Concert explores space between classical, jazz

Gerald Gregory (from left), Jill Terhaar Lewis and Robert Lewis offer a program called "The In-Between: From Classical to Jazz." They will be joined by percussionist Ron Wiltrout and cellist Norbert Lewandowski.

"The In-Between: Classical to Jazz" is a crossover concert performed and arranged by five local musicians that features brand new compositions as well as fresh versions of classics.

If you've ever wondered what the jazzed out version of the Toreador song from Bizet's "Carmen" would sound like, this is your opportunity to find out.

This is music that both highlights the differences and finds the common ground between classical and jazz styles. Performers include soprano Jill Terhaar Lewis, her husband and saxophonist Robert Lewis, pianist Gerald Gregory, percussionist Ron Wiltrout and cellist Norbert Lewandowski.

Striking the right balance between classical and jazz was the biggest obstacle, according to Robert Lewis, who arranged the jazz version of the Toreador song, among others. Versions of pieces such as Samuel Barber's "Sure on This Shining Night," Andre Previn's "Vocalize" and Stephen Foster's "Hard Times, Come Again No More" are included in the program.

"It was actually quite difficult," he said. "A lot of stuff you hear attempting this sort of shortchanges one side or the other. Trying to make sure that everybody is being represented at their best was a bit of a challenge. I had to revise more than I usually do when I'm writing for the big band, just to get the balance right."

Robert Lewis is the director of jazz studies at the College of Charleston and a cornerstone of the Charleston Jazz Orchestra, and his wife, Jill Terhaar Lewis, is an associate professor of vocal music at Charleston Southern University. The two have spent years attending each others' concerts, and their relationship played a huge role in inspiring "The In-Between."

"I think it's getting harder and harder for me to define the lines between the two styles of music," Jill Terhaar Lewis said. "I think it's hard not to be influenced by what I hear, my husband practicing and things like that."

Robert Lewis, who studied classical saxophone throughout his education but now focuses on jazz, said the idea for the concert "has been percolating over the years."

"Being married to a classical singer, it was a natural idea for us to do something together," he said.

In 2010, the Lewises and Gregory recorded a mix of jazz standards, hymns and American folk and pop songs for an album called "And Now I Know." From there, the trio fleshed out their concept to arrive at "The In-Between."

"We thought we would get a little bit more fullness of sound with a cello, and we balanced that out with a drummer," Robert Lewis said. "So it grew sort of organically."

The Lewises agree that hearing both classical and jazz has had an effect on their performance. Though the two say each genre is mostly separate in their everyday lives, they know exposure to other styles makes a difference in their playing, even if only in a small way.

"I don't see how it wouldn't have an influence," Robert Lewis said.

"The In-Between: Classical to Jazz" is at 6 p.m. today at Trinity United Methodist Church.

Jessica Cabe is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.