Concerto for Jazz Guitar and Orchestra: Katrina

Concerto for Jazz Guitar and Orchestra: Katrina
Arkansas Symphony Orchestra
Ted Ludwig, Guitar | Philip Mann, Conductor
Duration c. 25 minutes.
Live Recording, April 2016
*with permission


D.J. Sparr’s Concerto for Jazz Guitar and Orchestra: Katrina is a work that draws as inspiration metaphors from epic poems as a connection to victory in the face of overwhelming odds. Written for Ted Ludwig, a refugee of Hurricane Katrina who now lives in Little Rock, it ties our understanding of a horrific tragedy to the story of the Great Flood. In this tale, the protagonist character—known in different cultures as Ziusudra, Gilgamesh, or Noah—manages to escape the rising floodwaters and find redemption and strength in a new home. Sparr ties the ancient to the modern by mixing element s of ancient Sumerian string music with quotations of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie’s When the Levee Breaks (which was inspired by the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927).

Recalling a conversation between Mr. Ludwig and himself, the composer says:

“He described to me the moment he left New Orleans. It was beautiful day. In fact, he said, “one of the most beautiful days you could imagine, but we all knew to get out of there.” That day inspired the opening of the piece. Ringing bells and triangles lead to strings entering playing overlapping chords from Giant Steps. I thought it was an appropriate metaphor for the personal struggle to leave home behind.”

The soloist improvises over long sustained chords representing the rising sun and sky, but with elements of rain-drops hovering above and strings of Tibetan bells in the background. Following this is the first articulation of a written out melody, loosely based on When the Levee Breaks. As the work progresses, there is a close association with Noah’s tale: an evocation of floating for long spans and the release of birds to search for land. The conclusion, described in the score as “The Temple of Enki at Erdu,” refers to one of the most important cult centers throughout the history of Mesopotamia, purportedly visited not only by worshipers, but by the deities themselves. In Sumerian mythology, Eridu was the home of the Abzu temple of the water god Enki. Like all the Sumerian and Babylonian gods, Enki began as a local god, who eventually came to share the rule of the cosmos. His kingdom was the sweet waters that lay below Earth. As this is the place where flood myth’s protagonist finally finds his home and strength, so too is it a metaphor for Ted Ludwig finding his home in Little Rock.

*Note by Jacob Wallace

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