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Not quite Vivaldi: Nigel Kennedy remembers Hendrix


Listen to a few samples of Nigel Kennedy's tribute to Jimi Hendrix

Audio clip: 295k MPEG-3
Audio clip: 405k WAV
Video clip: 1.6Mb QuickTime

August 23, 1999
Web posted at: 3:31 p.m. EDT (1931 GMT)

From Steve Wright
CNN WorldBeat Correspondent

LONDON (CNN) -- Violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy is no ordinary classical musician. For starters, he has a punk haircut. He once painted his Rolls Royce in the colors of his favorite football team. And he defies the music industry's attempts to classify him as simply a "classical" musician.

Most people got to know Kennedy through his groundbreaking interpretation of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," the 1989 recording that became one of the best selling classical albums of all time.

But he's equally at home with jazz, Celtic or rock music, and can go from Bach to Bartok, or from Haydn to Hendrix -- Jimi, that is; Kennedy's upcoming "The Kennedy Experience," which includes his widely toured "Hendrix: Concerto in Suite Form," is a tribute to the rock idol.

"We're recording Hendrix in this session here instrumentally, getting an acoustic force of people together as an interesting and exciting way of playing music," Kennedy says. "Having played a lot of classical and jazz where dynamic variation is like a handy asset, and like all of these creative tools you've got with an instrument which responds straightaway, it is something you can use towards the spirit of Jimi Hendrix's music."

Take risks, do new things, urges Kennedy

Kennedy studied music at the Yehudi Menuhin School and at Juilliard. He made his recording debut in 1984 with the Elgar Violin Concerto. Since then, he's performed with the likes of traditional classical musicians like Andre Previn, and pop stars like Kate Bush and Paul McCartney.

Known for stretching the boundaries of classical music, Kennedy espouses the need to take on new technical challenges -- "If you're playing within your capability, what's the point?" he asks. "If you're not pushing your own technique to its own limits with the risk that it might just crumble at any moment, then you're not really doing your job."

He also considers it part of his job to take risks musically. "Even if you're playing Brahms or a Beethoven concerto, you've got to have a different vantage point, slightly, each time," he says. "Jimi's music is all about that, I think -- you know, he was out on the edge a lot of the time. When he was playing, he was taking it and stretching it."

The result of all this technical and creative stretching? A sound that at least one critic has said has "shattering intensity," and as an added bonus, some simple pride in his work. "Maybe it's egocentric or whatever," he says, "but when I'm playing Beethoven, Bach, Hendrix, or whoever it is, in the end, it just feels like my own music and I'm making it up as I'm going along."

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