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Hotter Than Hot
13 Apr 2012
Inside the Classics

If you’re attending any of this week’s concerts, you may be surprised to read in the program notes that the second movement of James Stephenson’s new violin concerto was inspired by none other than legendary jazzman Louis Armstrong. Stephenson’s a former professional trumpeter himself, and in my experience, trumpet players tend to be more dialed into non-classical genres than many other sections of the orchestra, so it’s not a big shock that Jim took inspiration from the great Satchmo.

But what is interesting is that the specific music that inspired Jim comes in the middle of a not-terribly-well-known tune called Hotter Than Hot, and that it begins when Armstrong puts down the trumpet, and starts scatting…


(the scat solo begins at 1:20)

Jim’s version of the Armstrong solo isn’t a direct quote, I don’t believe, and it’s considerably slower and more melancholy than the original, but there’s a real jazz age feel to the slow movement of the concerto, helped along by Jim’s use of the piano and pizzicatto strings to lay down exactly the sort of rhythmic bed that a classic jazz combo plays underneath a solo. I’m not one who generally believes that knowing exactly where a composer got a musical idea heightens the listening experience, but in this case, listening to Hotter Than Hot a few times made the experience of playing the concerto somehow more intimate for me.

You have two more chances to hear the Stephenson concerto live at Orchestra Hall (along with Osmo’s deservedly lauded interpretation of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony,) but if you can’t make it in person, tonight’s performance (at 8pm Central Time) will, as per usual on Fridays, be carried live on Classical Minnesota Public Radio – KSJN 99.5 in the Cities, all across the Upper Midwest on these stations, and streaming live at ClassicalMPR.org.

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