Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 5, No. 2, 2006

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
  Contributing Editors
Bernard Dubé
Phil Nixon
Robert Rotondo
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Emanuel Pordes
Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Jazz Contributors

Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Diana Krall
Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
Madeleine Peyroux
Bireli Lagrene
Sonido Isleño
Provost & Lachapelle
Montreal Jazz Festival 2005







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artist: KEVIN BREIT

Not enough credit goes to those exceptional musicians who are able to reinvent or recontextualize their instrument such that the listener feels he or she is hearing it for the very first time. They achieve this landmark result by approaching the tonal properties of their instrument with fresh and unprejudiced ears, so the sound can be woven into feelings normally expressed by other instruments or fashioned to fit other genres. Aficionados of rock swear they did not like the organ until Ray Manzarek came up with his existential, end-of-the-night feel that became identified with The Doors. I know a fair number who admit to their indifference to the trumpet before experiencing the gorgeous bell tones introduced by Miles Davis in the 1950s.

Canada’s Kevin Breit has done the same for his 5-string banjo, which he creatively weds to the unlikely genre of jazz to great and lasting effect. By engaging his instrument without any preconceived notion of what its generic sound is best suited to, he kicks the bluegrass habit with which the banjo has become monotonously synonymous, in order to free it for moods and tempos that have been traditionally off limits.

What distinguishes the voice of the banjo is the manner in which the note suddenly springs to life only to end up, fly-swatted like, in sudden death. Kevin mines the unique and ephemeral life cycle of the plaintive banjo pluck, which he then refines into jazz, as if the instrument were born for just that purpose. This is no small accomplishment. And be as it may that Kevin Breit is not a household name, he has collaborated with the likes of Holly Cole, Nora Jones, Cassandra Wilson, k.d. lang, Celine Dion and Marc Jordan, most of whom will end up in the music hall of fame.

In the ballad “Don’t Worry Your Pretty Little Head,” from Kevin Breit & Folklarm “Skedaddle” (2003), Breit persuades us that the banjo is the perfect choice for capturing the life sadness that overwhelms all of us from time to time. Never have notes evoked such vulnerability, disappearing the moment they sound as each melancholic pluck is made to stand alone and brave what is inevitable in all living things, that last adieu on a final note as pure and poignant as silence.

What “Don’t Worry” has in common with all enduring music is the sudden articulation it brings to feelings that would otherwise remain obscure or unexpressed, and beyond that, the uncanny facility to make us feel that we have made some small advance on the life-long task of trying to figure out what it’s all about -- which is why we return again and again to great music.

Listen to Kevin Breit pluck the quietly remarkable "Don't Worry Your Pretty Little Head" HERE.

John Coltrane
Miles Davis
Thelonius Monk
Charlie Mingus
Oscar Peterson
Charlie Parker
Dizzy Gillespie
Wes Montgomery
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