It never occurred to me. Perhaps I've been listening to bluegrass too much lately (we live in the mountains of Western North Carolina). I never realized that an artist could reach such high notes and sustain them for so long on a violin.
After speaking with Jeremy Cohen, it's clear that such a feat is commonly accomplished by highly skilled and practiced violinists. The higher the note, the greater the chance for "squeaks". The Music of Eddie South, the latest offering from Violinjazz is distinguished by frequent occurrences of long-held notes in the far upper ranges of the treble clef. No squeaks here. What you will hear are the starkly clear, sharp mellow tones of a magnificent instrument in the hands of a virtuoso professional.
Violinjazz is a group of professional musicians formed by violin virtuoso Jeremy Cohen over twenty years ago. Joining Cohen for this project are: Dix Bruce on guitar, Jim Kerwin on stand up bass, Larry Dunlap on piano, and Harold Jones on drums. Also on piano for one track (Kol Midre) is Andrea Liguori, Cohen's wife.
The credits for these six talented musicians read like a who's who in music. They have worked with a diverse variety of big names including Jerry Garcia, John Williams, Carlos Santana, Ray Charles, David Grisman, Larry Coryell, Country Joe McDonald, Tony Bennett, Quincy Jones and Frank Sinatra. The list actually goes on and on.
Can you imagine the synergy resulting from over twenty years of playing together? Eddie South was a classically trained violinist who couldn't get symphony work in 1920's Chicago. He was black. At a time when the United States is into the second year of its first African-American President, it seems unthinkable that times were ever so hard for any man in a country where "all men are created equal".
South became a "cross-over" performer and developed his skills and a repertoire of "gypsy jazz" and other folk music. When Cohen was visiting in Chicago in 1980, a friend introduced him to the music of the "Dark Angel of the Violin", as South was known, and Cohen as since been a loyal and devoted fan. Cohen is committed to bringing the music and legacy of Eddie South to a broader audience.
The Music of Eddie South is a collection of fourteen tracks recorded by Violinjazz at Skywalker Sound. What a combination! The pairing of experience of seasoned professionals with state of the art recording equipment produced an album that will appeal to both classical listeners and jazz enthusiasts. Cohen selected pieces to demonstrate South's stylistic abilities and crossover appeal and included extensive liner notes with the story of each selection. "Black Gypsy" includes both jazz and classical genres with seamless transitions and a romantic gypsy sound. Popular tunes such as "Deep Purple" and Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" are in the mix along with one of the oldest-known melodies of the Jewish religion, "Kol Nidre", a prayer song of the Jewish High Holy Days.
A touch of bluegrass, gypsy jazz, and swinging jazz along with elegant lounge and parlor arrangements exemplify both South's range and variety — along with Cohen's ability to replicate them. The deep rich sound of Cohen's violin stopped me in my tracks when the third selection came on. I stopped the CD player and repeated it. "Deep Purple" never sounded like this before with such sweet, memorable tones resonating from my speakers and now in my memory.
It was clear that I was hearing a special instrument in the hands of a great musician. Cohen's violin has a story of it's own, an 1868 Vuillaume. This piece turns out to be an ideal vehicle for both instrument and violinist with it's varied pace and contrasting ranges of lows with the delicate but firm high notes. Ironically, the CD concludes with "I Can't Get Started", a nostalgic coda to a sentimental journey that Cohen hopes will never end.