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Two Dead Arts in Union: Le Jazz et La Diva

When jazz violinist Didier Lockwood played a concert at La Maison Française last January, the idea was born to bring Lockwood's cabaret project, Le Jazz et la Diva, to the United States for the first time. This humorous mélange of jazz and opera, conceived and performed with Lockwood's wife, the soprano Caroline Casadesus, was a wild success in France, receiving a Molière prize, the French equivalent of a Tony. On Sunday night, in the presence of the Ambassador of France, the couple appeared with collaborating pianist Dimitri Naïditch for the first of three engagements at La Maison Française. The event honored the 30th anniversary of Lockwood as a performer and the couple's 12th wedding anniversary.

Lockwood and Casadesus personify the relationship of jazz and classical music, especially opera, in their own personalities, making the act as much about their lives together (or at least an artistic version thereof) as about the actual music. The versatile pianist, Naïditch, acts as go-between, comfortable in both realms. Each member of the trio has a solo moment, and both pure jazz and pure classical are represented. The most entertaining performances, however, are those that intentionally blur the boundary, like Casadesus's rendition of Purcell's When I Am Laid in Earth, from Dido and Aeneas, colored by Lockwood's blues trumpet, which mingles inextricably with the descending chromatic bass line, as if it were always there. The same is true of Naïditch's moment in the sun, a familiar Chopin waltz that morphed into jazz and back again in a most pleasing way. A jazz-hybridized rendition of La ci darem la mano, from Don Giovanni, featured Casadesus singing the role of Zerlina, with Lockwood bluesing up the part of the Don.

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Le Jazz et la Diva, D. Lockwood, C. Casadesus, D. Naïditch
Other Reviews:

Catherine Scholler, L’improbable mariage (ResMusica, November 30, 2006)
The musical performances were all fine, with a few problems of amplification, but the banter that linked the music together fell flat. Lockwood especially seemed to struggle with translating his jokes into English, but something about the sense of humor did not always translate well either. In an interview with Stephane Koechlin, Lockwood has said that he "feels that classical musicians are condescending." He has never had that feeling from his wife, although he "sees clearly the dominant place occupied by learned music in her education." That competitive streak is the main fulcrum of the act, with Lockwood and jazz positioned as the living, spontaneous music against Casadesus's classical music imprisoned on the page. Lockwood's stereotypical accusation against "you classical people" is disingenuous, it must be said. As a jazzman, he says that he does not "want to be a cemetery guardian," but as far as relevance to the average person's daily life, jazz and classical music are equally dead: it is just that most of the corpses in the jazz cemetery are not nearly as old. For someone who loves both of these musics, dead or not (the argument is worn beyond dullness), the evening was a pleasure.

This concert will be repeated only one more time at La Maison Française, tonight at 7 pm, exclusively in its original all-French version.

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