By Diaa Bekheet | Washington, D.C.
Recently, I was listening to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Für Elise, a compelling classical masterpiece — and I lost myself completely in it. I felt relieved from a great deal of stress due to pondering the many issues in the news, such as the “Arab Spring” that has swept through parts of the Middle East – and currently Egypt.
Für Elise had such a powerful effect on me that I put the player on loop so I could keep listening to it over and over again. I played the full 60-minute version and I sat there listening to it for almost the full hour. When the music ended, I was overwhelmed by the realization that classical music and jazz do somehow intersect.
I’ve written several times about jazz fusion and some of its musicians who blend jazz with pop, rock, and Latin music. But only a few accomplished, contemporary musicians mix jazz and classical. So, to acquire more knowledge about this fascinating blend, I decided to interview distinguished pianist, composer, and educator Paul Hofmann who, himself, mixes jazz with classical and has the abilities needed to perform and compose ear-catching music.
Hofmann agrees that the music genres intersect. “Not only do they intersect, but they have been highly connected ever since the start of jazz, that’s for sure,” noted Hofmann, who now serves full-time on the Eastman Community Music School faculty.
Here’s JazzBeat and a sample of jazz- classical blend with pianist Paul Hofmann and guitarist Bob Sneider. You will also hear Mike Metheny playing the flugelhorn on the last composition “Flamenco Sketches.”
Hofmann has released an album titled Escapade, on which he collaborated with acclaimed guitarist Bob Sneider. It showcases 19 well-arranged compositions that will put you quickly in a relaxing listening mode with melodies like “Bird’s-Eye View”, “Manana Time”, “My Funny Valentine”, “New Invention No. 21″, and ” Improvisations on Prelude No. 22, Op. 11 Part IV.”
Hofmann says he grew up listening to masterpieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, and other classical music legends. His parents were classical keyboardists. “I heard music being practiced in the house,” he explained. “It seemed like a natural thing for me, especially when I heard things like Mozart’s variations of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
Hofmann started composing music before he was a teenager. “I was playing those when I was 12 or so, and I thought, how come Mozart was allowed to make up his own notes and I’m not allowed to make up mine?”
Paul Hofmann began improvising music at a very young age. Maybe that’s why he encourages the young musicians he teaches to also improvise. “We are all able to speak fluently and no one thinks that’s hard at all. It should be the same with music,” Hofmann said. “Of course, all those great classical composers, most of whom were keyboardists because you can replicate the orchestra on a keyboard, they all lived in an era where there were no tape recorders, you know, so the only way for them to leave music for posterity especially was to come up with 20-page written masterpiece manuscripts.”
In 1990, Hofmann recorded his debut CD, When You Dream, a solo piano program of jazz ballads. It was released a year later as the first offering from MHR Records. The MHR label denotes the three primary elements of Western music: melody, harmony and rhythm. When You Dream features a number of great melodies, including “Sophisticated Lady,” “I’ll Keep Loving You,” “Melody for Two,” “Remembering the Rain,” “Love Letter,” and “Dusk at Saudi,” the first of three compositions by bebop pioneer Bud Powell – an eerie, dark and provocative work first recorded in 1951, that contains wonderful harmonic ideas, some of which is a reminder of Debussy.
Hofmann played piano for a reception honoring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck about a year before Hepburn passed away in 1993. The event was held at Rochester’s George Eastman House, where he teaches music. “Two nicer, elegant people cannot be imagined,” Hofmann said of Hepburn and Peck. “No Hollywood star issues with them at all – just classy people.”
For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America