Sunday, April 03, 2011

"DADT repeal" service inspires a jazz concert

Today, at a “service” celebrating the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell”  at an Arlington VA Unitarian church (see my GLBT blog today), several groups presented mostly New Orleans jazz music in what made the service partially a concert.

The opening improvisations were provided by Nguyen Nguyen and Friends, and the choral song “Everything Possible” by Fred Small was sung a cappella.  But the main musical attraction occurred as the New Orleans Second Line Dixieland Direct Jazz Band marched with the “funeral cortege” for the parchment of the DADT policy, playing a variety of improvisations and ending with “All the Saints come marching in.”

I used to hear that improvisation is the heart of jazz, which always seemed anti-emotional to me. That is until composers like Gershwin mixed it with classical postromantic idioms. One of the best examples of this blend occurs in Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphony #2” called the “Age of Anxiety”, which is almost a piano concerto. I played Bernstein’s own DG recording the other day. The work is in six sections, but the first three sections (a dirge theme followed by variations which develop the theme in almost sonata-like fashion, ending in a violent climax) comprise what would normally be a “first movement”. The fourth section ("The Dirge") is totally dodecaphonic, and functions as the “slow movement”, building twelve tone chords in a manner reminiscent of Alban Berg’s “Lulu”.  The fifth section ("The Masque") is a “scherzo” and sounds a lot like improvised Dixieland jazz, just as in this event. The last section ("The Epilogue" a la Sir Arnold Bax) is a majestic slow movement, with the piano appearing only at the end, inspired it seems by both Copland’s Third Symphony and the triumphant slow movement conclusion of Mahler’s Third (since Bernstein became a great exponent of many of the lesser played Mahler symphonies, following Bruno Walter). The work ends in glory, with fortissimo seventh and ninth chords (I think based on D-flat major), sounding strangely conclusive in dissonance, mixing jazz and post-romanticism in the same moments.

As I parked for the event, Sirius XM on my car radio played Bruno Mars “Just the Way You Are”.  It sounded fitting.  And the burial of the DADT parchment reminded me of the sea burial at the end of Benjamin Britten’s “Billy Budd”, an opera which curiously anticipates some of the social issues that led to “don’t ask don’t tell”

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