By MIKE CHAIKEN
Love will be in the ear this weekend as the Hartford Symphony Orchestra takes a turn toward Valentine’s Day with “Symphonic Love Potions.”
The program features the typical symphonic bonbons that evoke romance such as R. Strauss’ Don Juan, Op. 20, Dorman’s Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!, and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture – Fantasy.
But the evening also takes a turn to the jazz as tenor sax player Javon Jackson joins in for performances of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” John Coltrane’s “Naima,” and Jimmy Van Heusen’s “But Beautiful.”
Jackson, who is the director of the Jackie McLean Institute at the University of Hartford, spoke by phone recently about what he liked about all three pieces he will perform.
The pieces come from different traditions of jazz.
Jackson explained “Stardust” and “But Beautiful” come out of the Tin Pan Alley school of songwriting. And Jackson explained jazz musicians have long had an affinity for that period of music. And he said many of his musical heroes have taken a jazz approach to what many now know as the American Songbook.
“But Beautiful” and “Stardust” have reached timeless status because of their lyrics, which appeal to the audience, said Jackson. The songs also have proven popular because they come from Broadway musicals and audiences typically associate the characters from those films with those songs.
“Naima” comes from another jazz tradition. But Javon said he enjoys this ballad from Coltrane because he has the utmost admiration for the saxophonist’s artistry.
Playing the songs of a musician as well-known as Coltrane can be daunting for an instrumentalist. Jackson said Coltrane’s work is “immortal.” But many musicians play the music of someone who has left an imprint on the art form. Jackson said even Coltrane experienced comparison with his predecessors such as Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. But those musicians also blazed a trail for Coltrane, establishing the saxophone as a solo instrument. In turn, Coltrane’s work blazed a trail for musicians such as Jackson.
“I’m honored to carry the baton and I get to pass it on,” said Jackson.
The tenor sax often evokes a mood in the context of a ballad that is fitting for a concert tied to Valentine’s Day.
“The sax does, especially the tenor sax, evoke a certain sound of love and romance,” said Jackson. “Some look at it as the devil’s horn (because of this ability).”
He explained the sound of the sax “does have a certain timber and sound that works well with melody.” When Jackson steps on stage as a jazz musician playing with an orchestra, he will be continuing a tradition pioneered by artists such as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.
However, this will be Jackson’s first performance with a symphony. The challenge for him, he said, is to not do anything differently than he would do if he was performing with a smaller ensemble. Although he will prep himself before he steps on stage, Jackson said he also will remember to be in the moment.
And he was confident about the opportunity.
“Every night I have a new set of friends,” said Jackson. “Everyone is supporting me, wanting me to perform well.”
“It’s going to be a great opportunity,” said Javon. “It will be a momentous occasion.”
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s “Symphonic Love Potion” will be at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford from Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.
Tickets start at $38; $10 for students with ID.
For more information, call (860)987-5900 or vosot www.hartfordsymphony.org