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Charleston Musicians Jazz Up the Classics with Symphonic Swing on May 21, 22

Frank Hammel • News • May 10, 2021

Charleston Jazz announced that its Symphonic Swing: Jazz Meets the Classics program begis on Friday, May 21 at 6PM at the Firefly Distillery, then continues on Saturday, May 22 at 5PM and 8PM at the Charleston Music Hall. A Virtual Performance On Demand is planned for June 5, 2021.

More details from Charleston Jazz (

Charleston Jazz Orchestra photo by JB McCabe

CHARLESTON, SCAlthough Jazz and Classical music are different in many ways, the border between the two genres is a fluid one. America’s Classical music (Jazz) lives and breathes spontaneity while being contained within the technical mastery of a composition. With SYMPHONIC SWING Jazz Meets the Classics, your Charleston Jazz Orchestra will bring the world of improvisation and swing to notable Classical compositions, bridging the gap, bending the genres, and introducing the styles of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Billie Holiday to Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven to name a few.

Charleston Jazz Orchestra photo by JB McCabe

“Symphonic Swing! I personally love this type of show, because it gives us an opportunity to showcase the full range of talents of the Charleston jazz community. Not only do we get to do a wonderful performance, but all of the charts are written by members of the CJO or other fine arrangers in town. The creativity on display with this show is top-notch, whether we are talking about a samba version of a Vivaldi aria, Hall of the Mountain King in the style of Take Five, or a complicated funk version of Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance. I guarantee you will recognize a lot of this music, but certainly never like this!”                                                                                                   – Robert Lewis, CJO Music Director

The Charleston Jazz Academy Combo will be the pre-show entertainment from 5:15pm – 5:45pm at Firefly Distillery on Friday, May 21, 2021.

Firefly Distillery

Tickets are on sale now at or call the Charleston Jazz box office at 843-641-0011.

Firefly Distillery

Robert Lewis – Music Director + Tenor Saxophone
Jon Phillips – Alto Saxophone
Kevin Hackler – Trumpet
Gavin Smith – Trombone
Tyler Ross – Guitar
Gerald Gregory – Piano
Kevin Hamilton – Bass
Ron Wiltrout – Drums

Kevin Hackler photo by JB McCabe

*All songs to be performed have been arranged or adapted by musicians in the Charleston Jazz community.

Moonlight Sonata (1st Movement), Ludwig van Beethoven, Arranged by Kevin Patton

With “Moonlight Sonata,” I wanted to maintain that ominous beauty. Every time I hear this piece, I’m immediately engulfed into the music. A lot of Beethoven’s music has a spiritual element, where you feel like you’re drawing from within. Conversely, I had all of the horn players share the spotlight, taking turns playing various portions. They all draw from each other to produce this beautiful melody.                                 -Kevin Patton

Claire de Lune, Claude Debussy, Adapted by Brett Belanger

Claire de Lune is probably Debussy’s most popular work and it is such a beautiful piece. It was the first song that came to mind when thinking of a classical song to arrange for Symphonic Swing because I happened to be listening to it a lot at the time. I was faced with a decision of whether to arrange it completely from scratch, or adapt an arrangement that Kamasi Washington made of it. Kamasi is one of my favorite modern musicians so ultimately, I decided to adapt his arrangement of the piece while sprinkling in a few of my own ideas throughout.             

-Brett Belanger

Agitata Da Due Venti, Antonio Vivaldi, Arranged by Kevin Patton

My goal with “Agitata da due venti” was to start off with high energy, maintain the high energy, and end with high energy. There’s a small dip in the intensity for the original piece. However I turned that section into solos and horn solis. I love the rhythmic displacement and variety in this arrangement. Hopefully it’ll keep you on your toes until the end.                                                                                                                                       -Kevin Patton

Peer Gynt, Edward Grieg, Arranged by Frank Duvall

I was familiar with the piece from college and listened to the entire suite and then set about coming up with ideas on how to present the two themes in a jazz setting. After a few considerations, I decided to put the piece in 5/4 with ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ first then moving into ‘Morning Mood’. My wife, Julie, heard the 5/4 and said “You should make it a drum solo” so I did! The piece begins with a drum solo (featuring the always fabulous drummer, Ron Wiltrout) over an extended snippet of ‘Mountain King’ and then it progresses to the actual theme with bass, the left hand of the piano and guitar in the lower range playing the theme. I decided to use the horns as more of an effect during the beginning but gave them the melody at the ‘bridge’ of the theme. I then switched it and gave the horns the melody during ‘Morning Mood’ with the rhythm section supporting them. I then chose a third, unrelated section to move into the solo section and this again features drums. For the restatement of the melody after the solo section, I took out some of each theme so that the restatement is a bit shorter than the opening portion and then ended it with a giant dominant chord which was definitely not in Greig’s composition!                                                -Frank Duvall

My Robin Has To The Greenwood Flown, Percy Grainger, Arranged by Jon Phillips

My Robin Has To the Greenwood Flown (also known as My Robin Has To the Greenwood Gone) is an old English folk tune. Percy Aldridge Grainger was an Australian composer, pianist and arranger who took a number of old English folk tunes (Lincolnshire Posey, Molly on the Shore) and arranged them for orchestra and/or piano. Grainger took a lot of liberties with the harmonic structures of the folk tunes, which for the most part are very simple, and expanded them considerably. His work on Robin had a lot of jazz-harmony influence and implication, although Robin preceded the development of those harmonies in jazz by about 20 years; Grainger was arranging in jazz harmony before there was a jazz harmony! My arrangement of Robin merely simplifies what Grainger implicated. It might also be worth mentioning that Grainger was a quite weird guy, and a saxophone player, as if those aren’t mutually exclusive.                                                                                                       -Jon Phillips


Kevin Hamilton photo by JB McCabe

Für Elise, Ludwig van Beethoven, Arranged by Robert Lewis

I did a chart that basically imagines what Duke Ellington would have done with Für Elise, complete with plunger mutes!                                                                                         -Robert Lewis, CJO Music Director

Cradle Song (Lullaby), Johannes Brahms, Arranged by Mark Sterbank

Brahms Lullaby is a timeless melody that soothes the mind and senses. What better way to do so than to state this classic over a gentle swing groove that rocks you into blissful relaxation.                       -Mark Sterbank

Ode to Joy, Ludwig van Beethoven, Arranged by Charlton Singleton

After going through a number of familiar Classical Music pieces, I decided on Ode to Joy. It is easily one of the most recognizable melodies in the world. In order to give it a fresh sound I decided to place it in an odd meter (5/4 – just like “Take Five”) and re-harmonize it. The Tenor Saxophone is the featured soloist with the rhythm section contributing their own improvisations to close out the arrangement!                                       -Charlton Singleton


Robert Lewis photo by JB McCabe

About the Charleston Jazz Orchestra:
Under the direction of Robert Lewis, the Charleston Jazz Orchestra has been performing for audiences in the Lowcountry for over 12 years. The CJO is comprised of 18 accomplished jazz musicians and is an entertaining and educational example of the rich history of jazz in Charleston. The Charleston Jazz Orchestra offers a six concert subscription series known for its unique, enthusiastically received performances that contribute mightily to the ever-evolving Lowcountry arts scene.

About Charleston Jazz:
Charleston Jazz is a non-profit organization whose mission is to grow a local and global community for jazz through performance, education and outreach while celebrating and preserving Charleston’s rich history in jazz. Established in 2008 as Jazz Artists of Charleston, the organization has earned a reputation for presenting, producing, and advocating for all things jazz and the artists who bring this music to life in dynamic ways. The organization manages the Charleston Jazz Orchestra, the Charleston Jazz Festival, and the Charleston Jazz Academy.


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