthly .
"Bow Electricticy" - Mainly intersted in electric violins and similar devices , but has an huge instruction of violinist by all kinds of style . The advantage of this web site is it shares almost all kinds of amplification that we can get the info and recording and performance tips for sound .
"John Reeves' Jazz Violin List" - A specialist's corner that collecting even less-known violinists "around the world" . The other wibe site of him contains more even with audio clips .
"Strings At Berklee" - Hosted by Matt Glaser , it's essential to see how's the textural jazz violin education formed . By the way , I've heard their graduate - Even Price , which is pretty strong .
(*2008 - Maybe some of the websites no longer exist anymore, please google again...)
Nevertheless , personally speaking and by observation , if violin player were strictly classical-trained , he must owned good techniques , good ears and good studying attitule . By involving into jazz everyday for years , transcribe not only jazz violinists but even more mainstream jazz instruments a lot , adapt the swing feel and cool sound into violin playing , then learn the theory , everybody become his own individual style . Like we've seen in previous chapters , there was no one "jazz violin school" before ! It's clear that we should serve our instrument seriously , though it's not easy .
Appendix : Audio Instruction of Improvising Violinists ~
Year of Release
|Kansas City Blues Strummers||Broken Bed Blues||"String Band (1926~1931)" , Blues Record Centre||
|The Dixieland Jug Blowers||Boodle-Am Shake||"Hot Violins" , BBC||
|Joe Venuti & Eddie Lang||The Wild Cat||"Hot Violins" , BBC||
|Hugo Rignold||Calling All Keys||" Hot Violins" , BBC||
|Emilio Caceres||I Got Rhythm||"Hot Violins" , BBC||
|Alfredo Campoli||Monti : Czardas||"Alfredo Campoli and His Salon Orchestra" , Pavilion Records||
|Eddie South and Stephane Grappelli||Improvisation on 1st mov. of Bach's double violins concerto||"Eddie South(1923~1937)" , The Classics Chronogical Series||
|Stephane Grappelli & McCoy Tyner||Satin Doll||"One On One" , Milestone Records||
|Svend Asmussen & Stuff Smith||Timme's Blues||"Violin Summit" , MPS Records||
|Svend Asmussen||It Don't Mean A Thing||"Violin Summit" , MPS Records||
|Claude Williams||Bille's Bounce||"Live at J's , Vol.1" , Arhoolie Records||
|Stephane Grappelli & Jean-Luc Ponty||Pent-Up House||"Violin Summit" , MPS Records||
|George Duke & Jean-Luc Ponty||Canteloupe Island||"Live At Donte's" , Pacific Jazz (Capital) Records||
|Zbigniew Seifert||City of Spring||"Man of the Light" , MPS Records||
|Jean-Luc Ponty||Aurora - Part II||"Aurora" , Atlantic Records||
|Didier Lockwood||Metissa||"Phoenix 90" , JMS Records||
|Mark Wood||The Howling||"Voodoo Violince" , Guitar Recordings||
|John Blake(acoustic) , Michal Urbaniak(5-strings distortion) , Didier Lockwood(Zeta electric)||Fiddle Funk||"Rhythm & BLU." , Gramavision Records||
|Didier Lockwood||Anatole Blues||"New York Rendez-Vous" , JMS Records||
|Regina Carter||Centro Habana||"Something for Grace" , Atlantic Records||
|Mark Feldman||Behind the Myth||"Arcado String Trio - Live In Europe" , Avan Records||
|Mark Feldman||Caprice||"Music for Violin Alone" , Tzadik F Records||
Solo Transcription ~
Solos On "Pent-Up House" by Stephane Grappelli & Jean-Luc Ponty