Sebastian Manz and Sebastian Studnitzky have embarked upon a unique project to mark the great Leonard Bernstein. "A Bernstein Story" is an album situated between jazz and classical that would no doubt have been very much to Lenny’s taste.
How do you approach the great Leonard Bernstein in a way that illuminates every facet of his career? It is hardly possible to approach Bernstein, the conductor, the composer, the pianist, the intellectual, the teacher and the voice of warning, without stopping dead in your tracks out of pure reverence. Sebastian Manz and Sebastian Studnitzky decided to take on the challenge all the same, and in fact, to come at it from a quite different angle.
On the face of it, Manz and Studnitzky originate from two very different worlds: Hanover meets the Black Forest, clarinet confronts piano and trumpet, classical instrumentalist meets jazz-oriented crossover artist. Yet they have far more in common than just a first name: both ECHO prizewinners have achieved a significant reputation in their field of expertise. Most recently, Sebastian Manz won acclaim for his recording of all of Weber’s works for clarinet, and, according to German music critic Norbert Hornig, "he distinguishes himself as a consummate master of his instrument". With his album "Ky Organic", Sebastian Studnitzky pushed the boundaries of jazz music; he initiated the XJAZZ Festival Berlin and has toured worldwide.
The two musicians have come to Bernstein in their own individual ways and from their respective fields: Manz as the classically trained artist, Studnitzky as a jazz man. The album they have produced, A Bernstein Story, is meant to mirror the composer himself: remote from any formal categorization, pluralistic in style, eclectically colourful, located somewhere between classical and jazz.
They both knew from the outset that the project was going to be something special. "Audacious – it had to be. But the way we constructed it is, I think, unique," explains Manz. Bernstein’s Clarinet Sonata forms the basis of the album. "With the material Bernstein creates in four or five bars we jazz musicians can make music for half an hour." So it was Studnitzky’s task to unscramble the whole thing. Additionally, the two musicians used elements from the Prelude, Fugue and Riffs taken from Bernstein’s works for big band in which he gave the clarinet a solo part. Igor Stravinsky’s influence on Bernstein and Steve Reich’s pioneering work in musical minimalism shed further light on the maestro.
Their musical approach is not the only thing that turns out to be unconventional. Manz and Studnitzky played together for the first time in the legendary Systems Two Studio in Brooklyn, New York – on the day of the recording. Something which would be inconceivable in a traditional setting for recording an album produces a huge impression of spontaneity and love of experimentation, and at the same time assured the necessary flexibility for such a project. "The idea really grabbed me, taking a leap of faith. No playing safe! Taking a gamble by just booking the studio and a flight to New York," says Studnitzky.
The result of this special project is an album that not only features Bernstein; it is about him. This is music pervaded by so many different influences, modern and yet rooted in tradition, assiduous and extremely cool.