The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Pianist Laura Caviani talks about the ties between classical music and jazz before her upcoming concert and workshop in Madison this coming Sunday. Part 1 of 2. | September 4, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Fusion – the combining of different or contrasting art genres — is a big trend in classical music today as classical musicians seek to build both audiences and relevance.

It is a very postmodern cultural phenomenon.

One local example is the upcoming concert by pianist Laura Caviani. It is “From Bach to Bop” on Sunday, Sept. 9, with a concert from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and workshop from 6 to 7 p.m.

The concert will be held at the Brink Lounge (below), 701 East Washington Avenue., in Madison.

Concert Admission is: General public: $12 advance, $15 at the door on day-of-show; Students with ID, Members of Madison Music Collective and Madison Jazz Society: $8 advance, $10 at the door on day-of-show

Workshop Admission is FREE.

Advance tickets can be purchased online at

The concert is sponsored by the Madison Music Collective, Mad Toast Live, Lillianis Restaurant, WORT-FM and the Improvisational Music Workshop.

Pianist Laura Caviani (below, in a photo by Ann Marsden) recently spoke with The Ear via email about the links between classical music and jazz.

Can you briefly introduce yourself to readers?

I am a pianist, composer and educator, and I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, although I have many ties to Wisconsin and to Madison, in particular.

I lucked out while growing up in St. Cloud, Minnesota: both my folks love music. They were both active in church music, and my Mom played the cello. My parent’s record collection says it all: Mom loved Holst, Mussorgsky and Stravinsky (below). Dad was in to Miles, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Dave Brubeck.

How fortunate for me that both jazz and classical were represented in the LP cabinet! Over the years, I have been fortunate in my career to have played with some pretty wonderful musicians: Stan Getz (at a jazz festival in Fond du Lac!), Diane Schuur, Oleta Adams, Toots Theilemans, to name a few. I’ve recorded with Concord Recording Artist Karrin Allyson, and have toured the states and Japan with her, too.

In the Twin Cities, I am a regular member of Pete Whitman’s Xtet, a ten–piece group that plays once a month at the Artists’ Quarter, a jazz club in St. Paul. Lucia Newell, Prudence Johnson, Connie Evingson, and many other wonderful singers have collaborated with me on various recordings. I am also on the Origin Label with Ben Thomas, a marvelous vibes player from Seattle, Washington.

As leader, my latest CD is on iTunes, and features Bob Bowman and Todd Strait, two wonderful musicians I met in Kansas City. These musical experiences have helped me to become a dedicated teacher at St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges, both in Northfield, Minnesota. Some of my works have been published by Increase Music. I feel incredibly fortunate to have made a living making music my whole life.

What is the purpose or reason behind the “Bach to Bop” concert?

About two years ago I started playing classical again for fun. (Bethany Lane was my teacher in St. Cloud. At Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, my teacher was Theodore Rehl.)

While revisiting some of my favorite classical pieces, it occurred to me that many of them would lend themselves to improvisation.

This, of course, is not a new concept: Fred Hersch (below), a jazz pianist, has a number of CDs out now where he does jazz renditions of classical pieces. I especially enjoy his renditions of the Impressionistic composers. Before him, Bill Evans’ trio also improvised around orchestral music.

There are many musicians combining jazz and classical these days, but for me, this is a new experience, and it has motivated me and inspired me in new ways. For me, my goal is to take themes by famous composers (Schumann, Schubert, Debussy, Gershwin, J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, to name a few) and explore these themes using improvisation in a straight–ahead jazz format.

What’s cool about it for me is that these classical pieces represent a whole different world apart from my jazz world, and so two worlds are colliding. So far, I’ve really been inspired by the result.

Tomorrow: Links between classical and jazz music, and Lara Caviani’s Wisconsin ties


  1. […] By Jacob Stockinger Fusion – the combining of different or contrasting art genres — is a big trend in classical music today as classical musicians seek to build both audiences and relevance. It is a very postmodern cultural …  […]

    Pingback by Classical music Q&A: Pianist Laura Caviani talks about the ties ... | Music House | — September 5, 2012 @ 10:15 am

  2. Pianist Hal Galper has written a book called “Forward Motion, from Bach to BeBop”,Sher Pub., in which he makes a compelling case for only one real linkage between these two musics, that being the rhythmic alignment of chordtones in an improvised line with the strong beats, and the placement of notes that are NOT part of the fundamental 7th chord on the off, or weak beats. Bach uses this to create Forward Motion, that is, playing TO the downbeats, rather than ON them.
    This seems to me not only a valid but a universal comparison. Most other jazz/classical “fusion” results in neither jazz that swings or “blows” with conviction, or classical music that has a chance to be successfully replicated, a requirement for anything that purports to be classic.
    I an not fond of most of Brubeck’s experiments in this area, and Claude Bolling’s pieces are nice music, but are neither jazz nor classical in genre, just pop.
    I do not understand this fascination with fusing genres. If we are indeed headed for a cultural future in which all origins are subsumed to some kind of world-wide generic mass-market, we will have successfully obscured our indigenous styles. Not my kind of goal.
    To the extent that chords, scales and rhythms are used in Western and other musics, there will be overlap, the other one, besides the melodic placement thing, being the harmony from Romantic and Impressionist music being used in jazz..
    Let’s leave it at that. If you have ever heard some folk music in another language that you do not speak, and it sounds quaint and even exotic, remember that the musical and lyrical contents are probably quite mundane or repetitive, if charming. Simple music is what classical fans have always decried Rock ‘n Roll to be. Putting some other foreign multi-cultural veneer on it does not make it any more profound, especially when these recordings are tarted up with electric guitars and drum machines.
    So if Ms. Caviani is a convincing jazz pianist, that is enough for me. If she is a convincing interpreter of classical music, that is also excellent. She does not need to improvise on Bach or Chopin, or take a Charlie Parker tune and make it into a fugue or variation set to be a good all-around musician. I hold these standards for myself as well.

    Comment by Michael BB — September 4, 2012 @ 8:27 am

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