Classical Cool

Classical Cool
Maker/Manufacturer: KANENGISER, WILLIAM

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Album Notes

Although I ended up becoming a “legit” classical musician, some of my earliest musical memories are of jazz. I can still recall being four or five, dancing around the rec room in my pj’s to Dave Brubeck’s Blue Rondo alla Turk, Stan Getz’ Bossa Nova ballads, and Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Later, I had delusions that I could turn into a real jazz guitarist, choosing to study at USC in part because they offered equally strong classical and jazz programs. Once I got there, reality hit: my temperment and training were much more suited to Bach than bop. Still, I’ve never lost my love for jazz, and I’ve recently become fascinated with pieces written with a jazz sensibility and style, yet drawing on the technique and timbre of the classical guitar.

The conventional wisdom is that “Jazz is Jazz, Classical is Classical, and ne’er the twain shall meet.” The music industry loves to pigeonhole artists and their music into neatly compartmentalized genres, but in truth there has long been a somewhat fuzzy line of demarcation between the two styles. (The term “Third Stream” was coined years ago to attempt to describe cross-pollinations like Stravinsky’s Rag-Times, Ellington’s Big Band symphonic tone poems, and Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs.) In the world of the classical guitar, jazz currents have seeped in slowly, but now they are approaching a torrent. The pieces in this collection represent just a sampling of the new wave of jazz-inspired writing being done for the nylon-string guitar; they just happen to be some of my personal favorites. While these tunes aren’t really jazz in the strictest sense (there is little improvisation, for example), they each in their own way succeed in making the classical guitar kind of cool.

Andy York is best known as a guitar composer, but in our many years working together in LAGQ, I’ve been equally impressed with his formidable jazz skills (he’s even written two method books called Jazz for Classical Cats!) Andy’s Freelin’ represents for me the perfect marriage of a jazz feel with a highly developmental classical approach to composition. Maintaining a driving groove throughout, it moves freely from swinging bop to walking bass lines, with unexpected references to Baroque gigues and chorales, all with a tightly organized thematic unity. Blues for J.D. is one of a series of Christmas gifts Andy wrote for his buddies in LAGQ, and this miniature for John Dearman takes three passes through the 12-bar blues, briefly touching on boogie-woogie along the way.

Fred Hand has long been established as one of the foremost guitarist/composers to successfully merge jazz and classical genres on the guitar; his seminal piece Trilogy, based in part on Dave Brubeck’s works, put him on the map in the classical guitar world. I chose a heartfelt piece called Missing Her to represent Fred’s fine work here. It starts as a free lyric ballad, then moves into an improvisatory solo on the tune; the “head” is then restated, this time imbued with the swinging lilt of a jazz waltz. Since my improv chops are pretty spotty, Fred was gracious enough to write me an “improvised” solo as a Christmas present.

I thought it would be appropriate to include some arrangements of Jazz Standards in this collection, and I’ve chosen three tunes that I dearly love, interpreted in very distinct styles by three master arrangers. The set starts with the classic Gershwin tune They Can’t Take That Away From Me arranged by my first functional guitar instructor at USC, Eddie Arkin. Starting with the simplest texture of melody with single-line bass accompaniment, the piece gets increasingly dense and rich in its harmonic sophistication, sort of an etude of chord-melody voicing. Next is the haunting Rodgers and Hart ballad My Funny Valentine, lovingly set by the legendary Gene Bertoncini in his trademark impressionistic style. The point of departure is the opening measure of Bach’s Prelude in D Minor, unfolding into a soulful statement of the theme using rolling arpeggios and campanella effects on the lower strings. The most ambitious of the arrangements is a re-composition of the classic Jerome Kern standard All The Things You Are by the French virtuoso Roland Dyens. Beginning with a churning, almost Bartok-inspired treatment of the theme, he moves to a Django-like driving groove, then a Baroque two-part invention, finally stating the theme in its most simple and compelling form.

I recorded Brian Head’s Sketches for Friends on my first solo recording oh-so-many years ago, and I thought it appropriate to revisit the final movement Brookland Boogie for this project. It was the first serious piece with a jazz impulse that I ever played, and it’s still one of my favorite concert encores. Particularly effective is the middle section with a bass and drum accompaniment (courtesy of my thumb and right foot) underpinning a wailing solo. This sketch is dedicated to Brian’s first guitar teacher; as a lad, Brian would take the subway to the Brookland stop in Washington, DC, and “boogie” to his lesson.

Matt Dunne is a teacher, performer, and composer from San Antonio, and he has been actively involved in researching the synthesis of jazz and classical idioms. As part of his Doctoral thesis on the subject, he composed a set of twelve Jazz Etudes (soon to be published by GSP) that take the guitar from Rag-time to Latin Jazz to contemporary feels. Though a relative newcomer to composition, Matt has shown a remarkable level of understanding of jazz harmony and classical guitar sonority. I chose four of these etudes for this project: #3, a bittersweet Ballad with a strong thematic and contrapuntal structure; #6, a formalized Blues with dense harmonies and a five-voice “shout chorus” section; #8, written For Sergio Assad, as a probing adaptation of the Brazilian master’s mournful Farewell (which I recorded on LAGQ’s Air & Ground for Sony Classical); and #5, an up-tempo Jazz Waltz with a swinging groove and cleverly sculpted chromatic chord movement.

Dusan Bogdanovic is one of my favorite composers for guitar, and his eclectic voice is equally at home in Balkan, African, Asian, and Neo-Renaissance styles. A consummate jazz improviser, Dusan has written a number of works with strong jazz elements, including the popular Jazz Sonatina. By Dusan’s own admission, his most directly jazz-influenced work is the Book of The Unknown Standards, presented here (as well as on a retrospective disc of his new works for Doberman Editions). A set of miniatures on different aspects of jazz, the “Book” implies rather tongue-in-cheek that these are five perennial favorites that no one has ever heard of: Monk-a-ning, a tribute to Thelonius Monk and his Rhythm-a-ning stomp; Esmeralda’s Waltz, a lyrical waltz in the Bill Evans vein, with a “Take 2” written-out solo; Of Odds and Ends, an intricate, three-voice chorale in a chromatic style reminiscent of The Days of Wine and Roses; Twelve-Note Samba, a humorous take on the Bossa Nova classic One-Note Samba, with a nearly dodecaphonic construction (and in 5/8 time, to boot!); finally, Steps to Hell and Back, a frenetic bop tune inspired by Miles Davis’ Seven Steps to Heaven, with the opening and closing chordal lines in mirror-image (or retrograde) of each other. (Again, backbeats are provided by percussionist “Righty” McToe.) I chose to finish off this album with one of my all-time favorite pieces, the heartbreakingly beautiful Lento from Dusan’s Jazz Sonata. I heard Dusan play this the first time I met him about 20 years ago, and it has haunted me ever since.

The only non-guitarist represented in this collection is John Harmon, an accomplished jazz piano soloist and accompanist, as well as an award-winning composer of jazz combo and chamber music. I first heard him on a solo piano recording called Rite of Passage, and I was struck by the spirit and sensitivity of his work (it reminded me a bit of Vince Guaraldi of “Peanuts” fame). I ended up commissioning him to write his first guitar piece for me, and Jack-Leg was the result (“jack-leg” is a homespun term for an unschooled but fervent country preacher). Opening with a gentle theme, it gives way to a countrified bluesy stomp, followed by a bridge with Oriental undertones. After recalling the sweet opening, the groove returns and drives to the finish with tasty riffs and a high-harmonic trill. Amen!

Bill Kanengiser - February 18, 2003

Produced by William Kanengiser
Recorded at Penguin Studios, Eagle Rock, CA Jan. 8, 9, 20 and Feb. 3, 2003
Engineered by John Strother
Engineering Assistant and Digital Editing: Shaun Cromwell
Graphics and layout by Dean Kamei
Cover photo by Blake Little This CD is dedicated to two men whose love of jazz continues to inspire me: Howard Kanengiser and Jack Ries

Special Thanks to:
All my friends who offered their help, advice and musical contributions: Andy, for being a constant inspiration and musical partner-in-crime; Fred, for your generosity in writing me such a cool solo; Eddie, for showing me the way to quartal tones and the tri-tone sub; Gene, for your sweet nature and helpful guidance; Roland, for your genius and patience with my stubborn persistence; Brian, for being a true friend and trusted musical sounding-board; Matt, for giving me so much great advice and avenues to follow on this jazzy path; Dusan, for being a mensch and one of my musical heroes; John H., for gracing me with such a fun piece; John S. and Shaun, for your ears and techspertise; and Dean, for your continued support and great design. Most importantly, to Colette and Camille, for your love and devotion through all my spaced-out moments; you’re the reason I get up in the morning!

MORE William Kanengiser CDs from GSP Recordings:
Rondo Alla Turca (GSP1004)
Echoes of The Old World (GSP1006)
Caribbean Souvenirs (GSP1018)


Recognized as one of America’s finest classical guitarists, William Kanengiser won First Prize in the 1987 Concert Artists Guild International Competition as well as major guitar competitions in Toronto (1981) and Paris (1983). He has recorded four solo CD’s for the GSP label, ranging from classical to jazz to Caribbean to Near Eastern styles, and he recently recorded two CD’s for the Suzuki Guitar Advanced Repertoire Series. In 2005 he released a live concert DVD, “Classical Guitar and Beyond”, for Mel Bay Recordings, which also features Mr. Kanengiser’s talents as a comedian/mimic in his infamous “GFA Imitation Show”. A member of the guitar faculty at the USC Thornton School of Music since 1983, he was a recipient of the “2011 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching”. He has given master classes around the world and produced two instructional videos, “Effortless Classical Guitar” and “Classical Guitar Mastery” for Hot Licks Video. The 2010-11 season was marked by special performances of Shingo Fujii’s “Concerto de Los Angeles” for solo guitar and guitar orchestra, which was written for Mr. Kanengiser and recorded in Kyoto in 2008. This piece was played with guitar students in seven US cities, as well as in Osaka and Shanghai. Featured recitals in 2012-13 include Spivey Hall near Atlanta and appearances with the Long Island, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Calgary and Indianapolis Guitar Socities.

As a founding member of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Mr. Kanengiser has toured extensively throughout Asia, Europe and North America and recorded over a dozen CD’s. LAGQ was awarded a GRAMMY® for Best Classical Crossover Recording in 2004. Their newest recording project “Interchange”, features concertos by Joaquin Rodrigo and Sergio Assad; it was released in March 2010 and received a Latin Grammy nomination for Best Classical Composition. In addition to three European tours this season, they recently completed their Australian debut tour, including three sold-out shows at the Sydney Opera House.

In addition to the many arrangements and compositions Mr. Kanengiser has written for LAGQ over the years, Mr. Kanengiser recently created the stage production “The Ingenious Don Quixote: Words and Music from the Time of Cervantes”, writing a one-hour script for John Cleese (of Monty Python) and arranging accompanying Spanish Renaissance music for guitar quartet. This work is now being toured with comedian Phil Proctor of the Firesign Theater, and was recently released as a live DVD on Mel Bay Recordings.

Additional Information

Additional Information

Maker / Manufacturer KANENGISER, WILLIAM
Availability Temporarily Out of Print
Track 1 Freelin' (A. York)
Track 2 Missing Her (F. Hand)
Track 3 They Can't Take That Away From Me (G. & I. Gershwin)
Track 4 My Funny Valentine (Rogers & Hart)
Track 5 All The Things You Are (J. Kern)
Track 6 Brookland Boogie (B. Head)
Track 7 Jazz Etude No. 3 (A. Dunne)
Track 8 Jazz Etude No. 6 (A. Dunne)
Track 9 Jazz Etude No. 8 (A. Dunne)
Track 10 Jazz Etude No. 5 (A. Dunne)
Track 11 Blues for J.D. (A. York)
Track 12 Book of The Unknown Standards - Monk-a-ning (D. Bogdanovic)
Track 13 Book of The Unknown Standards - Esmeralda's Waltz (D. Bogdanovic)
Track 14 Book of The Unknown Standards - Of Odds and Ends (D. Bogdanovic)
Track 15 Book of The Unknown Standards - Twelve-note samba (D. Bogdanovic)
Track 16 Book of The Unknown Standards - Steps to Hell and Back (D. Bogdanovic)
Track 17 Jack-Leg (J. Harmon)
Track 18 Lento from Jazz Sonata (D. Bogdanovic)


"You do not have to be in the jazz fraternity to appreciate the expertise, which has gone into the making of this disc. The arrangements, the original compositions, the sound production, the packaging and the performance are all of a standard-setting level. this is top class stuff with an enjoyment factor of 100 per cent. Using the 'Desert Island Discs' ideology, if a person could have eight guitar recordings only then this should be in that list somewhere. Very highly recommended." - Steve Marsh, Classical Guitar Magazine

"This is Kanengiser's third solo CD; his first explicit foray into jazz, it reconfirms that immaculate classical chops are no barrier to swing, especially when accompanied by depth of feeling and impeccable time. Kanengiser's technique, sensitivity, and dynamics are superb, and he's chosen exceptional material, most of it written by other guitarists. All told, "Classical Cool" offers that rare combination of spirited, yet soothing music: well-paced, varied, and full of artistry and warmth, it blurs the lines between classical and jazz. Highly recommended." - Judith Schlesinger, All Music Guide


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