Jazz Meets Classical in the Chamber Orchestra’s Annual

by Stanley Naftaly

This year’s version of a Starry, Starry Night, the
Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra’s annual benefit concert, is an
exciting invitation to a wider audience from the 26-year-old pillar
of our cultural and educational life. A stellar quintet, comprised
of the cream of the area’s jazz musicians, and supported by an
excellent classical string section, will celebrate mainstream vocal
and instrumental jazz at the Lobero Theatre this Sunday evening,
April 30.

Jazz and classical music have existed side-by-side for 100 years
in this country. Just as there have been many great classical
musicians who have explored jazz — Lalo Schifrin, Arturo Sandoval,
Itzhak Perlman, and Claude Bolin, to name a few — there have been
an equal number of jazz masters who have nibbled at the edges of
classical music: Miles Davis with Gil Evans, Duke Ellington, the
Modern Jazz Quartet, Dave Brubeck, and Lee Konitz immediately come
to mind. This is an opportunity to see and hear world-class
practitioners of both genres working together to produce an evening
of music whose ability to excite, enchant, and uplift exceeds that
of either of these genres alone.

Sunday’s jazz players include drummer Jon Nathan, director of
the UCSB Jazz Ensembles; trumpeter Nate Birkey, who attended the
Berklee School of Music; classically trained pianist Bruce Bigenho
who also studied with the celebrated jazz pianist Joe Bushkin;
bassist and ethnomusicologist Ralph Lori; and saxophonist Tom
Buchner, who has played with Luis Muñoz and jazz legends Flora
Purim and Airto Moreira. The string section is made up of
violinists Claude Lise Lafranque, Valerie Malvinni, and Lisa
Weinstein, violists Kirsten Monke and Modesto Marcano, and cellist
Jeness Johnson.

Fittingly, the event’s symbolic and practical focal point is
classical violinist-cum-jazz vocalist Sally Barr, who also happens
to be producing the event. She started studying piano at the age of
five and the violin at eight. After attending the Oberlin Music
Conservatory, she enrolled at UCSB in 1992 and played in the
university’s orchestra until 1995, when she graduated with a
masters degree in performance. She was a member of the Santa
Barbara Symphony from 1993 through 2005, and has played with Santa
Barbara Opera since ’95 and with the Chamber Orchestra since ’96.
Although she became interested in jazz while in college, she has
been strictly a classical musician until recently — her debut as a
jazz vocalist was last September.

Noting the common claim that what separates classical from jazz
is the former’s lack of improvisation; Barr contended that this has
not always been the case. She explained that when composers such as
Paganini, Brahms, and Mozart wrote concerti, they expected that a
performer would improvise his or her own cadenza. She speculated
that the practice might have disappeared because more recent
composers have wanted to exert closer control over the content of
their works. To illustrate another point of basic similarity
between jazz and classical music, she pointed out that the most
basic jazz/blues chord progression, 1-4-5-1, is also the first
progression a student of classical music learns. Barr’s shift to
performing jazz was influenced by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald;
Sarah Vaughn; Joe Williams; Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross; Nina
Simone; and Louis Armstrong, legends whom she plans to salute in
this weekend’s performance.

But the real salute will be to the Santa Barbara Chamber
Orchestra, who since 1978 has presented the highest quality music
and conducted extensive in-school education. All profits from the
concert will benefit this education program.

4•1•1 The Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra’s
Starry, Starry Night fundraiser is Sunday, April 30, 8 pm,
at the Lobero Theatre. General tickets are $30. Call 963-0761. VIP
tickets that include a pre-concert gala dinner catered by the
Biltmore Hotel, an exclusive silent auction, and preferred concert
seating are also available for $250 by calling 966-2441.


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