Jazz inspired by classical music: 5 of the best pieces

Jazz inspired by classical music

Jazz inspired by classical music. Photo: Tom Palumbo from New York City, USA

Plenty of classical composers drew on elements of jazz. But what about jazz inspired by classical music? Here are five of the best jazz takes on classical music.

1. “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Miles Davis

When the Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo wrote his guitar concerto in 1939, he described it as capturing “the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds, and the gushing of fountains” in the gardens of Aranjuez. Twenty one years later, the legendary Miles Davis capitalised on those sounds and fragrances, blending elements of jazz and Spanish folk music to powerfully sensual effect. Evidently, he recognised the power of what he had created, commenting that the melody in the second movement “is so strong that the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets.”

Listen: Interview with jazz musician Julian Costello

2.”Bach to Swing” by Claude Bolling

Next up in our survey of jazz inspired by classical music: Blaude Bolling meets Bach. Blending Bach’s prelude style with jazz improvisation, this piece was originally performed in a television program in 1961. It starts with a Bach-inspired prelude before transitioning into a swinging jazz section, showcasing a fusion of styles that would become a hallmark of Bolling’s work.

Read: Review of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird

3. “Valse Triste” by Sibelius, interpreted by Wayne Shorter

“Wayne was a delight for me to work with because he was also a painter,” said Joni Mitchell about the American saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter in a 2023 interview. Shorter certainly drew upon a wide paint palette in this jazz take on Sibelius’s melancholic Valse Triste.  Of particular note is the rhythm section, particularly Tony Williams on drums, which adds a subtle but driving pulse that wasn’t present in Sibelius’s original orchestral version.

Read: Review of Cello Cabaret

4. Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G, 2nd Movement” by Ravel, performed by Herbie Hancock

In his autobiography, Hancock mentions having to get permission from Ravel’s family to release this classically-inspired jazz track, as he was concerned about how they would react to his jazz adaptation of the classical piece. He needn’t have worried: Ravel’s concerto already has jazzy leanings and Hancock’s innovative and improvisational style was perfectly suited to it, perfectly preserving the second movement’s air of cool melancholy.

Read: 5 perfumes inspired by music

5. “Clair de Lune” by Debussy, interpreted by The Jacques Loussier Trio

Concluding our list of jazz inspired by classical music, is this track by the French jazz pianist and composer Jacques Loussier. Loussier believed that Debussy’s innovative harmonic language heavily influenced jazz, and he made arrangements of several Debussy works over his lifetime. Not everybody was sold on them; some critics believed that Loussier was popularising Debussy for an audience that preferred its jazz pretty rather than passionate. Still, plenty more appreciated poetry of his style. This track, preserving the moonlit, ethereal quality of Debussy’s original piano piece, is a fine example of it.

Read: 5 pieces of classical music inspired by paintings

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.