PROGRAM NOTES by George Andrix
A string quartet playing jazz is not a completely unique occurrence. It is, however, something that one will rarely hear at the friendly local jazz emporium. As a long-time performer and admirer of the string quartet, and as a long-time admirer (and occasional performer) of the genre of music known as jazz, I have had a long-time interest in putting the two together. Many (if not most) of my compositions have some sort of a jazz influence, and I have dabbled in writing straight jazz compositions for string quartet, but this recording is the first time I have had the opportunity and the ambition to undertake such a large project. One will not find total agreement on a definition of jazz. Some will say that it is music of a certain style or with a certain feel. Others will argue that it must be largely (if not entirely) improvised. I am of the opinion that the music of an eighteen or twenty piece jazz band, which is mostly composed (arranged) with a few improvised solos can be just as much “jazz” as that of a solo pianist, which will often be completely improvised.
All of the pieces on this recording include some improvisation, although it is mostly written out, as it would be for a “big band”. When highly skilled jazz improvisers, Joel Gray and John Taylor join the quartet, the improvisatory aspect of the music comes to the fore. Most of the pieces on this CD consist of the usual format of a 32 bar tune, either an original composition or a jazz standard, followed by one or more “solo” choruses, with the original tune repeated at the end. Since it is the “string quartet” instrumentation that makes this project unique, it seems appropriate that the string quartet, as a unit, will often take one of the “solo” choruses.
June Tune follows this standard procedure. The original tune is followed by a 32 bar trumpet solo and a 32 bar solo for the quartet. The original tune is then repeated with a six bar codetta to end it.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes conforms to the same pattern, with the four solos (one for each member of the quartet) played
double time. The final chorus returns to the original slow ballad tempo.
The title track, Blue by Four, is a straight-ahead, up-tempo, 12 bar blues, featuring solos by the viola and first violin.
To Spring 2008 (In memoriam H. Green) was written in memory of my good friend and well-known Edmonton musician, Harlan
Green. It begins with the melody played in four-part harmony by two violas, cello and bass. A flugelhorn solo over the original chord changes follows. In the final chorus the melody is played by the flugelhorn with a super- imposed violin obligato.
A straight-ahead jazz tune, Riff Raff follows the standard head-solo-head format.
Donna Lee Fantasy is the first piece to stray in a significant way from the standard jazz format. It begins with a slow rambling
introduction loosely based on Charlie Parker’s original composition. The tempo doubles in the next section, which consists of an almost literal statement of the tune by the first violin. The viola enters one bar later with a free (but recognizable) canonic imitation of the first violin. The second violin then plays a solo chorus. The tempo then again doubles for a quartet chorus, which leads to the final chorus, a straight-ahead statement of Mr. Parker’s original tune.
A four bar, two chord pattern runs throughout Ostentatious Ostinato. The bass line and accompanying rhythm patterns
change to create four fairly distinct sections to the work. Various members of the ensemble solo over the ostinato.
Misty is a standard jazz ballad played in the standard head-solohead manner.
The exposition and recapitulation of Meat Ball Fugue adhere (formally) to the tradition of a four voice classical fugue. The
development section is made up of “solo” choruses for quartet, trumpet and bass. Short “episodes” connect the sections.
The well-known composition by Thelonius Monk, ’Round Midnight, represents my earliest attempt at writing a serious jazz
arrangement for string quartet. Aside from a little extra compositional development in the recapitulation, the arrangement follows the standard form.
Diminished Capacity is an up-tempo tune requiring undiminished capacity on the part of the trumpet player.
This arrangement of Fly Me to the Moon begins with a slow introduction, and features solos by the viola and the first violin.
Toro Taco Tango is made up of a sixteen bar harmonic pattern with a four bar unison phrase between each repetition of the
pattern. Various composed and improvised melodies occur over, under and around it.
Another up-tempo blues tune, Blue Q. #2 is very similar to Blue by Four: a 12 bar tune with solos for each of the four players.
In the Mood is an almost literal transcription of the Glen Miller arrangement.