Jazz-Classical Fusion Repertoire
University of Colorado Boulder is home to the Helen Walker-Hill collection, which contains many manuscripts of African-American women composers from the 20th century. A team of students from the university, including me, have been recording and writing articles about these works. We will be presenting these works at national conferences in the spring and summer.
Portraits in Jazz by Valerie Capers was one of our favorite collections of pieces from the Walker-Hill Collection. Valerie Capers was the first blind student to receive undergraduate and masters degrees from the Juilliard School of Music. She still leads an active performing and composition career. Portraits in Jazz contains 10 pieces inspired by famous jazz musicians. The collection is now published by Oxford University Press for easy purchase here.
I have been encouraging my intermediate and advanced students to explore these works to familiarize themselves with the jazz idiom. Below are several selections I have assigned recently in my piano lessons.
“Billie’s Song” is a beautiful ballad dedicated to the great singer Billie Holliday. The lyrical melody is accompanied by lush harmonies that engage one’s inner ear.
“Ella Scats the Little Lamb” is a short parody of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” dedicated to Ella Fitzgerald. Students have to coordinate swung eighth notes with a walking bass line.
“The Monk” introduces students to the disjunct, dissonant melodies of Thelonious Monk. Quirky and unbalanced, the piece encourages students to feel groovy rhythms.
I recommend trying out one - or all! - of these in your piano lessons. These pieces will be a fun addition to your repertoire.