The violin has never been considered a typical jazz instrument, but in recent years, in the eclectic atmosphere of improvised music, nontraditional instruments have been more welcome. A number of violinists have risen to prominence, and the most prolific among them has been Mark Feldman.
Feldman grew up taking classical lessons in Chicago. In the 1980s he settled in Nashville, where he made a very good living accompanying some of the most famous country singers, including Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Tammy Wynette. In 1986 he left the security of Nashville and moved to New York, where he continued to make a living as a studio musician but gravitated toward the creative downtown scene. In the last two decades he has played with all the major New York players, establishing a particularly close rapport with John Zorn and Dave Douglas. Europeans have particularly appreciated his versatile talents, and he has performed as a soloist with orchestras in Switzerland, Germany, Finland, and elsewhere; in 2002 he premiered Guus Janssen's Violin Concerto with the Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra. He has appeared on more than 100 recordings but avoided releasing anything under his own name until 1997, when he made Music for Violin Alone, an astounding recital of original pieces and free improvisation.
Feldman can play anything and is equally at home playing contemporary classical, jazz, or pop. A few years ago he played briefly in Ann Arbor as part of Dave Douglas's String Group, and after dinner we visited the jam session at the Bird of Paradise, where he astounded everyone with a spirited rendition of "You and the Night and the Music," demonstrating that he could play standards as well as free improvisations. More recently he has been working with his Swiss-born wife, composer-pianist Sylvie Courvoisier. Their first recording together, Music for Violin and Piano, was a great critical success, and the follow-up, Abaton, made with cellist Erik Friedlander, should be out any day. This two-CD set, which includes both written compositions and free improvisations, is a perfect example of the cross-
fertilization between the classical and jazz worlds that has been so fruitful of late — far more so than the often forced "Third Stream" experiments of the 1960s.
Courvoisier is the perfect foil for Feldman. Also classically trained, she is an accomplished composer and virtuoso pianist who has played with many of the finest contemporary musicians, and her works have been performed all over the world. The couple make their Ann Arbor debut at Kerrytown Concert House on Saturday, November 15.