A jazz-classical crossover version of the Brandenburg Concertos using instruments and recording techniques not available in Bach’s time.
Bach was orphaned at age 10. Taken in by his brother’s family, he would transcribe Vivaldi and other composers secretly in his room until the wee hours. It’s kind of the way we, as children, would read, listen to music, or play with our phones under the covers after bedtime. What did Bach hear in his head writing down the works of others over and over? Did he hear his own works improvising with theirs?
I think he did. After having played all of the Brandenburg it seems to me that much of his composition is a reaction to the works of others. He knew their weaknesses, the places their talent couldn’t take them, and he filled that space – and much more – for the rest of his life.
I believe the Brandenburg resonates so deeply and for so long because of the events in Bach’s life during the period of its composition. Almost all musicians achieve greatness because they put all of themselves into every song, and when Bach was writing the Brandenburg his beloved wife Maria Barbara, mother of his seven children, a son and his brother all died while he was on a road show for his patron. The letters informing Bach had been intercepted by the Prince’s handlers so as not to upset the Prince. He found out when he walked through the door to find four of his children motherless and hungry. He must have been emotionally raw, memories of his parents death mixed with the stages of grief played out in the music pouring from his soul onto the page. I suggest he was less filtered in this time, and therefore the musical themes more declarative. Pulling punches would have been hard when obsessively composing, now further fueled by questions about his faith and family. Then about a year into writing the Brandenburg he met Ana Magdalena, his true love, who would bear him 13 children and work side-by-side with Bach for the rest of his life.
Auditioning as a soprano for his choir, Ana Magdalena – a beautiful 20 year old – entranced the 35 years old Bach. She became a great mother to the 13 children she had with Bach in addition to the four surviving children from Maria Barbara.. He must have fallen deeply in to love and gratitude at finding the mother he so needed, and the muse that inspired greatness. She loved, inspired and rescued him.
After the extreme lows experienced during the first year of writing the Brandenburg, the highs of new love and the recovery of hope must have been spectacular.
This journey from family harmony, to the depths of despair, to the dizzying heights of new love traverses most important things in life, and are so regardless of wealth, race, religion and all the other things that separate us. The Brandenburgs bind us together through our common experience of life, death and love.
I trace the start of the Brandenburg 300 Project to when I first heard the Brandenburg Concerto while doing T’ai Chi on a floating dock during a sunset in Tahiti. Upon my return home, I listened to the Brandenburg every day for 2 ½ years. I only played electric bass at the time, and didn’t get far with the Brandenburg. Thirty-five years, and a lifetime of music later, I took up playing the EWI, an electronic wind instrument that’s sort of like a MIDI keyboard, only it’s played somewhat like a clarinet. Falling in love with the English Horn sound the EWI makes, I noticed I was playing a Brandenburg melody and decided to learn all the parts of the second Brandenburg Concerto. Parts started coming quickly. After a few months, I started re-arranging the parts to merge some of my favorite counterpoint lines with the melody and bass lines. Then studying the life of Bach, and the history of the Brandenburg Concerto, I further re-wrote some of the sections based on my sense of Bach, and began incorporating bits and pieces of the jazz, funk, rock, country, African, Indonesian, Brazilian and other musics that are part of my musical life. Eventually a series of duets and a recording concept emerged.
At the same time all this trouble was going on in Bach’s life, the Calvinist Church he had been writing for banned music, forcing him to write secular music. But because of this, an unprecedented number of great musicians were fired by their Churches and needed work. They could join Bach’s orchestra or play the brothel and wedding circuit – there was little in-between.
Eighteen of the best musicians in Europe joined his orchestra in the backwater of Cothen. As respite for his broken heart, the overwhelming demands of sudden single fatherhood, and still bleeding from betrayal by his Prince, Bach kept writing, using the extraordinary skills and passion of his musicians as conduits for his genius. They had to have loved the challenge, and done everything they could to help and comfort Bach. They must have become very close, and they – together – must have pushed the boundaries of their skill, passion and talent fearlessly. What less than that could transport Bach to a place where he could heal, and prepare to love again?
Some think the Brandenburg was an audition to the Margrave (a kind of Prince) of Brandenburg in 1721 as part of a job application. It was a job Bach wanted before all the tragedies, but after the Prince’s betrayal he clearly stopped caring – because he made the Brandenburg Concertos so hard to play. I believe that “Bach must have known when writing certain lines that only the musicians in his orchestra could play them – or more specifically, the musicians in the Margrave’s orchestra couldn’t.
I think Bach looked at a musician and, “I want you to play the highest, hardest thing you can play in this passage and I will write it down.” The musician would practice and improvise and practice and practice until there were lines so deeply known they could play them at any speed. Then Bach would write it down – probably suggesting variations here and there.
I can only imagine the Margrave’s poor bassoon, oboe or clarino (a kind of trumpet) player looking at a score with notes so high and so fast they would never have the skill to master.
Bach had attitude – he once stabbed (like Charles Mingus) a horn player for missing notes in the solo. Bach was a master of what musicians could and couldn’t do – he must have known that it was unplayable by anyone but the musicians in his orchestra. This had to be intentional.” Indeed, it was never played by the Margrave or anyone else during Bach’s lifetime, and only started becoming popular over 100 years after Bach’s death.
It is ironic to note that the Brandenburg is closely associated with its soaring trumpet solos was written at a time that the trumpet as we know it did not exist – and wouldn’t for over 80 years.
A friend asked me at the first completion of the whole of the Brandenburg Concertos, “How does it feel to have come this distance with the Project?”
“I remember when I started this project it felt like I was looking at a small boulder at the base of a mountain whose peak I could not see and did not understand, but felt excited to climb. That excitement never left me for almost four straight years, day and night, in my dreams and in my fingers. I had never attempted anything as challenging in music, although I had in other areas, and I felt unreasonably confident. I practiced and practiced and honed and honed, and when it was right my body would completely relax. And when that happened, when the breath fully exhaled, when the shoulders de-hunched, the jaw sank, and the stomach warmed it was right, every time.
And the rewards! Glimpsing the unvarnished genius of Bach, painted by the hand of God. Appreciating as only a player can the grace, athleticism, and the otherworldly talent of the musicians in the orchestras that have played the Brandenburg well. Understanding the message carried by the Gold Record on the Voyager spacecraft, and to have it be the first man made object to leave the solar system with the message of hope that we are not alone, right in the middle of the project. And the chance to feel and express my gratitude to the people for whom the movements are now named: Benjamin Franklin; Sam Perricone; Sam Hicks; Oleg Penkovsky; Jack Earle; Paulina Morales; Martin Luther King; Rembrandt van Rijn; Johannes Vermeer; Leonardo DaVinci; John Schoenoff; Irwin Woodland; Helen Iwanaga; Lloyd Pementil; Linus Pauling; Madame Marie Curie; Albert Einstein; Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette; Shen Zhou; the San; and Birdbach Badinerie (Charlie Parker).
There is also a feeling of irony because I am completing this project when there is no popular outlet for works of this type. The album market has collapsed except in conjunction with live performances which I am physically prevented from even considering. Streaming services and radio stations don’t play whole works. I have never had an audience outside of family and friends, so the likelihood of it being heard as intended outside of that circle is similar to the likelihood of appreciation by a crowd at the summit of Everest. Music and musicians need audiences, so I worry the music suffers from the lack of them.
On the other hand this gave me complete freedom to exercise every skill I do have, and to apply every experience from my very diverse, very rich polymath’s life. I could bare my soul knowing it would likely never be noticed. I could put every fiber of my being into a passage, and not dwell on my inadequacies. I could use compositon and recording techniques that could never be duplicated in live performance – which freed the music to mind-blowing and exquisite options that I do not belive have ever been attempted before. My handicaps became the white stallions carrying me to battle, and my physical challenges a harem of muses.
I feel like I did something very special, something approaching worthy of all the gifts and talents God has given me.
I hope this work finds its place, and is there at a special time for a special person.”
First Music on the Gold Record Attached to the Voyager Spacecrafts – the First Man-Made Objects to Leave Our Solar System ,and one of the last international agreements that answer the question, “If there was one thing about the human race you would want the rest of the universe to know about us, what would it be?
The Voyager team selected the Brandenburg Concerto.
“This journey from family harmony, to the depths of despair, to the dizzying heights of new love traverses most important things in life, and are so regardless of wealth, race, religion and all the other things that separate us. The Brandenburgs bind us together through our common experience of life, death and love.”
Perhaps this is why the Brandenburg Concerto was selected to be the first music on the Gold Record on the side of the Voyager Spacecraft launched in 1977 that left our solar system in 2013, and was humankind’s first formal international attempt to communicate, to engineer a “time capsule” that some alien planet might encounter 50,000 or more years hence. This also cements the Brandenburg Concerto – and in particular the Karl Richter version of the 1st movement of the 2nd Concerto – as arguably the most important single piece of music ever recorded. How could anything else come close, except the other music that follows the Brandenburg on the Gold Record? Whether the most important or not, the Brandenburg certainly sets a timeless standard – at least equal to the human standard of taking 50,000 years from the first migrations from Africa, to the first time we escaped the solar system and the influence of our sun.
Albums and Honorees
Except for three, each of the recordings has been named in honor of an individual. Voyager 1, Voyager 2 and the San People/Mother Africa are the other three honorees.
Brandenburg Concerto #1
The 1st Brandenburg Concerto was written when Bach was content with his family and his work. But there were clouds on the horizon, and we wonder what he sensed.
In the First Concerto we honor my favorite founding father – Benjamin Franklln, a Renaissance Man whose many parts blossomed into the great culture that exists in the United States, and who got his big break in life the same year Bach finished the Brandenburg.
We honor my friend and mentor Sam Perricone because he rose from difficult circumstances to succeed magnificently, just as Bach did; Sam Hicks, representing Law Enforcement, and all of the First Responders, who was a beloved Policeman, FBI Agent, husband and father who was killed in the line of duty; and Oleg Penkovsky – a spy who sacrificed his life to prevent an imminent nuclear war.
In these rarely recorded movements of the 1st Concerto the Brandenburg 300 Project honors Jack Earle, a giant man with a giant heart, and Paulina Morales – mother, civic leader and war hero.
Brandenburg Concerto #2
In the Second Concerto I see Bach as coping with his pain and four hungry children while processing the grief of losing his wife, child and brother unexpectedly. The deepest despair endured not knowing the love of his life would be arriving in just a few months. Unrecorded are the people who helped feed and bathe the children, or who provided the liniments his aching heart and soul needed. I suspect it was the musicians in his orchestra and their families, but have no proof.
DaVinci ( painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer) , Rembrandt and Vermeer are the great artists from this era who inspire me. And Voyager 1 is, of course, honored in connection with the 1st movement of the 2nd Concerto – the first music on Voyager’s “Gold Record.”
There are several versions of the 2nd Concerto recordings contained on the EP’s: #2 Hybrids; #2 Trios and Duets; and Brandenburg 23 Six Variations. Two of the recordings on “Six Variations” were remixed and remastered. Brandenburg 23 Mike Miller became Brandenburg 23 Vermeer, and Brandenburg 23 Quartet became Brandenburg 23 DaVinci.
Brandenburg Concerto #3
I like to think of the 3rd Concerto to be the one where he and the true love of his life Ana Magdalena find each other and know they are meant for each other. Both longed for a future filled with music. The wanted the joys and challenges of a large family. I can only imagine the 35 year old, emotionally raw Bach seeing the 20 year old Ana Magdalena waiting to audition for Bach’s choir. Did he fall in love with her the instant he saw her, or did the sound of her voice cause him to see her and love her as only his ears could have directed? Did he know instantly that life would be better? Or did their first meeting give maybe just a sense that happiness was on the other side of his despair?
The honorees in the 3rd Movement are men who helped me through critical phases of my life. They are John Schoenoff, my John Burroughs Junior High School Guidance Counselor; and Woody Woodland, who himself headed a large, wonderful family, and is also responsible for some of the most important strategies used by Sunlaw to accomplish its highest objectives.
Brandenburg Concerto #4
I like to think of the 4th Concerto as the time when Bach asks Ana Magadalena for her hand in marriage, to be mother to his children, and to have many more children together. This would have occurred around one year after Bach started writing the Brandenburg Concertos.
Ecstasy, trepidation, hope and fear mix with terrible memories of his first wife, son and brothers deaths, and betrayal by his patron, that are barely a year old. It is a time of reaching out, the trauma healed just enough to trust again and see the goodness – and bad – in those around you. I think, with four young mouths to feed, time for contemplation was sparse, and composing was escape, relaxation, a touchstone during this period of transition to Bach’s future. They would have 13 children together and spend every day working together for almost the rest of their lives.
The 4th Concerto has within it among the most beautiful elements, and also the hardest passages, demanding a virtuosity few have. The 3rd Movement of the 4th Concerto is the fastest of all 23 Brandenburg Movements.
The Honorees are three great scientists: Madame Marie Curie, Linus Pauling and Albert Einstein; and two regional heroes Helen Iwanaga – who, among many other things, organized bands and wrote music in the internment camps during World War II, and Lloyd Pemintel – who sang the children of a labor camp to bed every night after his 12 hour shift, ending each night by singing “You Are My Sunshine” to his own babies.
Brandenburg Concerto #5
By the time of the 5th Concerto Bach was about to be married, madly in love, starting his new expanded family – and grateful for the help of a beautiful young woman after having only year before found himself shockingly alone.
Ana Magdalena and Bach worked together for the rest of their lives both as parents and colleagues. We must assume that Ana Magdelena was instrumental in creating the atmosphere that allowed Bach’s genius to flourish.
I like to think of the 5th Concerto to be the one where he and the true love of his life Ana Magdalena know they are meant for each other, and a future filled with music and children.
I also like to think this is the point at which Bach had time for gratitude to those who helped him through these rough times. Everybody needs a hand now and then.
In the 5th Concerto we honor the great 15th century artist Shen Zhou, and Lafayette – the man who saved the American Revolution. When the new America needed a helping hand to win its independence, it was Lafayette who obtained the crucial needed support.
Brandenburg Concerto #6
In this last Concerto I like to think Bach and Ana Magdalena are making wedding plans – they would be married about 6 months after Bach delivered the Brandenburg Concerto. Optimism must have been mixed with a sense of triumph and profound relief.
In this final Concerto the Brandenburg 300 Project honors the second Voyager 2 spacecraft, and the San people of Africa from whom we all descend, to reflect on the bridge thorough music between Bach’s time and ours, and between our time and a future where we finally know are not alone in the universe.
After completing the writing and recording of the whole Brandenburg Concerto, I decided to learn a couple of Charlie Parker solos. A friend was over and suggested I learn Bach’s Orchestral Suite #2 (Badinerie) and in the course of practicing both it seemed to me there were a couple of sections that would work well together. I tried it and magic happened.
When introducing this to Albert Wing – who plays reeds on a number of the Brandenburg pieces – and he had heard that Bach would work out solos over classical pieces, call up his friends, and play the record over the phone accompanies by his variations. Bach had to be one of the composers he worked over, and wouldn’t it have been great to get one of those calls?
It came out so good and was so emblematic of what we were hoping to achieve in the Brandenburg 300 Project, we decided to include it here.
Review of Bob Danziger’s Brandenburg 300 Project
By Bill Minor
October 2013; http://www.bminor.org
When the first album of Bob Danziger’s Brandenburg 300 Project appeared—Brandenburg 23: Six Variations—I wrote, “Bob Danziger contains multitudes, but he does not contradict himself, as Walt Whitman boasted of doing. Bob is a gifted musician, composer, sound sculptor, inventor, author, entrepreneur, and a key player in the alternative energy industry for over thirty years. Recently, he has turned his all-embracing but fully consistent attention to adapting Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto to his own unique ‘vision,’ and the result does not merely bring the music up to date, but places it within all ages or eras with solid emphasis on our own–and the future. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but one for which he possesses not just the vision and creative means to fulfill potential, but friends as well.”
At the time I may have suspected, but lacked full foresight to comprehend all of the multitudes Bob Danziger contains—just how ambitious his undertaking was, how inclusive, how comprehensive his vision and creative means would prove to be, and just how many friends he had to assist him in carrying out this project. That initial single album—Brandenburg 23: Six Variations—now resides in the company of ten other albums, ranging from one containing a medley of sixteen songs from the complete project to duets, trios, and “hybrids”—the tracks on all of the albums named for Honorees who, in Bob’s own words, “were selected because the world would be a better place if there were a lot more people like them, and because they represent something to aspire to, to measure oneself against.”
This extra-musical (or inter-musical) intention resides at the center of the wide range of tribute to Bach himself that makes up the project as a whole: a generosity, a commitment to excellence for its own sake (“not for glory and least of all for profit,” in William Faulkner’s words), a genuine altruism or agape that runs through every phase of the project—something rare (if not unheard of) in the music “industry” today. The Honorees selected extend from highly respected familiar figures—Pythagoras, DaVinci, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Marie Curie, Einstein, Linus Pauling, Martin Luther King—to Sam Perricone (a man who rose from running ripe produce on the side of the road to support his family to owning the Sunkist, a “benevolent operation” on Main Street at Disneyland, a pushcart offering orange juice and lemonade, playing a major role in Sunkist, the Los Angeles produce Mart, and founder of 11-99 Foundation, a nonprofit that provided “financial assistance to the families of fallen California Highway Patrol officers”); Joe Manning, a man who taught Bob “what friendship was,” whose “handshake was the best contract ever written”; Woody Woodland, Co-founder of Sunlaw Energy Corporation, a “mentor, friend and protector”; John Schoenoff, a Junior High School Guidance Counselor who, in Bob’s words again, “probably saved my life”; Helen Iwanaga, who formed bands in the internment camps during World War II; to Lloyd Pementil, a farm worker who, after a twelve hour shift, would suit up to sing the children of others and his own to sleep playing “You Are My Sunshine.”
Also included as Honorees are “Voyager” (the Spacecraft launched in 1977 with a gold record on its side: Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto the first track on it, “making it arguably,” in Bob’s words, “the most important single piece of music ever recorded–the solid gold record engineered to last at least 50,000 years”) and “Guadalupe”: focused on an experience Bob had at the Church of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City, when seeking to leave a substantial donation in a collection plate, he found the church locked, encountered “two emaciated street kids” and gave the money to them, the older boy requiring some persuasion not to return it when he discovered how much he’d been given, thinking Bob had made “a mistake”—but that boy teaching Bob a lesson about “dignity, born of the great kings of the Aztecs and Mayans.”
So … what do these Honorees and their individual stories have to do with the life and music of Johann Sebastian Bach? In the mind and heart of Bob Danziger … everything!
When I first wrote about Brandenburg 23: Six Variations, impressed by the range of the music Bob had produced in order to pay homage to Bach and The Brandenburg Concerto, I asked about the extent to which he may have taken liberties with the composer’s original score, and he replied with a single word, “Mucho.” At the time, he reminded me that, aside from improvising with his own musicians before ever delivering a score for the Brandenburg Concerto, Bach never played the piece in public during his lifetime. Consequently, Bob constructed his own score, based on the Eulenburg variation that has come down to us, and what we know of “the original”—and he rewrote large sections.
Then, having recorded his own contribution to the actual music by way of synthesized or “sampled” combined English Horn and trombone interpretations, he enlisted the assistance of Albert Wing on soprano sax and flute and Mike Miller on electric and acoustic guitar—both of whom have wildly impressive credentials that range from performing with everyone from Chick Corea, The Yellowjackets, Quincy Jones, Natalie Cole, to Frank Zappa and Diana Ross.
These two musicians put in nearly thirty hours of freely improvised “work” on their own, in accord with what Bob had previously played himself; the material then shaped to eight or nine tracks by Miller and ten to eleven by Wing. By way of multi-track recording techniques first explored by Les Paul and now refined to the point that one can “pick and choose only the most favorable effects,” the process afforded the three musicians “compositional and recording techniques not available to Bach.” The three musicians have different backgrounds and experiences, and they created a unique “conversation” in which each could bring, free of inhibition, all that is best and unique in themselves to the music: jazz being close to the heart of Mike Miller, and Albert Wing also, but with a solid “touch” of South Dakota folk sensibility in his contribution.
All of this was fully in line with the original intention described by Bob Danziger regarding the entire, now completed, project: “I founded this project in 2011, and hope to complete our work by the 300th Anniversary of the delivery to the Margrave of Brandenburg in 2021 … I believe the Brandenburg resonates so deeply and for so long because of the events in Bach’s life during the period of its composition. Almost all musicians achieve greatness because they put all of themselves into every song, and when Bach was writing the Brandenburg his beloved wife, mother of his seven children, a son and his brother all died while he was on a road show for his patron. He must have been emotionally raw, the seven stages of grief playing out in the music pouring from his soul onto the page. I suggest he was less filtered in this time, and therefore the musical themes more declarative. Pulling punches would have been hard when obsessively composing during this time. Then about a year into writing the Brandenburg he met his true love, who would bear him 13 children and work side-by-side with Bach for the rest of his life … This journey from family harmony, to the depths of despair, to the dizzying heights of new love traverses most important things in life, and are so regardless of wealth, race, religion and all the other things that separate us. The Brandenburgs bind us together through our common experience of life, death and love.”
Since he himself has been on the ground floor, and courageously “out in space,” for nearly every breakthrough technological development, Bob Danziger was able to make use of all resources available when it came to producing “sound.” Speaking of his colleagues and himself, Bob says, “We’ve all been through what Bach went through while he was writing Brandenburg,” and such experiences have been “internalizing in every way … It’s time for masters to be masters”—and I think that’s what this trio of fine musicians became within this music—an incredible collaboration, producing combinations of sound never heard before.
Just as Bach was highly inclusive himself (he not only produced the prolific “repertoire” that’s been handed down to us, but also managed to “manufacture” twenty progeny!), the results of Bob, Mike and Albert’s efforts are amazingly inclusive—containing what the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam commended in Bach, whom he considered “a great debater,” someone possessing “exuberant logic … nourished by soul”; if even a bit “stiff-necked” or petulant, someone capable of mixing his complaints with deserved praise. In other words, amazingly inclusive.
Alongside Brandenburg 23: Six Variations, Mike Miller (guitar, electric guitar, banjo, mandolin) and Albert Wing (alto, tenor and soprano sax, flute, pennywhistle, bass, drums, percussion) now also appear on Brandenburg Concerto #2 (Hybrids) and Brandenburg Concerto #4 (Hybrids & Duets). On the first, they participate in all five tracks. “#23: DaVinci” is a full orchestra offering with a lightsome danceable tempo and tambourine accompaniment. The piece provides a host of sounds, ranging from sharp guitar chord accents to quick spontaneous reed runs. A shuffle rhythm at the end and a cymbal wash close complete this tasteful intricate tribute to DaVinci’s own multiplicity. “#21: King” grants more of the same, but with a different sort of resonance between the instruments: oratorical, in keeping with Martin Luther King himself, call and response configurations, underlying “cello” passages and a rhythmic bass that echoes the famous phrasing of “I have a dream,” the whole extending hope, many voices merged as one and reaching out, jazz riffs mated with stately Bach figures and a sax coda at the end.
“#22: Rembrandt” suggests the painter’s range of somber color, with occasional jazz effects (subtle reed squeaks, squalls, “shouts,” even a taste of the blues provided by Mike Miller’s deft fingers) interlaced, played off against the steady, stately configurations—a genuine jazz/Bach conversation. The next piece, “#23: Vermeer,” begins with electric guitar textures suggesting an appropriate sun-washed domestic interior, both guitar (a sound fest complete with “wah wah” tones) and sax solos creating a contemporary ambiance that allows Bach to ease his way into the 21st century gracefully, which he does (by way of Bob Danziger’s contribution), the piece playful in a subdued manner—the most open or “out” interpretation so far, good fun made up of uninhabited improvisational invention.
“# 21:Voyager” is totally joyous from the start, a spatial cosmic launch, quest and trek, its soprano sax glaze and harpsichord configurations a handsome collaboration of “then” and “now,” appropriate for a time capsule salute, with a low tympani roll at the end.
A remarkable feature of this portion of the Brandenburg 300 Project is how the story told in each of these sections is totally in keeping with both the story told in Bach’s music itself and that of the lives of each Honoree for which a piece is named. That commitment continues in Brandenburg Concerto #4 (Hybrids & Duets).
Miller and Wing join Danziger on three pieces: “#43: Einstein,” “#43: Pauling,” and “#43: Curie.” The first is suitably in tune with Einstein’s mind at work: fully observant, self-contained clarity, energy and mass at play, keeping their difficult balance, all this reflected in subtle horn tones and synth strings, dialogic in the best sense–measured generosity and human kindness embodied in truly lovely melodic awareness. “#43: Pauling” contains a drum track, steady horns, handsome improvisational interaction, and lively independent excursions (distant sax peels, a floating, liquid “feel,” clever glisses at the close of runs), polyrhythms, and a close out reminiscent of Trad Jazz. “#43: Curie” is a wild conglomeration, a cornucopia—or perhaps even Pandora’s Box—of textures and tones, an intricate cloverleaf worthy of musicians who have all run that route in Los Angeles: overpass and underpass and long stretches in between, a rhythmic break followed by free jazz, uninhibited flight, and then a return to the steady familiar Bach business at hand, concluding with a coda by Wing.
On two tracks on Brandenburg Concerto #4 (Hybrids & Duets), and three other albums in the complete Brandenburg 300 Project series, Bob Danziger goes it alone—or as alone as a multi-talented man can go while playing an EWI (Akai’s wind controller, an electronic musical instrument shaped like a soprano sax or clarinet, straight with a slight curve just below the mouthpiece) and employing Logic (a digital audio workstation and MIDI sequencer software application, the audio effects of which include distortions, dynamics processors, equalization filters, and delays) and Sibelius (a WYSIWYG—“What You See Is What You Get—scorewriter program utilized, in addition to editing and printing scores, for playing music back using synthesized sounds, and scores for Internet and iPads access). These are the same “instruments” he employed while performing with Michael Miller and Albert Wing.
His two duet tracks on Brandenburg Concerto #4 (Hybrids & Duets) are outstanding.
“#41: Iwanaga” offers Bob “playing” Ivory Software (60 Gb for a single sound, which constitutes twenty times all Internet traffic in 1985!) piano—each note fed into his computer and then “freed up” (he went back through each line and changed each note), dynamics—fortissimo and pianissimo—determined manually, and all changes made “by ear” alone—the result magical. #41 Iwanaga” is a frisky piano piece with a slight ragtime “feel” at the start, honoring the World War II Japanese-American internment camp big bands (one of whose favorite tunes was Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In”): no-boundaries music filled with indomitable spirit, clean, articulate isolated single note bass lines, a benign “attack” lead voice piano challenged by a second piano voice, the lead voice responding at an astonishing, nearly unbelievable tempo–a pace that, set side by side with Art Tatum, would make him appear slow. While working on a book on jazz in the former Soviet Union, I was introduced to the work of pianist Sergey Kuryokhin, some recorded pieces of his obviously sped up, but the effect was also obviously mechanical. What Bob has done here does not sound mechanical at all—just “impossible” in the sense of what human hands might do if they could. A concert pianist would be tempted to add, “Who in heaven’s name is that?!” (Heaven’s name indeed!)—and the answer would be, “Bob Danziger.”
On this track the two piano voices join in a delightful prancing dance of affirmation at the close. In a second duet track, “#42: Permentil,” the theme is richly embellished, but rather than speed, space is provided, charming space, a landscape of silence between quarter notes and trills, with a sudden close out.
On Brandenburg 12-3 Perricone, Bob Danziger offers a single piece: melodious yet methodical (precise; respectful of Bach): light legato lines, pathways that suggest this Honoree’s own life-adventure, with handsome “harpsichord” counterpoint, grace devoid of stress, a fine homage to both Bach and Perricone. Brandenburg Concerto #2 (Duets & Trio) provides, in “# 21: Guadalupe,” handsome tasteful interaction, offsetting voices, an intelligent conversation filled with variety and surprise. “#22: Manning” is taken at a milder tempo, reflective, somewhat melancholy, its “cello” lower register notes elegiac but comforting—whereas “#22: Pythagoras” contains a joyous opening, interlaced instruments dancing to the point they invite the listener to dance as well (which I did!), a dignified dance worthy of the Ionian philosopher who influenced Plato. Pythagoras, according to legend, overhearing blacksmiths at work and thinking the sounds emanating from their anvils were “beautiful and harmonious,” discovered that musical notes could be translated into mathematical equations. In Bob’s interpretation, those blacksmiths may have been turned into children at recess, indulging in delightful free play.
Brandenburg Concertos #3 (Trios) contains two pieces: “#31: Schoenoff” and “32-3 Woodland.” The first contains more wild wonderful piano–jazz in that the lower register voice smacks of “stride,” counterpoint creating brilliant conversation, an infectious dance “groove” filled with swift runs and charming accents—a special universe laced with exotic echoes and familiar heartbeat and “speech” patterns. When the end comes, it’s mercifully abrupt. “#32-3 Woodland” commences with the sound sculpture of applause, distant bells, a child’s cooing—and then proceeds, like “#41: Iwanaga” at a delightfully inhuman piano pace or tempo—a Cheetah accelerating from 0 to 96.6 km/h (60.0 mph) turning into a Pronghorn over the distance, outrunning all contestants in the field, including Art Tatum and maybe even Bach himself! Miraculous! And joyous!
The complete Brandenburg 300 collection begins with Medley of 16 Songs, an amazing skillfully condensed assemblage of just that, 6:20 minutes ranging from DaVinci to King, a sampler or Preview of Coming Attractions. I’ve saved it for the last here because I feel it also serves as a fitting summary spot for the Mobius strip of this extraordinary work as a whole. Bob Danziger’s Brandenburg recordings also offer both horizontal and vertical mobility—the music unfolding or even sprouting at a joyous (occasionally breakneck) up tempo pace, but also disclosing layer upon layer of slowly absorbed meaning. Listening to the complete gathering of recordings, I felt as if I were on some endlessly progressing trek or “trip,” a voyage of discovery, an archaeological or spatial “dig” that eventually brought to light abundant unanticipated treasures and resultant wonder—an encyclopedic tapestry. Credit for this should also be extended to the mix by Chris Bolster at Abbey Road Studios and sound design, mixing and mastering by Pat Woodland.
Marcel Proust wrote about a musician whose piano performances were so fine that we, as listeners, are “no longer aware that the performer is a pianist at all,” that the “apparatus of digital effort,” all that “splattering shower of notes,” drops out, and what we are left to experience is a performance “so transparent, so imbued with what he is interpreting, that one no longer sees the performer himself—he is simply a window opening upon a great work of art.” All of the particulars, the parts, “flow into lakes of sound vaster than themselves.”
This is what I found happening to me as I listened to the complete Brandenburg 300 Project. If my own attempt to describe the effect tends to have become a bit “Baroque” itself, it’s because the music I experienced became so delightfully diffuse yet in accord, so “epic” in its inclusiveness, so wild yet comforting in its “reach,” so overwhelming with the full range of emotion it offered (from, yes, joy to sorrow to rage—and Bach himself was no stranger to rage!), that I myself became “imbued with what [it was] interpreting,” and for many delightful, truly meaningful moments I felt a bit vaster than myself. Thank you, Bob Danziger.
So where do we go from here? I was privileged to participate in a Brandenburg Concerto night at The Beach & Tennis Club in Pebble Beach, California, hosted by Bob and jazz pianist Biff Smith. My role was to stand around with a long-stemmed glass of Pinot Noir pretending I was some sort of expert on Bach and Jazz—but mostly I listened to, “drank in” the sounds of an extraordinary collection of pieces Bob had assembled of a host of artists interpreting Bach: ranging from Bob’s own work to that of classical masters to Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck, the Classical Jazz Quartet, Tiempo Libre, Dave Matthews & Manhattan Jazz Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis, Uri Caine, and Bud Powell.
Consequently, I should not have been at all surprised when he contacted me by email recently, under the subject heading “BirdBach Badinerie,” sending a new recording and saying,
“I just kind of plunked Charlie Parker’s solo (transcribed from web) from ‘All the Things You Are’ on top of Bach’s Orchestral Suite #2 (Badinerie), subtracted some notes here and there, changed a couple others. I still have to do the ‘move all the notes’ thing, but the synergy between Bach and Bird is pretty amazing. Thought you’d like to hear.”
The results are not just “pretty amazing.” The synergy is extraordinary, in keeping with all the rest that he has done—another door opening within the ongoing musical and spiritual adventure of a man whose all-embracing, fully consistent attention to adapting Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto to his own unique ‘vision’ (and now with Bird, and who knows who else in the mix?) does not merely bring the music up to date, but places it within all ages or eras with solid emphasis on our own–and a future of more wonders, music we can all look forward to listening to right up through the year 2021.
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Bill Minor is the author of Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years (with Clint Eastwood); Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within; and Unzipped Souls: A Jazz Journey through the Soviet Union. A jazz writer with over 150 articles to his credit–Down Beat, JazzTimes, Modern Drummer, Jazz Notes, Coda (Canada), Swing Journal (Japan), Jazz Forum (Poland), The Christian Science Monitor, and his jazz writing has also appeared online: jazzhouse.org, jazzinstituteofchicago.org, jazzwest.com, kyotojournal.org/10,000things.