Thursday, December 16, 2010
On Friday at Plaza Linda, a unique jazz trio – featuring Kenny Stahl on flute, Bob Burnett on seven-string guitar and Renata Bratt on cello – will celebrate the holiday season with their distinctive twist on age-old Christmas favorites from its recently released LP, Do You Hear What I Hear.
One of the immediate standouts when first listening to the album is Bratt’s cello – not commonly regarded as a regular tool used in jazz music – which melodically chops out rhythms reminiscent of the way the instrument is utilized in The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.”
Bratt has clearly learned how to make the cello smoothly fit into any type of music. Some of her skills can be attributed to a musical education that was as extensive and involved as a route taken by physicians: a bachelor’s degree in music, a master’s in music performance followed by a doctorate in music. She now teaches, writes, tours, lectures and has played with everyone from Jimmy Page and Robert Plant to David Sanborn and Lyle Lovett.
The music scholar insists that it isn’t very far fetched to hear jazz played on the cello. In fact, many years ago, the cello was as commonplace as the trumpet in jazz.
“In New Orleans jazz the cello was used a lot,” she says. “If you look at the makeup of early jazz bands there were both cello and violins; many really good jazz bass players started on cello.”
Initially, there was only one real direction to go for cellists and that was classical, a music world that African Americans were not eagerly allowed into in the early days, so it became widely incorporated into jazz. Bratt herself started out playing classical until the day she first heard the Grammy Award-winning Turtle Island String Quartet in the ’80s, which feature a jazz cellist.
“After hearing them I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I had no idea you could do this on cello,’” Bratt says. “It opened up a whole other world for me and taught me how to be a composer and performer.”
There’s another style of playing Bratt brings to her instrument not usually associated with the cello: fiddling. Her recently released solo album A Slice of Summer, meanwhile, covers many musical styles – from Brazilian to folk – but jazz is clearly a common thread throughout all of the 10 tracks.
Bratt stresses that one of the most vital things to master as a jazz musician is expert ad-libbing.
“It’s important to listen to a lot of people improvising, just to get a feel for it, and to play along with music and your friends as much as possible,” she says.
Some of the players that Bratt regards as some of the greatest improvisational jazz archetypes include Lester Young and Charlie Parker.
In addition to the trio’s jazzified take on classic Christmas tunes, there will also be a batch of originals from Stahl, Bratt and Burnett, covers of jazz favorites and, true to Bratt’s beliefs, plenty of good old improvisation.