This past week I had the opportunity to participate in a video shoot for the History Channel's upcoming series, "People With Super Human Abilities." The "Super Human" in this case was the Beat Boxer (vocal percussion in Hip Hop parlance), Kenny Mohammed, aka "The Human Orchestra." So, we had "The Human Orchestra" performing with an orchestra of humans.
I first met Kenny in 1998 and composed music that we eventually performed together on several occasions with the New York City Symphony. Though the concept of a Hip-Hop/Classical merge might be considered new, the idea of musical juxtaposition has been around forever. Music, by its very nature, is highly organic. Cross-fertilization is part of the legacy of every art form as artists are often influenced by others in their respective realms. In fact Albert Einstein once remarked, "The key to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources." We are all influenced by those who came before us.
The project with Kenny Mohammed is the precursor to a larger vision that we have about combining the two styles---a Hip Hop Symphony. On face value the merge may seem to be incongruous, but rhythmically there the two styles are quite compatible. Art music of the early twentieth century is characterized by a great variance of rhythmic properties, including high degrees of syncopation. Many composers of that era utilized jazz rhythms in their work so the precedent has been set.
I've attached an MP3 file of a demo of the music, Kenny's Joy,
that we did for the History Channel.
Another artist with Hip-Hop roots that I've been working with is Steven Santiago (aka Opera Steve.) I wrote a piece for Steven that features his wonderful tenor voice and a Hip-Hop/Classical merge. Our demo, La Pace E'speranza
(Peace is the Hope) is attached as well.
The history of music provides numerous examples of cross-fertilization. We see/hear it in virtually every musical genre. When Beethoven and Mozart first heard Turkish music they incorporated Turkish elements in their works. Many European composers were influenced by Spanish music and we hear these influences in the music of Ravel, Debussy, Rimsky-Korsakov. American composer and pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1969) utilized Latin rhythms is his music upon hearing Latin music during his travels to South America and the Caribbean.
Jazz too, found its way into the music of the European classical composers including the music of Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith, Dmitri Shostakovich and Boris Blacher. The icon American composer, Aaron Copland, composed a Concerto for Clarinet for jazz legend, Benny Goodman. The music in infused with jazz elements such as walking bass lines and "jazzy" syncopations.
Conversely, American Jazz composers were highly attuned to classical and various European influences. The wonderful collaboration between trumpeter Miles Davis and arranger Gil Evans produced one of the most heralded Jazz albums of all time, Sketches of Spain. Don Sebesky's jazz-oriented arrangements of Bach, Stravinsky and Bartok offer a unique expression of the jazz/classical merge. Duke Ellington's arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet remains a jazz classic. Recently, trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis composed Swing Symphony that was performed by the Lincoln Center Jazz Ensemble and the New York Philharmonic.
Think of how the Beatles utilized classical, folk, R & B and Indian elements in their music. Brian Eno delved into the realm of electro-acoustic music which was led to his pioneering work in the area of ambient music. Pop groups such as Steeley Dan, Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears and Earth, Wind and Fire incorporated Jazz and Big Band elements into their sound as well. Frank Zappa's innovative forays into experimentalism were influenced by his admiration for the early twentieth century French modernist, Edgard Varese (who also was the inspiration behind the opening song of Chicago's fifth album, A Hit by Varese, with its classic lyric, "I'm so tired of oldies and moldies and goldies that I want to cry.")
So as Einstein implied, our music, no matter how unique or individualistic we may think it may be, has been influenced by those who we have encountered along our musical paths.