For my whole life, I have been a classical and jazz pianist and have always been deeply affected by combinations of the two traditions. As a child, I was fascinated by jazzed-up versions of Johann Sebastian Bach. I sang the Swingle Singers’ adaptation of Bach’s Badinerie (“bam ba va dam ba va dam ba va dam”) long before I ever heard a performance of the original orchestral score. Jacques Loussier was also in my head, as well as Dave Brubeck’s many Bachian adventures such as “Two-Part Contention” and “Brandenburg Gate.” I loved The Modern Jazz Quartet’s polyphonic excursions on their album with the Swingle Singers and I still hum John Lewis’s “Little David’s Fugue.”
So, it isn’t a big leap for me to have composed these jazzy accompaniments to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Two-Part Inventions. These staples of piano students can now be heard in a different context and the great irony is that the original interpretation need not be altered when played with the jazzy accompaniment. The pianist playing the original Bach Invention does not need to alter a straight eighth- or sixteenth-note rhythm to a triplet configuration to make it “swing.” The same way of playing it solo can be used when playing it in this duet version.
The new context for these Inventions is similar to a re-staging of classical operas. Ken Russell’s 1983 production of Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly, recontextualized in World War II Japan, did not change Puccini’s music. But, with this new setting, we perceive the opera in a new light, under a new lense. Similarly, although I do offer intro and coda options for some of the Inventions, I did not change any of Bach’s original notes. Some of my harmonic choices for the accompaniment do transcend Bach’s original concepts. For example, in the first half of measure 20 of Invention No. 15, Bach implies an F#7 to B minor chord (V–i). My addition turns it into a deceptive cadence by having the F#7 resolve to a G major chord (V–VI). And my rhythmic language, emphasizing offbeats, automatically recasts Bach’s own metrical template.
Various styles are evoked, including jazz waltz, salsa, bossa nova, blues, bluegrass, and boogie-woogie. Classic bebop riffs, including one of Tom Harrell’s famous ii–V–I licks, appear in several of the accompaniments.
There are direct if somewhat whimsical quotations of George Gershwin’s Prelude No. 1 (Invention No. 8, “Great Bach’s Afire”), Dave Brubeck’s “Unsquare Dance” (Invention No. 13, “No Turkey in the Straw”), Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby” and Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata, Op. 106 (both in Invention No. 4, “This Time in Minor”), as well as stylistic references to Celia Cruz (Invention No. 2, “Con Salsa”) and Jerry Lee Lewis (Invention No. 8, “Great Bach’s Afire”). Jazz itself, like Baroque music, is an all-encompassing tradition reflecting a rich amalgamation of musical languages and genres.
Strict contrapuntists will surely notice my apparent breaches of polyphonic rules, especially the outright appearance of parallel fifths and octaves. In some cases (e.g., bars 5–6 of Invention No. 1, “Have a Happy Day”), the accompanying pianist is playing the role of a harpsichordist playing the continuo part in a Baroque trio sonata, who sometimes doubles the bass line. Other times (e.g., fourth beat of bar 11 of Invention No. 11, single-line accompaniment, “Guitaristic Bach”), I intentionally wrote parallel fifths between two supposedly independent lines, simply because I thought it sounded good. While Bach himself occasionally committed such contrapuntal “boo-boos,” far more noteworthy in my opinion is Bach’s daring and intentional treatment of dissonance, as in his frequent use of parallel minor ninths (as in the chorale “Nun danket alle Gott”) and parallel minor seconds (“Valet will ich dir geben”), proof of his compositionally spunky mindset.
This is my second volume of adding notes to Bach. In Add On Bach (addonbach.com), I added lines, chorales, continuo parts, codettas, Durchgänge, and Verzierungen to some of
J.S. Bach’s keyboard pieces, including several Inventions, Sinfonias, and Preludes. Most of these additions were in Bach’s own style, adhering to the esthetic norms and stylistic conventions of the first half of the eighteenth century. “Bachy Boogie” did make its first appearance in that book and it was the only example of a transcendence of Baroque style.
In both Add On Bach and Jazz Up the Inventions, I am promoting my ideological stance that present-day pianists can be co-creators as well as curators of great works, daring explorers as much as faithful servants of the text. I can envision both philosophical positions in the same recital: what if a student played an Invention as a solo, with all the nuances and perspectives of “historically informed performance,” followed by a duet performance with the teacher at a second keyboard playing the jazzy accompaniment? Perhaps it would be similar to watching a great movie like Avatar in a normal movie theatre and then seeing it with 3D projection. Both can be satisfying if profoundly different esthetic experiences. Creativity continually probes new perspectives.