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by Seth Colter Walls

August 28, 2013

Ebony Band: Jazz-Age Classical Fever

by Seth Colter Walls  |  August 28, 2013

Since the birth of jazz, there has always been a contingent of European classical musicians enthralled by the American invention. That influence burned brightest in the 1920s, perhaps, when Kurt Weill was juicing his Threepenny Opera with a kicky swing feel. Other prominent composers of the era -- like Stefan Wolpe, Darius Milhaud and Erwin Schulhoff -- also engaged in some foxtrot and tango adaptations. (Stravinsky, too, wrote an "Ebony Concerto" for a jazz clarinet soloist, which we covered in this playlist.)

Today, a group of musicians whose day jobs are in the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra celebrate that era anew, under the Ebony Band moniker. Over the course of their four most recent albums, they've uncovered some deep-cut gems from the '20s and '30s, and also perfected their approach: They really can stomp these elegant, good-time classical works. Just check their snorting take on Threepenny's "Kanonend Song" for confirmation. (It's from Weill's wind orchestra adaptation of the opera, which is a fun instrumental distillation that even many Threepenny fans haven't heard.)

And there are even more obscure treasures left to discover. Wolpe's Suite from the Twenties opens with a dashing "Tango" movement. And Schulhoff's absurdist radio opera "H.M.S. Royal Oak" -- about sailors arguing over the music being played onboard -- is a kick (even if you don't speak German). See the appended playlist for more smoking performances. Complete track and composer details for the playlist follow:

Tracks 1-2: Mátyas Seiber, "Two Jazzolettes"
Tracks 3-10: Kurt Weill, "Kleine Dreigroschenmusik"
Tracks 11-16: Stefan Wolpe, "Suite from the Twenties"
Track 17: Alois Hába, "Nonett II, Op. 41"
Tracks 18-21: Bohuslav Martinu, "Jazz Suite"
Track 22: Konstanty Regamey, "Quintet: Rondo"
Tracks 23-27: Emil Franticek Burian, "Suite Americaine"
Tracks 28-42: Erwin Schulhoff, "H.M.S. Royal Oak"
Track 43: Darius Milhuad, "La Création du Monde"

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