John Stebbe: Jazz Meets Classical!
2008 / Self-produced (purchase from CDBaby)
24 tracks / 79:05 minutes
Reviewed by Tobin Mueller
One of the delights of soloing during any jazz tune is to throw in a musical reference to a classical era piece of music. It often brings a smile to the faces of those watching as they recognize the phrase and how effortlessly it fits into the jazz idiom. If you are one of those smiling audience members, you will love this CD.
John Stebbe has put together a very entertaining collection of jazz interpretations of mostly classical numbers, with a few traditional folk tunes and hymns adding to the variety. The majority of the tunes are arranged for trio – piano, bass and drums. The tracks are short and sweet, emphasizing the main classical melody restated in jazz rhythms. Most songs sport a light-hearted introduction, followed by a brief solo section, and then everything falls tightly back into a strong recapitulation. One of my favorite arrangements, William Tell Overture (Rossini), includes quotations from Rich Rodgers’ “Surrey With The Fringe On The Top,” and nice give-and-takes between the bass and piano. (See attached featured tracks below.)
Two of the twenty-four tracks are played straight, as originally written – one by Scott Joplin and one by Claude Debussy. Both men were inventive composers who added to the pre-jazz evolution of piano harmony and melody. It’s a fitting homage to include them unaltered. The change of style also assists the album’s easy listening pace.
John rarely surprises, but always delights. His arrangements follow a similar format, mainly because it works so well. He has a marvelous grasp of crowd-pleasing mainstream jazz. The drumming is straight up, never getting in the way; it is supplied for the most part by drummer Todd Sorensen via his Drums on Demand loops, yet it never feels mechanical. The bass playing, by both Neil Bowen and Jonathan Evans, is basic and strong, supporting the piano without pulling focus. Drummer David Mills plays ‘live’ with John’s trio on a couple of tracks, adding vibrancy and steady energy.
The end result is track after track of gleeful enjoyment. You can tell John loves playing the piano, savors both classical and jazz music, and never needs to indulge his own ego. These songs let the original melodies stand on their own merits, albeit with a great deal of added charm and whimsy. Truly, this collection is a divertimento.
In the fall of 2006, John’s previous CD, “Jazzin’ It Up!”, fell into the hands of Beth Perdue Outland, Vice President for Education for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. That CD had a couple of classical pieces done in a jazz style. Those classical-jazz tracks caught Beth’s ear, and she asked to hire the John Stebbe Trio to perform an hour’s worth of classical-jazz music, as a prelude to an ISO concert in January of 2007. After the performance, John thought that these arrangements would make a nice jazz piano CD, and so this project was born. For that ISO performance, John brought some recording equipment and Jazz Meets Classical! was born.
The first CD, “Jazzin’ It Up!”, was also discovered by a record label from South Korea, MUZOO Records (Music Zoo Records). They asked for the rights to distribute the CD (repackaged with new art for the Asian market) in parts of Asia. After that deal was done, they requested a second CD. Many of the tracks on Jazz Meets Classical! are also on the second Korean CD project.
This CD was created in John Stebbe’s studio using a Yamaha P-120 as controller. Except for the live tracks, the piano sound comes from Native Instruments Akoustik Piano. Drummers are Todd Sorensen (of ‘Drums On Demand’) and David Mills. Bass players are Neil Bowen and Jonathan Evans. (David and Jonathan are the other members of the John Stebbe Trio.)
1 Brahms: Hungarian Dance #5
2 Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake
3 Beethoven: Sonata Pathetique
4 Pachelbel: Canon In D
5 Verdi: La Donna Mobile
6 Rossini: William Tell Overture
7 Dvorak: Largo
8 Bizet: Habanera
9 Skaters’ Waltz
10 Beethoven: Ich Leibe Dich
11 Chopin: Prelude #1 in C Minor
12 Mozart: Symphony #40
13 Mozart: Sonata #1 LIVE
14 Beethoven: Ode To Joy LIVE
15 Joplin: Solace
16 Debussy: Arabesque #1
17 Chopsticks Jazz
18 Oh Susanna
19 Greensleeves (What Child Is This?)
20 O Tannenbaum
21 Blessed Assurance
22 It Is Well With My Soul
23 This Little Light Of Mine
24 Grandfather’s Jazz Clock
Where to buy?
• on CDBaby