Monday, September 15, 2008

Jazz Oboe

Jean-Luc Fillon, Oboa. Deuz Z/Nocturne 2003. Import available from Caiman.

In fifth grade, Will confidently and somewhat eccentrically announced that he wanted to play the oboe. Fifth grade is when children in Northfield start band in school, and while most of his friends were taking up saxophones and drums, Will stuck with the oboe. Throughout middle school, he sat in the band and doubled the flute part. The oboe is primarily a classical instrument, not traditionally associated with band music, and it wasn't until his teacher in England handed him a baroque oboe sonata that he realized what his instrument was made for. Soon he was beginning to explore the classical oboe repertoire, which includes a Bach concerto for violin and oboe, concertos by Cimarrosa and Mozart, and (one of my favorite pieces of chamber music) Robert Schumann's Three Romances for oboe and piano. When we returned to America last year, Will was recruited to play the oboe solo in a high school orchestra performance of the Bacchanale from Saint-Saens' Samson and Delilah. The piece is a classic oboe solo: sinuous, seductive, sophisticated, and a little dark. Here's the Bacchanale, fully choreographed. Notice the oboes in the introduction and in the solo beginning at about 1:56 (don't feel you need to listen to the entire piece).

In a sense, the Bacchanale is the first French piece for jazz oboe, bringing out the instrument's seductive swing and sophistication.

That sophisticated flavor comes out beautifully on the 2003 disc OBOA, featuring the French jazz oboist Jean-Luc Fillon. The oboe is not a traditional jazz instrument, and its sound can't be compared to more traditional jazz reeds like the clarinet and soprano (or sopranino) saxophone. To my ear, its tone is mellower and darker and less strident. Have a listen to a few excerpts, recorded live in 2004, with Fillon on oboe, João Paulo on piano, and Carlo Rizzo on tambourine.

This is French jazz, inspired as much by European traditions as by classic American jazz. There's a touch of bal-musette (think café accordionist), gypsy music, European classical music, and some influences from further east, including Sephardic folk music. The three musicians on this disc—French, Portuguese, and Italian—bring a sophisticated cosmopolitan feel to the music. The French have a fine tradition of bringing instruments out of the classical orchestra and adapting them to jazz—including violin (Stephane Grappelli and Jean-Luc Ponty) and recorder (Jean-François Rousson). The oboe—mellow, dark, and seductive—makes perfect sense as a jazz instrument.


J at said...

Lovely music. I love the oboe, but hadn't really heard much in Jazz. My favorite, I think, is Mozart's Oboe Concerto, though I think Ira Stein and Russel Wilder did some nice stuff with Oboe as well. Unless I'm remembering wrong, which is entirely possible.

J at said...

Erm, I meant Russell Walder, sorry. Went and googled him, and he's an oboeist, so I guess I didn't totally make that up. :)

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