Rites Of Swing: Jazz And Stravinsky

Our friends at Deceptive Cadence, NPR Music’s classical blog, are celebrating the 100th anniversary of The Rite of Spring all this week. You’d be well-advised to wander on over there and check it out.

When I first heard about their plan, I immediately thought about Charlie Parker. Bird had enormous ears, and occasionally they fell on works of modern classical composers like Igor Stravinsky. In fact, he’s been documented quoting passages from The Rite of Spring and other Stravinsky works multiple times.

So I offered to unpack the connection between jazz and the Rite, and in doing so, found deeper links between the Russian-born composer and African-American-born jazz than I had imagined. The full essay is up on Deceptive Cadence now.

I wanted to share one of several little nuggets I couldn’t squeeze into the piece. In 1961, another fleet alto saxophonist, Phil Woods, recorded a gem of an album called Rights Of Swing. It’s a five-part suite for a tightly-arranged octet, and obviously puns on Stravinsky’s radical ballet. Musically speaking, it’s hard to discern much of a connection to the Rite itself, but in the final “Presto” section, he does leave an Easter egg for us.

Rights Of Swing features the unusual color of a French horn, staffed ably by Julius Watkins. When Watkins finishes his solo, the band drops out, and he plays a familiar little riff:

Perhaps you’ve heard that before?

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