The Chess Game: John Lewis

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Richard James
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The Chess Game: John Lewis

Postby Richard James » Fri Sep 21, 2012 1:53 pm

I just came across this - a jazz arrangement of Bach's Goldberg Variations with a chess theme.

Anyone heard it? What do you think?

I see there are extracts on YouTube.

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Clive Blackburn
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Re: The Chess Game: John Lewis

Postby Clive Blackburn » Fri Sep 21, 2012 5:07 pm

It seems very expensive Richard! :shock:
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David Robertson
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Re: The Chess Game: John Lewis

Postby David Robertson » Fri Sep 21, 2012 6:11 pm

Presumably this is the late John Lewis, pianist for many years with the MJQ (Modern Jazz Quartet). I used to like MJQ - about forty years ago or more - when I was starting to appreciate jazz, or what I took for jazz at the time. Lewis & MJQ carved out a niche among cerebral white undergraduates for whom Thelonious Monk was too awkward; Oscar Peterson, too accessible; and Bill Evans, too demanding. MJQ hit just the right note of classical austerity without ever succumbing to the messy passions of jazz in the raw. One could like both Bach and MJQ, and feel effortlessly superior in one's geeky 'knowing-ness'.

Then paths diverged. Some (including myself) would move on to explore 'proper jazz', the authentic music rooted in the Blues, and expressed by (principally black) artists with (one assumed) some political affinity with the origins of the Blues, black oppression, and black cultural celebration. Others however stayed with a hybrid jazz-classical fusion, of the MJQ & John Lewis were the principal exponents (eg. Blues on Bach). But Dave Brubeck dabbled too; and lower down the food chain still, you find Jacques Loussier and his 'jazzified' Bach etc.

As far as I'm aware, MJQ broke up about 1980; and John Lewis settled into a solo career. His 'schtik' remained jazz fusion, producing a collection of pieces based on Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. I was completely unaware of the material in question, based on 'the Goldies'. In fact I wasn't sure John Lewis was still alive ten years ago. This material looks very 'late career' therefore.

What's it like? I've no idea directly. If you like jazzed-up classical music, I imagine it will be an excellent example of the genre. But frankly, I don't like it. One's tastes and discernment mature over the years. Give me authentic jazz at any time. Give me authentic Bach by the CD-load. But please don't mix the two. And leave the Goldberg Variations alone. This is sublime music, and doesn't need messing with.

As for the chess theme, it smacks of substantial pretentiousness to me. The last thing the Goldies need is added intellectual freight. They cannot be improved upon.

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Re: The Chess Game: John Lewis

Postby JustinHorton » Fri Sep 21, 2012 6:55 pm

David Robertson wrote: it smacks of substantial pretentiousness to me


Isn't that what jazz is for?
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"Yes, but I prefer a game with a better chance of cheating."

Richard James
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Re: The Chess Game: John Lewis

Postby Richard James » Fri Sep 21, 2012 7:12 pm

You can hear it here. Very pretty but I didn't quite see the point.

Yes, it is that John Lewis (certainly not John Spedan Lewis). He did this with The Well-Tempered Clavier - and I have no idea what this has to do with Bridge either.

Uri Caine's Goldbergs are worth listening to, though.

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Matt Mackenzie
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Re: The Chess Game: John Lewis

Postby Matt Mackenzie » Fri Sep 21, 2012 10:23 pm

Of course, the chess connections of the aforementioned J S Lewis are also well known......
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Richard James
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Re: The Chess Game: John Lewis

Postby Richard James » Fri Sep 21, 2012 10:32 pm

Matt Mackenzie wrote:Of course, the chess connections of the aforementioned J S Lewis are also well known......


Of course. That's why I mentioned him! :)

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Re: The Chess Game: John Lewis

Postby David Robertson » Sat Sep 22, 2012 1:17 pm

JustinHorton wrote:
David Robertson wrote: it smacks of substantial pretentiousness to me


Isn't that what jazz is for?

It's not me you need to ask. Try asking Charles Mingus. I'll happily [s]scrape you off the wall afterwards[/s]** hold your coat.

Talking of Charles Mingus, he has in my opinion, along with Edward 'Duke' Ellington, an outstanding claim to be the finest American composer of serious music of the 20th century - Gershwin, Bernstein, Barber, Ives included. He was trained in classical bass. But because of racial discrimination (Mingus was of mixed heritage; hence treated as 'black'), he was unable to secure orchestral employment, and turned to jazz. Our good fortune! Take a listen to the opening track off his 1959 Blues & Roots album, Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting. This isn't pretentious, surely?

(** hhmm...doesn't do 'strike-through' code. Anyway, you get the gist)

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Re: The Chess Game: John Lewis

Postby JustinHorton » Sat Sep 22, 2012 9:41 pm

David Robertson wrote:It's not me you need to ask. Try asking Charles Mingus. I'll happily [s]scrape you off the wall afterwards[/s]** hold your coat.


I'm sure he could take me, but could he take Jimmy Rabbitte?
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John Foley
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Re: The Chess Game: John Lewis

Postby John Foley » Sun Sep 23, 2012 2:12 pm

Speaking of John Lewis, this day marks the anniversary of the destruction in 1940 of The National Chess Centre in London by enemy action during The Blitz.


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