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Teasing the Korean

Bach in the 1960s

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Bach, and the baroque sound in general, was such a big part of the subliminal soundtrack of the 1960s – along with Bacharach and Bossa Nova. (What was it about the letter “B” and that decade?).

Chief proponents of adapting Bach to other musical styles were the Swingle Singers and Jacques Loussier. This culminated, of course, with Walter Carlos and “Switched on Bach” near the close of the decade.

The baroque jazz sound made its way into countless film soundtracks (I just heard it Michel Legrand’s score to “Polly Magoo”) and European library music.

What was it about Bach’s music that resonated with that decade?

Edited by Teasing the Korean

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I don't really know about the U.S. angle on this but from an EUropean point of view it was like this:

Jazz in Europe (and here in Germany, in particular) had always had a hard time fighting for its "respectability" in musical and cultural circles after 1945.

And what would bestow more respectability on any music in good old Europe than its approval by "legitimate" forms of music, i.e. CLASSICAL music?

Jazz magazines went out of their way over here in the German-language area to move jazz close to those "respectable" musical art forms (denigrating most of Lionel Hampton's European tours as something more akin to that oh so condemnable musical bastard called rock'n'roll, for example). Presenting jazz in a "serious", dead-earnest concert setting was more like it. As a result, those attempts of U.S. exponents such as the Modern Jazz Quartet and their ilk to mate jazz and classical music into something new and "respectable" that became the "Third stream" was greeted with open arms. And would it surprise you therefore, that other main exponents such as George Gruntz or Eugen Cicero came from a Central European background too?

Reading European jazz mags from that period and comparing the contents of our #1 German jazz mag of the time (JAZZ PODIUM) with contemporary mags from France and Sweden, for example (which showed how much more virile and lively jazz happenings were there), just shows to which extent still jazz lacked its self-esteem here and had to rely on that crutch that classical "longhair" music was. I for one don't feel sorry for the fact the this "Third Stream" thing eventually proved to be an artistic dead end. ;)

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Your take is interesting. I always had the impression that jazz was more respected in Europe than in the US and didn’t need to piggyback onto classical music for legitimization.

As for Third Stream music, I like it in theory, though much of what was produced sounds very studied and precious. I think that a number of postwar film and TV composers did a much better job at integrating jazz and symphonic music.

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I am no expert on the situation of jazz in all of Europe in the 50s and 60s, of course, but you got to distinguish between two aspects:

On the one hand, jazzmen (especially visiting U.S. stars) certainly were treated with much more respect and held in awe throughout the entire jazz community than may have often been the case in the States. So this ties in with your impression.

On the other, the jazz fraternity (including its main promoters) seemed to have felt ill at ease compared to the musical scene at large and felt that respect for jazz as a valid art form could only be achieved by elevating jazz in every respect possible onto a pedestal similar to that occupied by classical music (at least that was clearly the case in Germany for quite some time and became quite obvious while this "Third Stream" was all the rage).

Jacques Loussier definitely was a HUGE seller over here and his Play Bach discs are among those that still crop up in secondhand record bins here even if these bins are otherwise totally devoid of anything jazz (except for maybe the occasional Glenn Miller or Satchmo album).

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Those Play Bach albums pop up in the US for short dough pretty often. I have 5 volumes. I like them though I don't spin them all that often.

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Bach was big in certain jazz circles because he was running changes, if you want to hear it like that. Too easy, too simple that is, but so was the connection made by a lot of people who felt that they didn't need to know better.

As for Baroque & Pop, I was a (fairly aware) kid in the mid-late 60s when that was big, & it seemed/seems that A) it was an offshoot of the British Ivasion - never mind that Bach, etc. weren't English, the image of England as some sort of Enclave of Edwardian Elegance seemed to be the thing. B) There was very much an air of "innocent & pure beauty" about the culture, as should be expected from so many young people gaining so much cultural muscle at the same time. The stereotypical "Baroque sound" seemed to exemplify that perfectly. C) You just can't fuck around with Bach and lose. the shit's solid all the way through, with a core that's damn near indestructable no matter what/how you use it to other ends. Gotta love that.

So you got a culture that's under the sway of a culture perceived as more "sophisticated" than itself intoxicated with the innocent idealism of empowered youth discovering some music that can't be deconstructed to the point of triviality and/or meaninglessness. A "hip" element of slightly older age group has already given Baroque some cachet. Next thing you know you got "A Lover's Concerto", then"Walk Away Renee", and then BOOM it's the Spring & the Summer Of Love, where granny glasses & harpsichords go together like ham & eggs.

Summer turned to Autumn (and Winter) pretty quickly. But Bach remains one bad motherfucker.

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But Bach remains one bad motherfucker.

One of my friends is a longtime church musician who's filled a variety of roles over the years from singing, to playing piano, to directing the choir at various Lutheran churches. As he put it to me once, "Bach just never had an off day." I think he'd wholeheartedly agree with the slightly different way you put it. :D

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"Bach just never had an off day."

Or, by most accounts, a day off!

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Anyone remember that Baroque Beatles Book LP? Instrumental arrangements of Lennon/McCartney tunes in a sort of Brandenburg Concerto style.

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But Bach remains one bad motherfucker.

One of my friends is a longtime church musician who's filled a variety of roles over the years from singing, to playing piano, to directing the choir at various Lutheran churches. As he put it to me once, "Bach just never had an off day." I think he'd wholeheartedly agree with the slightly different way you put it. :D

A college music professor I had once described Bach as "the first twelve-tone composer."

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Anyone remember that Baroque Beatles Book LP? Instrumental arrangements of Lennon/McCartney tunes in a sort of Brandenburg Concerto style.

Do you mean the album on Vanguard with "The Epstein Variations?" A very skillfully done album that was far less gimmicky than what I expected.

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Well, reading this thread I now have an understanding why the MJQ recorded Blues on Bach. That always seemed a weird, though enjoyable, reissue when I picked it up.

Edited by Dan Gould

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Well, reading this thread I now have an understanding why the MJQ recorded Blues on Bach. That always seemed a weird, though enjoyable, reissue when I picked it up.

Right you are.

Lots of fugues, if you will, in the MJQ's work.

I mean that in a good way.

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I blame George Martin. :cool:

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Anyone remember that Baroque Beatles Book LP? Instrumental arrangements of Lennon/McCartney tunes in a sort of Brandenburg Concerto style.

Do you mean the album on Vanguard with "The Epstein Variations?" A very skillfully done album that was far less gimmicky than what I expected.

I'm pretty sure that's the one, though I don't recall that title. But I haven't seen the record in 25 years -- it was my parents' album.

if ya'll like John Lewis (i do), you need to hear his Well Tempered Klavier... i'm totally serious (tho' it seems classical people value this more than some jass listeners)... check Amazon-- yo es edc

John Lewis's Bach is something else. No gimmickry there at all.

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I blame George Martin. :cool:

You may be right, Chuck, though I think he was just McCartney's enabler...

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John Lewis went at Bach with proper respect. It was Bud Powell - on 'Bud on Bach' in the 1957 'Bud!' album - who approached Bach with an urgency that shatters the respectfullness and brings the music to its today's immediacy. A masterpiece worthy of Johann Sebastian!

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... and it is worth noting that there finally is a younger generation of keyboard players bringing back the same urgency to Bach performances.

Just recently while listening to some Bach with a friend we both noted what a fine swinging bass line he had composed for the piece! Tristano & Co. were attracted to that linear counterpoint inspiring them so deeply - some of the best stuff ever composed in that style. Everybody after him had the WTC on the piano.

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