Jazz and reinterpretation

I recently read Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues, which is about a group of jazz musicians in Berlin and Paris at the cusp of the second world war. I enjoyed the story, the dynamics of the characters, the style of writing, and the ‘jazz life’ and blend of real and fictional jazz musicians that are part of the story.

Thus inspired, I was looking around itunes to acquaint myself with classic jazz and ragtime a little more – my collection so far being limited to Nina Simone, and at the other end of the spectrum, Mr. Scruff and Quantic. So how timely, then, that just as I was finishing the book, I came across this article about a reinterpretation of Sweet Child o’ Mine in the style of 1920s New Orleans Jazz.

I found that just brilliant, and it then led me to more of Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox. They remake popular music in alternative styles – usually retro styles: jazz, doo wop, country, bluegrass – but anything goes, with a healthy load of mashups (Bohemian Rhapsody in Blue, God Rest Ye Mr. Saxobeat), and a Mariachi version of Avicii’s Wake Me Up.

Some of my favourites include their ‘exhibition’ pieces, such as Fever done in 12 styles,

and Twinkle Twinkle through the ages.

Of course just like parody, I think the real joy in reinterpretation and mashups comes from recognising the various elements in different settings, but even with the songs I don’t already know, I find their music a pleasure to listen to anyway.

A lovely diversion down the jazz road, but coming back to my original investigations, I ended up going right back, and got myself music by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, who certainly didn’t create jazz, but made the first commercial recordings in 1917. The compilation I have is called “The Creators of Jazz“, released in 2001 by Avid. It’s pretty upbeat, quirky, brass-band stuff – the sort of brass band music I associate with Americana, football games, ticker tape parades…

Next up, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Coleman, Louis Prima, the wishlist keeps growing…

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