In 1957, Sonny Rollins played "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" from Broadway's "Oklahoma!" and in January 1970 guitarist Grant Green recorded the Beatles' "A Day in the Life."
Jazz, you see, has never been afraid to dip into pop music for chord changes and melodic inspiration. And these are relatively recent examples. Many jazz "standards" are songs culled from popular music.
That same spirit of inclusiveness drives local jazz ensemble Choir Fight, which recently issued a two-track EP for free download.
"The Kiwi Sadness EP" features readings of Death Cab For Cutie's "Brothers On A Hotel Bed" and Miles Davis' "In A Silent Way" and "It's About That Time."
"We've been working on a 'sound' for about five or six years and I still feel like we are a relatively new band," says bandleader and trumpeter Jamie Breiwick. "It has taken a while to develop what I believe is a unique sound, but I think we are ready to start hitting the scene a bit now."
In addition to Breiwick, Choir Fight also includes tenor saxman Aaron Gardner, guitarist Steve Peplin, keyboardist Scott Currier, bassist Bryan Mir and drummer Jeremy Kuzniar. All play in other bands, including Kings Go Forth, De La Buena, Ulu, Static Chicken and others.
The group's been honing its chops at the Jazz Estate and Mason Street Grill, but is beginning to expand its reach and plays at The Mad Planet on Saturday, Nov. 19 with The Soul Trio and DJ Hitmayng and on Dec. 9 with Todd Richards at Club Garibaldi in Bay View.
Crossing into venues that are not traditional jazz clubs makes perfect sense for a band whose musicians play across a range of genres and view jazz more as freedom than shackles.
"To be honest, much of the group's – or, my own, I guess – direction has been inspired by artists who have not been afraid to cross boundaries when dealing with jazz, or jazz-rooted music. In particular, jazz artists like The Bad Plus, Brad Mehldau, Dave Douglas and Ben Allison have been super inspiring for their willingness to stay true to a personal vision vs. merely recycling what has already been done/said, a la Miles Davis.
"Douglas in particular has been a very direct inspiration, specifically his record 'The Infinite' – on which he covers Rufus Wainwright, Mary J. Blige and Bjork on the same record. That record was particularly mind opening for me, because it was validating what was going on in my head. It's OK to play a Nirvana tune, or a Beatles tune, and use it a vehicle for improvisation. I love all that music, just as much as I love Kenny Dorham or Freddie Hubbard."
When a group of open-minded musicians takes on a wide variety of material, it's no surprise that the results are hard to categorize, too. While Choir Fight's reading of the Death Cab tune from the 2005 CD, "Plans," has a sound and a vibe that many associate with jazz, it's a fairly faithful instrumental rendering of the song, with very little of the kind of improvisation found in "traditional" jazz.
Breiwick says that although his skills are rooted in years of playing jazz, his musical vision isn't restricted.
"I certainly went through – actually, am still in – a phase of immersing myself in the jazz tradition, but exposure to some of the aforementioned artists at key moments helped me to realize my own vision," he says.
"The band has been the conduit for that vision. I feel like its a really great mix of musicians who are very much like-minded. We certainly all have a grasp on the jazz tradition, yet are open-minded enough and fluent enough in other styles to pull of a Beatles tune with out it seeming contrived."
In addition to Death Cab and Davis, Choir Fight also performs music by Nirvana, the Beatles, Katy Perry, Soundgarden and others.
You can download the EP for free here.
Hear Choir Fight's version of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" here.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.