Ward Swingle's achievement as the mastermind behind a series of attractively arranged and smoothly executed group vocal jazz interpretations of preludes, canons, fugues, adagios, airs, gavottes, and bourees by Johann Sebastian Bach constituted one of the great international artistic successes of the 1960s. These pleasant and unique recordings first appeared in the U.S. in 1963 and 1964 on the Philips LPs Bach's Greatest Hits and Going Baroque. In 1968 Verve records compiled both volumes into one package under the title used for the original French releases: Jazz Sebastian Bach consists of 23 beautifully rendered wordless jazz versions of some of the composer's loveliest creations. Since Bach was a master improviser and jazz is partially based in the most creative aspects of the European classical tradition, it makes perfect sense for these pieces to have been reconfigured as exercises in collective scat singing. During the '60s the sounds of the Swingle Singers appeared within all kinds of unexpected contexts, even showing up where the Swingles probably never dreamt it would materialize. Perhaps the most unusual application of this comforting music was its incorporation into The Hour of the Furnaces, a relentlessly challenging underground Argentine socialist film by Fernando E. Solanas and Octavio Getino that appeared in 1968 and has been closely studied by students of filmic theory ever since. During Part Nine (titled "La Dependencia"), a gentle adagio (performed by a female member of the Swingle Singers) was employed during a sequence combining rapid-fire images of U.S. pop culture, advertising, poverty and Western Capitalism with graphic slaughterhouse footage that sometimes zoomed in on the faces of dying cattle. The jarring propagandistic success of this powerful juxtaposition was largely due to the mind-bending contrast between startling visuals and the measured beatific calm of the music. In its original context, and especially when enjoyed in this splendid compilation, Jazz Sebastian Bach stands as the crowning achievement of this ensemble and would certainly be a sensible addition to anyone's library of all-purpose mood music.
All Music Guide
This is it! The original Les Swingle Singers, arranged and conducted by Ward Swingle. Half of this rerelease was from the l963 recording which won a Grammy for "Best Performance by a Chorus." The first Jazz Sebastian Bach was a 1968 album called Bach's Greatest Hits here in the US where Les Swingles won a Grammy in the category "Best New Artist." You'll find over sixty-five minutes of jazz/Bach sung with only the bass and drum (mostly snare) to accentuate rhythm. They became world renown because scat is an understandable language everywhere in it. None of Bach's work has been changed, not a note added or taken away! This is not improvisation (though two pieces were transposed to accommodate vocal range).
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Why did the SWINGLE SINGERS, a jazz vocal group, choose to record the music of BACH ? It would have been less surprising, of course, had they chosen the melodies of COLE PORTER or DUKE ELIINGTON. But they had been attracted for a long time to the rhythmic, "swinging" elements inherent in so much of BACH'S music. They were excited by his youthfulness and his incredibly modern style of writing.
It is indeed surprising that the marvellous syncopated passages of the D MINOR FUGUE should come from the pen of an 18th Century musician.
One is tempted to attribute to STAN GETZ, for instance, the extraordinary solo found in the SINFONIA. Moreover, the SWINGLE SINGERS found it interesting to interpret vocally certain works originally written for harpsichord or organ. This added certain difficulties to the numerous interprative problems already existing in the works chosen for this album.
Consider for example, the range of the keyboard (up to seven octaves) as opposed to the range of the human voice (about two octaves); the vocal difficulty of certain intervals; the quantity of notes to be made distinct in a single measure. To give yourself an idea, listen, in the D MINOR FUGUE, to the way the tenors "crochet" (a word used during the recording sessions by WARD SWINGLE, the leader of the group, to describe their velocity).
In these interpretations of the SWINGLE SINGERS, you will find humour, gaity, tenderness... and swing. But you will notice also that they express a great deal of taste, care and respect.
In effect, NONE OF THE ORIGINAL HAS BEEN CHANGED... not a note added or taken away. There is no improvisation. The only liberties taken are the addition of bass and drums to underline the rhythm, and the transposition of two of the works for reasons of vocal range. The PRELUDE No. 9 is transposed from E Major to D-Flat Major, and the SINFONIA from C Minor to G Minor.
The SWINGLE SINGERS will be pleased if you receive as much pleasure from this album as they have had in making it. They hope sincerely that BACH himself would not have disapproved. In his preface to the Complete Works for Organ by J.S. BACH, Gabriel FAURE writes:
"The reason why the Chefs d'OEuvre are not always fully appreciated is the excessive respect with which one surrounds them..."
In parenthesis, we can mention that the second side of this album includes a "premiere". The CANON is indeed an unpublished work of BACH. He wrote it, following the custom of that tune, as a simple dedication to a fellow composer. The SWINGLE SINGERS offer you its first public performance.