A year of mixing classical and jazz produces the sound of Alaska

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2000

Alaska: majestic and funky.

Composer Evan Solot has created a 23-minute musical work inspired by the people and landscape of Alaska. The four-part concerto combines funk, jazz, bebop, gospel, bluegrass and classical elements.

Juneau violinist Linda Rosenthal teams up with Solot and a 16-piece big band from Los Angeles Friday night to perform the premier of Solot's work, ``Glacier Blue,'' at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium.

The 8 p.m. concert is part of the Juneau Jazz & Classics festival, and also includes the music of Beethoven, Chopin and Vaughn Williams. Pianist Guy Few and accordionist Joseph Petric will also perform.

Friday's concert has been a year in the making. Last year, Jazz & Classics won a $10,000 grant as part of a project to celebrate the year 2000 with original music. Throughout the coming year, premiere performances of new music will be staged in each of the 50 states.

When Rosenthal commissioned the piece last spring, she envisioned a musical composition for big band and violin, a blend of jazz, classical and big band styles. That became a starting point for Solot.

``In a concerto where you're pitting a classical soloist against a jazz ensemble, there's a yin and yang,'' he said. ``Teasing, tussling, dancing together -- all those relationships grew from the set-up of the piece and formed some basic themes I started working with.''

As a musical director and trumpet player, Solot has performed in more than 50 Broadway musicals and toured with Frank Sinatra and Lou Rawls. Solot has also created music for commercials, films and dance underscores. For the past 20 years, he has taught jazz and classical music at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

Solot began his work on Rosenthal's commission with a trip to Alaska, his first. He visited Southeast and the Interior last summer and returned to Southeast again in February.

``I went everywhere I could, hung out with different kinds of people, visited the major sights, and that all became grist for the mill,'' Solot said.

Alaska proved to be a land of contrasts, Solot said.

``There's a world of contradictions, a down-to-earthness and other-worldliness, things that are easy and natural and incredibly challenging. People that are extremely friendly and people that are extremely feisty,'' he said. ``I started with those ideas. Then the music took over, and the music did what it wanted to do.''

The four movements of ``Glacier Blue'' each have a different style. The first, ``Glacier,'' has a brooding, majestic feel, Solot said. The second movement, titled ``Funk,'' has a different feel.

``It sounds very contemporary. When I started playing it in the charter school yesterday, the kids started dancing,'' Solot said.

The third movement, ``Blue,'' is a ballad movement, and Solot said it builds to a gospel-like feel. The last movement, called ``Stomp,'' has elements of bluegrass.

``It's a very difficult piece to play -- a bluegrass violin part on top, with a straight-ahead, double-time bebop jazz underneath,'' Solot said.

The concerto features opportunities for improvisation -- not for the classical violin soloist, but for the jazz rhythm section.

``Everybody gets to do what they do best, and everybody stretches a bit,'' he said.

Just two weeks ago, Rosenthal flew to Los Angeles to record ``Glacier Blue'' with Bruce Paulson's L.A. Big Band.

She had practiced her parts alone and said it was thrilling to finally hear the piece performed live.

``Most of the band members who played are coming up to Juneau. They're a stupendous band,'' she said.

Solot conducted the musicians for the recording.

The CD is already available in Juneau and will be sold at the concert. In addition to ``Glacier Blue,'' it contains four other compositions by Solot.

``The rest of the CD is all his music. The others had already been recorded, mastered and were happily ready to go,'' she said.

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