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Nigel Kennedy

by Mariko Kato

One of the biggest-selling classical musicians of all time, Nigel Kennedy will treat local audiences to his other great passion, jazz, when he performs at Blue Note Tokyo May 2-6. It is the violinist’s third appearance in Japan but first at a jazz venue.

Kennedy’s enviable classical education — studying at the Yehudi Menuhin School under Menuhin himself, and later at the Juilliard School in New York under Dorothy DeLay — is well established. Lesser known is that Kennedy had an admirer in the great jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, who invited a 16-year-old Kennedy to perform with him in a concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall. Ignoring the advice of major classical record labels, who warned him that such a performance might ruin his classical career, Kennedy marched on stage, fortified by some whiskey, and duly performed. He has been proving his doubters wrong ever since — swearing frequently, shaving less often and showing disregard for the London classical music scene, once criticizing the London Symphony Orchestra for not providing enough rehearsal time prior to a 2001 gala concert.

When Kennedy was invited to record for the venerable jazz label Blue Note in 2006, he was fulfilling a lifelong ambition. The album featured standards and originals by Kennedy and jazz greats Ron Carter (double bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums). His latest jazz combo is a touring band and consists of Kennedy on the violin and four Polish jazz musicians. (His wife is Polish and he is also artistic director of the Warsaw-based Polish Chamber Orchestra.) The quintet will be performing jazz standards and originals from the “Blue Note Sessions” album.