But flute isn’t a jazz instrument!
In 1973, jazz pianist and composer Claude Bolling wrote his “Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano,” and in 1975, Bolling and French flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal recorded his suite. Jean-Pierre Rampal had only played classical music prior to the recording, but his talent and beautiful tone are evident in the jazz piece nonetheless.
The first track of the suite is fittingly titled “Baroque and Blue” and merges the traditional melodies of classical composers with elements of jazz. The beginning of the piece sounds just like a classical flute and piano duet, until the first trill played by the flute, followed by a segment of very jazzy piano accompanied by bass and drums. The opening flute melody, sounding very reminiscent of a classical Mozart piece, is played again but this time with the bass and drums. This merging of a classical sounding melody with typical jazz instruments creates a contrasting sound that is unique to Bolling’s jazz flute suite. The next section of the first track features a more jazz-sounding melody in the flute part that is a lot of fun to play. The flute and piano then play a game of ping pong where the flute plays a phrase and the piano repeats it. The piano ends this ping pong with the opening trill from “Fur Elise,” but instead of playing the classical Beethoven piece, the music transitions back into the melodies heard earlier in the piece. The first track in Claude Bolling’s flute and jazz piano suite is a fun listen because of how it draws from elements of classical music and gives them new life by incorporating them into a jazz piece.
The second track of the suite is titled “Sentimentale” and again merges elements of classical music with jazz. The piece begins with the piano playing minor chords, creating a sorrowful and sad sound that embodies the piece’s name. The flute part plays a slow melody that lays on top of the piano’s minor chords, creating a beautiful harmony. The harmonies between the piano and flute in this piece are what really make it special. The opening flute melody also showcases the low register of the flute, and therefore the player’s breath support in the long, sustained notes. This opening melody is repeated throughout the piece, but is embellished upon or added to each time it is played again. The next time it is heard, the flute plays it an octave higher. At the end of the opening, the piano accompaniment switches to a more complicated rhythm that adds depth underneath the sustained notes of the flute part. The next section of the second track draws from the opening flute melody, but this time the rhythm is much more complicated. However, the melody is played with the same smooth and connected feel of the long notes in the beginning. In the next section, the flute and piano play the same rhythm and create a beautiful harmony. Often when I listen to this section, it sounds like there is a second flute on the recording because of the perfect placement of the harmonies. The piece finishes with the same opening melody, tying up its repetition throughout the piece and once again showing Bolling’s fusion of classical elements with jazz. Though flute is not typically a jazz instrument, Claude Bolling’s suite for flute and jazz piano is composed in a way that allows the flute to be an excellent instrument for jazz.
Claude Bolling and Jean-Pierre Rampal performing “Baroque and Blue” at the Palace of Versailles in France
Claude Bolling and Jean-Pierre Rampal performing “Sentimentale”
“Jean-Pierre Rampal.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Aug. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Pierre_Rampal.
“Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Dec. 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suite_for_Flute_and_Jazz_Piano_Trio.