Jazz has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I love it, I listen to it all the time, but play it? Nope, it’s just too scary. Jazz has a set of rules that I never learned. You have to do things like improvise and swing. I’m just not cool enough to do that. I like the notes before me in black and white and when I see an eighth note I play an eighth note.
I think jazz is one of those things that has to be learned when you’re young. It’s like studying a foreign language. If you don’t learn it as a child you will never become fluent. My window of opportunity to become a jazzer closed decades ago. It’s unfortunate that jazz music education in our schools doesn’t have much to offer to a flute player.
Perhaps that’s why Claude Bolling’s Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano is so popular. It’s all right there on the paper. There’s no scary improve, all the notes are there in black and white and you don’t have to refer to the music as a chart. Well, honestly, I’m not sure that the flute part truly lives up to the label jazz, it’s more like a classical flute part wrapped in a wonderful jazz accompaniment. But it’s fun to pretend you’re playing jazz.
I first heard about this piece back in the eighties when I was in college. One of the other students in the flute studio got her hands on a copy of the sheet music and it got passed around amongst us. Eventually I acquired my own copy of the flute part as well as the wonderful recording Jean-Pierre Rampal made with Claude Bolling himself on piano. To this day I love to play along with the recording, although Mr. Rampal has a certain disregard for tempo markings. He takes Baroque and Blue at a speed that leaves me floundering to keep up.
As popular as this piece is, there have been remarkably few recordings made of it since Rampal collaborated with the composer. Jeanne Baxtresser and Laurel Zucker have each made excellent recordings of the suite, but I must confess I knew nothing about these recordings until I searched for them on Amazon.com. Perhaps the reason is that Rampal and Bolling did it so well in the first place, that a new recording has little else to add. Jeanne and Laurel sound great, but I find myself comparing every nuance to the beloved original recording.
If anyone can follow up on the original and not get lost in Rampal’s shadow, it’s Sir James Galway. In 2008 he teamed up with the Grammy nominated Cuban band Tiempo Libre to produce O’Reilly Street. Together they managed to render this piece in an entirely new flavor, spicy Latin with a hint of Irish. The recording includes several movements from both the first and second Bolling Suites as well as several unrelated tracks arranged by Tiempo Libre’s talented Jorge Gomez. Sony BMG Masterworks has put together an interesting video on the making of O’Reilly Street which is available on YouTube.
Claude Bolling’s first Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio has been immensely popular, ranking on the Billboard charts for more than ten years. That popularity has resulted in Bolling’s wonderful works being commercially available in many different formats. The score and parts for the first Suite can be purchased separately or in conjunction with the audio CD. The beauty of buying the CD in combination with the music is that you not only get the original recording with Rampal on flute, but you also get the play along track of the jazz trio with the flute part removed. How many of us will ever have the chance to play with a first rate jazz combo? The play along feature, in my opinion, is what makes this piece such a gem to have in your collection.
The original Bolling/Rampal recording which does not include the play along track is also available on CD. And for those collectors out there, you can still sometimes find this album on vinyl. Unfortunately the first Suite does not seem to be available as an MP3 download, at least not in its entirety. However, several of the more popular tracks are included in Claude Bolling’s Greatest Hits on which the individual tracks are available for download.
If you don’t already own Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio in one form or another, take a listen and consider adding it to your music and/or recording collection. It’s great fun whether you’re listening or playing and it’s sure to be different from anything else in your repertoire. For those of us with this piece knocking around our music box, maybe it’s time to pull it out and have some fun with Claude Bolling.