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Jane Enkin Reviews Aaron Weinstein – Live and On Screen Tarbut Festival 2018 Saturday, November 10

by Jane Enkin, Nov 11, 2018

Aaron Weinstein – Live and On Screen, Tarbut Festival 2018,Saturday, November 10

The Tarbut Festival continues throughNovember 18.

reviewed by Jane Enkin


Aaron Weinstein is in love with jazz and he brings his audience into his love affair.


His Tarbut show took an unusual form, with concert performances book-ending the presentation, and in between a brief lecture, archival film clips and a question and answer session. Throughout, Weinstein offered cute jokes along with clear information.


He explained that improvisation, does not mean playing random notes. It is a conversation between musicians. As a comparison, he used this metaphor: When you speak with someone, you don't know ahead of time how you're going to answer, you're listening, and what you say draws on a specific vocabulary, sequence of words, and everything that makes a sentence intelligible. Jazz musicians share a language.


In Weinstein's case, he drew on the language of the swing idiom, interpreting songs in a fresh and individual manner while honouring the styles of jazz innovators from the 20s, 30s and 40s. This was reflected in his gorgeous improvisational playing and in the arrangements he brought to the wonderful Winnipeg musicians he performed with, Ron Paley on piano and Julian Bradford on bass. It was great to hear them function as a trio, each musician playing prominent melodic lines while sustaining the energetic drive of the uptempo pieces, and the mellow sweetness of the ballads.


Weinstein played an acoustic violin into a microphone, which allowed him to play soft melodies with delicacy and exciting, driving passages with a full, rich sound. He is a largely self-taught musician, and he emphasized the importance of listening to hours and hours of jazz in order to master it. He said that it's important for jazz musicians to learn from players on other instruments than their own, to take them past what their fingers are used to playing. Jazz is a theoretical language, not something to only copy or reconstruct, but to use and develop.


Weinstein taught briefly about four influential jazz violinists, then played a few film and video clips of each one, performing with small and large ensembles. It was a treat to see the artists in early films from their careers, and then watch them age while keeping their amazing technical skills.


Joe Venuti trained as a classical musician and became the first great violinist in jazz. In the 1920s he played in a duet with the guitarist Eddy Lang. He went on to play with big bands and tight small ensembles. Like the three following masters he influenced, he played with energy and virtuoso speed.


Stephane Grappelli started his career in Django Reinhardt's all-string Hot Club de France. I loved his honeyed tone and his calm and cool demeanor, smiling and mellow even when he played amazing, quick solos.


Svend Asmussen, a talented musician and singer, was also a funny and charming entertainer, who became a huge star in Denmark. Weinstein said that he was also an innovator who introduced harmonic ideas that no one had considered before. The highlight of the film clips for me was a performance by Asmussen on violin and Benny Goodman on clarinet, totally attentive to one another, in a fluid exchange throughout their dialogue, without the conventional approach of taking a solo of a set number of bars.


Stuff Smith (the only African-American artist among the four) was ahead of his time in terms of harmony and rhythm. He was the first violinist to play an amplified violin, which allowed him to hold his own with horn players and drummers. The differences in his style from his predecessors are subtle and made me want to listen and learn more. Certainly hearing him play (on youtube) with Oscar Peterson on piano helped me understand why his work is considered a bridge between swing and bebop music.


All have these violinists had ways of playing with time, with astonishingly quick runs of notes peppered with pulls and hesitations that continually surprise. Weinstein emphasized that jazz can be played on any instrument. To me, the violin is especially suited to jazz, although it is rare in jazz ensembles. A violinist can build blue notes into their playing, use bowing technique for emotional effects, and mimic beautifully the human voice. Weinstein, like the masters of jazz violin he taught us about, can also play with dazzling speed while remaining melodically interesting. It was so impressive to watch Venuti and Grappelli in their senior years, their fingers flying.


Weinstein was asked about Jewish content in his music, and while he doesn't hear klezmer sounds in the style he plays, he said the Jewish immigrant experience of the composers from the 20s and 30s is important. He reminded us to listen for cantorial vocal motifs as well as old country folk music.


On the topic “Does jazz have a future?” he said, “People have been asking that since the 1950s.” He acknowledged that jazz will never be as popular as it was in Benny Goodman's time, but musical styles last. “Mozart's not going anywhere, Gershwin's not going anywhere...”


Weinstein opened and closed the show, along with Paley and Bradford, with rich renditions of songs all written before 1950. I recognized standards like Irving Berlin's Cheek to Cheek and the sweet, sentimental ballad What'll I Do. Weinstein introduced Berlin's Russian Lullaby with an unaccompanied, soulful, traditional-sounding Russian melody before launching into the song itself.

He closed with a fun rendition of George Gershwin's Lady Be Good, a song composed with melody, chords and rhythm that lend themselves perfectly to Weinstein's swinging style

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