You'll have your chance on Saturday night at NIC, when Brent Edstrom and the Coeur d'Alene Symphony will perform the premiere of his Concerto for Jazz Piano and Orchestra.
Edstrom, 42, has been playing with the Spokane Jazz Orchestra and teaching at Whitworth as a music professor for the past half-dozen years. Not only did Edstrom have his "Seascape" and "Emerald City" performed by the CdA Symphony a year ago, but he's also familiar with several of the CdA musicians from his undergraduate years at WSU. So, just as Duke Ellington wrote for particular players in his big band, Edstrom has written passages featuring violin, clarinet, tuba and oboe; Edstrom himself will be the piano soloist during the 40-minute concerto.
Edstrom comments that the first movement (of six), "Overture Americana," is "fairly boisterous, with some unusual elements -- there's a little [Thelonious] Monk in the middle of that piece." "Nocturne in Blue," he says, "evokes a night scene in a jazz club with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn -- it's not really fast, but it has some blues elements."
In "Lament," Edstrom says, "I'm reflecting on the sad part of jazz history, due to racial prejudice and to how often jazz was marginalized." In the fourth movement, "Jazz Fantasy," he acknowledges the influence of Gershwin (especially the Piano Concerto in F and Porgy and Bess) and of Ravel and Debussy.
The final two movements of Edstrom's Concerto are indebted to his musical scholarship. He has published several books of transcriptions in which he notates and analyzes, measure by measure, the improvisations of jazz piano masters like Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. (As an analogy, imagine typing out your favorite film's script, word for word, with performance notes.) In "Impromptu," Edstrom says, "you'll be able to recognize some of Bill Evans here -- the ostinato from a work of his called 'Peace Piece.'" And sure enough, the concluding movement shows the influence of a stride piano master like Tatum. "The direction I went with there is a cutting contest," says Edstrom. "It's a stride piece finale -- the orchestra and the piano go back and forth," trying to outdo each other.
You might think he'd have his hands full guiding the other musicians through his composition. Edstrom, however, has other worries: "It might seem funny to some people," he says, "but I'm struggling with memorizing the piece. It's kind of like writing a novel and then having to memorize a couple of chapters. I don't remember where every paragraph and every comma is."
Edstrom has had his mind on the larger concerns of style, on trying to honor the traditions of both classical music and jazz. As he was composing his piano concerto, he says, "I tried not to think of a particular genre. But you'll hear hints of Gershwin, of Bernstein -- a violinist mentioned Copland. In fact, in comments from the musicians, they've said that there are aspects of [this concerto] that have their own style and uniqueness. So I'm very pleased about that."
The Coeur d'Alene Symphony will present "Christmas Showcase," featuring Brent Edstrom's Concerto for Jazz Piano and Orchestra, Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije Suite, and Christmas Pops tunes with sing-along on Saturday, Dec. 1, at 7:30 pm at NIC's Schuler Auditorium. Tickets: $15; $12, seniors; $8, students. Visit www.cdasymphony.org or call (208) 765-3833 or 325-SEAT.