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Civil War Jazz?


Internationally known jazz musician Dave Burrell is composer-in-residence at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, where he’s working on a multi-year project focused on the Rosenbach’s collection of civil war artifacts.  

Each year has a theme: the first was Civil War Heroes, the second, Civilian Life. This year, Burrell’s compositions interpret turning points in the war. WRTI’s Susan Lewis explores Dave Burrell's  journey in jazz composition.

Burrell did historical research for the seven compositions he premieres this week.  Among them, a work he will play with jazz trombonist Steve Swell: evoking the long, drawn-out Battle of Vicksburg, where people were starving, and after the battle was won, General Grant sent all the prisoners home:  

BURRELL: Very unusual. When people are starving, it is so painful, it becomes almost so spiritual that there is a calm  - a weeping sorrowful calm, and that’s what this piece portrays...


For this work, Burrell found additional inspiration in his childhood memories singing Ave Maria:

BURRELL: I needed that sadness and that gentleness and that beauty.. that’s what I was striving for…

Dave Burrell’s compositions include work for film, a jazz opera, a dance drama, and a jazz arrangement of La Boheme.   

Dave Burrell premieres seven original works at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Center City, Philadelphia this week. Performances are on Wednesday, January 16th at 6 pm, and Saturday January 19th at 1 pm and 7 pm.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.