BRATTLEBORO >> On Saturday at 8 p.m., the Vermont Jazz Center will present a listening experience that will appeal to lovers of both classical and jazz music. Saxophonist Michael Zsoldos will pay tribute to one of the jazz lineage's top tenor saxophonists Ben Webster. For this concert his jazz quartet will be augmented by a string quartet. Together they will perform an evening of music that Zsoldos transcribed from two recordings released by Webster in 1954: "Music for Loving" and "The Warm Moods." Zsoldos will be joined by Miro Sprague (piano), Dave Clark (acoustic bass) and Tim Gilmore (drums). The jazz quartet will be complemented by string players Alicia Casey, Ben Van Vliet (violins), Marcia Cassidy (viola) and Ben Kulp (cello).
The concept of adding strings to a small jazz ensemble was used successfully as a marketing tool primarily by jazz impresario Norman Granz in the late 1940s. He found that the classy addition of strings arrangements to jazz records helped increase audiences and album sales of bebop artists whose music might be considered too intense for mass consumption. Although some listeners judged jazz-with-strings to be a commercial sell-out, its accessibility and relaxed sexiness increased jazz's palatability to a new audience. Many musicians considered playing with strings to be a significant milestone in their careers. They found that the association with instruments usually reserved for classical music while collaborating with lauded arrangers gave credibility to their artistic struggle, enhanced their personal public image and elevated jazz's overall class status. It could be inferred that jazz's liaison with classically-oriented arrangements was a key factor in raising its status from popular music to art music.
For the concert on Saturday, Michael Zsoldos will be representing tenor saxophonist Ben Webster who is best known for his gorgeous, breathy tone. History has been kind to "Frog," as he was fondly called. He is recognized as one of jazz's top swing-era tenor saxophonists - in the elite pantheon with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Also known as "Brute," he contributed significantly to several of the most important big bands (Ellington, Basie, Lionel Hampton and Bennie Carter) and his improvised solo on the 1940s version of Ellington's "Cottontail" is referred to as one of the classic jazz solos of all time. After the demise of the big band, Webster was able to mold the swinging vibe of the large ensemble into small-group settings with colleagues such as Oscar Peterson, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Illinois Jacquet, Johnny Hodges and numerous others. He is one of the few saxophonists to have recorded with the mythical, legendary pianist, Art Tatum.
It was Zsoldos' idea to label this series of concerts recognizing musicians in his position "Under the Radar." Zsoldos himself is a consumate performer who often appears as a sideman but rarely gets the opportunity to present his own vision. When he chooses to step into the limelight he does it in a big
way: Zsoldos's most recent recording "Off the Cuff" with drummer Matt Wilson, bassist Martin Wind and pianist Miro Sprague was on the nominating ballot in four categories for the 2011 Grammys. For his Jazz Center performance Zsoldos chose to present music that is also "under the radar:" music that has never been heard live (only on recordings), music that raises awareness of the brilliance of the string writing of Ellington's string writing right hand man Billy Strayhorn: Music that fuses a jazz quartet with a classical string quartet. This is a very exciting opportunity for listeners to observe the fluid boundaries between jazz and classical music, to experience the beautiful side of jazz, and to appreciate the huge impact Ben Webster has had on the evolution of the tenor saxophone.
Tickets for the Michael Zsoldos concert are $20+ general admission, $15 for students with I.D. (contact VJC about educational discounts); available at In the Moment in Brattleboro, or online at www.vtjazz.org, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets can also be reserved by calling the Vermont Jazz Center ticket line, 802-254-9088, ext. 1. Handicapped access is available by calling the VJC at 802-254-9088.