They stand back to back, Jazz and Classical, fully pressed against one another. Although they face in different directions, a fundamental connecting line runs between the two. There’s an undeniable relationship between Jazz and Classical music that many musicians have the misfortune of never acknowledging, but that nonetheless is ever present in every note and beat. I was one such musician.
Sakamichi no Apollon burst onto the scene of the Spring 2012 line-up with its groove and jive. Nishima Kaoru is a classically-trained pianist who knows next to nothing about Jazz and how to play it. Kawabuchi Sentarou is a jazz drummer who craves soul in his music and renounces the strictness that Classical music demands. These two stand at opposite ends of the spectrum, and yet have much in common through their love of music.
Kaoru’s experience with and initial dislike for the jarring clash of the cymbals is similar to how many of the classical musicians I know, including myself, came into contact with anything other than the constrained measures of a musical score for the first time. Having played the piano from the age of five, I thought that signing up for the middle school Jazz Band would be easy-peasy-pie. I remember glancing at the score covered with strange chord symbols. My pride prevented me from raising a hand and asking what it was that those symbols meant, or why my part seemed so devoid of melody and line. It wasn’t until just before high school during my first attendance at a summer music academy where I learned how to read jazz notation, in all its intimidating glory. And yet, even after learning, I still couldn’t grasp the seemingly impossible skill for improvisation. Back then, I chalked it up to my lack of talent, claiming that I just wasn’t creative enough.
My undergrad years saw me through three years of Music Performance, before the politics and demands of it all overwhelmed me and I ran away to other studies. But in that brief moment in time, the Music Department’s awe-inspiring piano instructor hammered all major and minor scales into my mind, and my Music Theory and Ear Training courses taught me the musical knowledge I had craved growing up in my isolated hometown. When the annual Concerto Competition came up, I played the third movement of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in f. Now, anyone who has watched Nodame Cantabile or Sunday morning cartoons will recognize George Gershwin’s tunes; they have come to embody a feeling of American ingenuity and progress, blending orchestral harmonies with jazz-inspired piano riffs and lines. Without my classical technique and greater appreciation of music, I doubt I would have come to such an understanding with the nuances of the piece, nor would I have won the competition in the way that I did.
There’s a beautiful, though shortened, scene in the first episode of Apollon where Kaoru begins to play Debussy’s infamous Clair de Lune. His moment, as brief as it was, was enough to display his passion for his craft, as well as reveal a partiality for dissonance. If you were unaware, Debussy was an artist of the Impressionist era (a title which he abhorred), where subtlety and lightness were in favor after the drama that preceded in the Romantic era. Dissonance became increasingly prevalent, featuring variations of sounds that any jazz listener will undoubtedly recognize. Some other great pianists of the Impressionist era include Maurice Ravel (my personal favorite), and Frederico Mompou. Kaoru’s determination to “learn soul” was as inevitable as Debussy’s promised moonlight.
So far, Apollon has shown us how a classical musician discovers Jazz, but what I’m really hoping to see is for Sentarou to gain an equal appreciation for Classical in much the same way that Nodame did in Nodame Cantabile. I’m of the belief that learning the fundamentals and history can only increase understanding and love for any given craft, be that for music, writing, or even dance.
More reads on music and Apollon:
- SnippetTee’s “Sakamichi no Apollon’s Swing and Arousal of Emotion in Music“
- Krizzlybear’s “Sakamichi no Apollon: A Mountain of One Moment of Music“
- tsurugiarashix’s “Sakamichi no Apollon: The Unrestricted Soul of Jazz“