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Are Instruments Made for a Specific Genre?

By Sammi Tse

Mads Tolling and the Mads Men. Photo by author

As the world advances in technology, it advances in music as well. The violin is usually thought of as a classical instrument; something used to show elegance and poise. However, music has taken a turn. Mads Tolling, Grammy award winning jazz violinist, has a couple things to say about that. On Sunday, May 7, Mads Tolling & The Mads Men performed jazz classics including “Meet the Flintstones”, “Mission Impossible”, “Georgia on My Mind”, “Libertango” and more. How did Tolling start playing pop and jazz on the violin?

When he was six, Tolling started learning with the Suzuki method. He played pieces written by Haydn, Mozart and Mendelssohn. Then at the age of 14, he heard Miles Davis, and decided that jazz was what he wanted to pursue on the violin. He went to Berklee College of Music, then went pro.

What really drew him to jazz was the freedom he got from playing. In an in-person interview with Tolling, he stated, “Without really knowing what it [jazz] was, I was captured by the freedom that they played in the music. The kind of interpretation that had that loose feel. You can play what’s not on the page. Once I got into practicing, it became what I wanted to say more than what Beethoven wanted to say.” He decided to make violin a jazz instrument.

He wasn’t the only one who thought that the violin would be a rad mix into jazz. Jason McElroy, band teacher at Bowditch Middle School in Foster City, also believed in the same thing. He began with percussion in 5th grade, but moved onto the alto saxophone after he failed his percussion test. After the alto, he tried the bari sax in 8th grade, and carried that through college as he majored in music.

Bowditch musicians are lucky enough to have an odd teacher who conceived of a jazz orchestra (orchestras are usually dedicated to playing classical music, while bands play a variety). “I started the jazz orchestra because I wanted to give students who didn’t play traditional jazz instruments and opportunity to play jazz,” says McElroy. Along with violins, the Bowditch jazz orchestra also has a bassoon, flutes, and clarinets.

The d.tech music community also has a healthy appreciation for classical musicians who turn to jazz. Lucas Wieser, junior, described it as, “It’s lit. I don’t think instruments are made for any genre.” Wieser came across a piano in his house, and started playing around on it. Since then, he’s been playing piano for almost 10 years. Adelyn Chen, freshmen violinist and pianist, started with classical music. In her middle school years, she watched Wynton Marsalis on YouTube, and was  drawn to jazz. She started playing the drums in 6th grade, and participated in her school jazz band through middle school.

Passionate about jazz, players and listeners have accepted uncommon instruments, in order to add a new tone. All instruments are welcome in different genres so don’t be afraid to step out of the boundary!

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