Classical Jazz by Aaron Diehl

June 18, 2022

As the only jazz artist in the 16 nights of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s Princeton Jazz Festival, pianist Aaron Diehl felt it incumbent to educate his audience about two piano jazz giants he feels may not have received the credit or recognition they deserve.

In the first half of his June 22nd concert at the Morven Museum & Garden, Diehl played three pieces from Mary Lou Williams’ 1945 Zodiac Suite recording: “Virgo”, “Libra”, and “Scorpio”. “Mary Lou Williams,” he told the audience, “is to jazz music what Nadia Boulanger is to classical music,” adding that Williams should be considered an equal to such jazz legends as Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. As previously reported in Jersey Jazz Magazine (June 2022), Diehl will release a new recording of the Zodiac Suite in 2023 on the Mack Avenue label. He will be joined on the album by the Brooklyn-based classical orchestra, The Knights, and six other jazz artists: tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover, clarinetist Evan Christopher, trumpeter Brandon Lee, vocalist Mikaela Bennett, bassist David Wong, and drummer Aaron Kimmel. Kimmel was the drummer in Princeton, along with bassist Paul Sikivie.

In the second half of the concert, Diehl played five preludes from one of his mentors, Sir Roland Hanna. Hanna, who spent 10 years – from 1966-1975 – as the pianist in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, was once described by New Yorker critic Whitney Balliett as “a buoyant, resplendent pianist who uses a great many chords and baroque melody lines . . .” When Diehl performed in November 2021 at Calderwood Hall in North Haven, ME, he played the Hanna preludes, and the concert program pointed out that “the great Roland Hanna, like Diehl, effortlessly transcended the boundaries of jazz and classical music.”

In another example of the blending of classical music and jazz, Diehl ended the Princeton concert with a beautiful performance of “Piano Etude #16” by Philip Glass. Diehl has been working with Glass as part of the classical composer’s Piano Etudes project. “In any genre,” he told me, “jazz, classical, or otherwise – it’s less to me about the art form of the music that’s being made. If it’s good, it’s good.” –SANFORD JOSEPHSON


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