April 13, 2018
Nigel Kennedy returns to Warner Classics for new Gershwin album
“Rip-roaring and exquisitely tender –
the classical star is a mesmerisingly musical jazz lover”
The Guardian, ‘Kennedy Meets Gershwin’ live in concert, London
A love of jazz has featured prominently in Nigel Kennedy’s career. Classical music’s most successful performer of all-time grew up listening to his stepfather’s jazz records, picking out Fats Waller tunes on the piano. By the age of 16, leading jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli had invited the boy prodigy to appear with him at New York’s Carnegie Hall, and yet the vast majority of Kennedy’s recorded output has been in the classical and rock genres. Until now, that is, with Kennedy making an exciting foray into the songbook of beloved American composer Gershwin with a mesmerising new album: his first album on Warner Classics since 2010, having shot to international stardom with his record-breaking 1989 Vivaldi Four Seasons on EMI Classics (now Warner Classics).
Such timeless standards as Summertime, Rhapsody In (Claret &) Blue, They Can’t Take That Away From Me and Porgy and Bess have been re-imagined with Kennedy’s inimitable style and verve. The result is Kennedy Meets Gershwin, an assured and joyful exploration of Gershwin’s timeless compositions, given new life in these arrangements by classical music’s most unique and prodigious talent. Kennedy’s jazz-influenced album, released to coincide with the 120th anniversary of Gershwin’s birth, showcases the remarkable skill of a violinist much loved by the classical and jazz worlds.
The recording finds the virtuoso in full creative mood; his renditions are by turns sensitive and reflective, bouncy and soaring, vibrant and skillful (and in addition to violin, Kennedy plays the piano for the first time on record). All roads lead back to Kennedy’s upbringing and a youthful sojourn to New York City, where he studied formally at the Juilliard School by day – and informally at jazz clubs by night.
Kennedy said: ‘For me Gershwin’s work is epitomised by three main ingredients: the fusion of jazz and classical music, the beautiful melodic influences of Jewish culture and the unique energy of New York City. This music fits my nature, skill set and experiences so well!’
He adds that his fondness for Gershwin stems back to his formative years. “I had inadvertently heard those songs many times and loved them during my school days’ apprenticeship with Stéphane Grappelli. I recall playing ‘Lady Be Good’ with Grappelli at Ronnie Scott’s when I was around 14. The songs of George and Ira Gershwin have so much pathos, charm, flavour and craft that it has been a joy to record those masterpieces. In his orchestral works such as Rhapsody in Blue, operas such as Porgy and Bess, songs and Broadway musicals, George Gershwin combined classical, jazz and popular music like no other composer.”
Perhaps Kennedy Meets Gershwin is a record that has been waiting to be made. The violinist’s two great mentors – Yehudi Menuhin and Stéphane Grappelli – both recorded Gershwin and were avowed enthusiasts, with the jazz connection between Grappelli and Gershwin of particular note.
Alain Lanceron, President of Warner Classics, said: “It’s always a pleasure to reconnect with old friends. This is certainly the case with Nigel Kennedy, a legendary artist with whom I’ve shared many unforgettable musical moments in our EMI years. I’m particularly thrilled to add to his Warner Classics catalogue this new Gershwin album which shows the depth and breadth of his artistry. Welcome back, man!”
Concerts in support of Kennedy Meets Gershwin will include Cheltenham’s Jazz Festival (3 May), Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall (15 May), Cambridge’s Corn Exchange (16 May), London’s Royal Festival Hall (19 May) and the BBC Biggest Weekend (25-28 May) broadcast on BBC TV, radio and online. The concerts will feature an ensemble of two guitarists, cello and bass, including the legendary US guitarist Howard Alden, known as composer of the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown.
3 Cheltenham – Jazz Festival
15 Manchester – Bridgewater Hall
16 Cambridge – Corn Exchange
19 London – Royal Festival Hall
BBC Biggest Weekend Festival
25 Perth (Bach & Gershwin)
28 Coventry (Vivaldi & Hendrix)