SALT LAKE CITY — One of the world's jazziest — and often, most surprising — string quartets is set to come to Utah for the first time this Monday. For GAM Foundation/Jazz SLC founder Gordon Hanks, it's that unexpected swing that makes the Turtle Island Quartet stand out.
“The thing that has always surprised me about Turtle Island Quartet is their incredible alchemy in turning four stringed instruments into unique renderings of the greatest jazz masters,” Hanks said in a recent interview. “You have to hear and see them to understand the depth of their talent.”
Fans and newcomers will have that chance at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center on Monday, Feb. 26, as the Grammy-winners bring their unique brand of jazz strings to the Beehive State.
Founder, violinist and composer David Balakrishnan established the Turtle Island Quartet in 1985 while living in the San Francisco Bay Area, interpreting the great American jazz songbook through all musical genres, including bluegrass, classical, rock, folk, world music and much more, according to the group's website. The other three members of the quartet have shifted over the years, and the current group is violinist Alex Hargreaves, cellist Malcom Parson, violist Benjamin von Gutzeit in addition to Balakrishnan.
In a phone interview, von Gutzeit emphasized just how ahead of his time Balakrishnan was when he introduced the Turtle Island Quartet to the music scene in the mid-'80s.
“It was such an unusual concept that nobody quite knew what to think but that changed rather quickly," von Gutzeit said. "David’s work is passionate and it fuses bold interpretations of classic jazz with a new voice.”
The quartet's most recent album, "Bird's Eye View," is a tribute to the music of legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker, and Monday night's show will focus on Parker's tunes, rounding out the night with original compositions from each of the four Turtle Island musicians. As von Gutzeit is quick to point out, focusing on the work of jazz music's greats is who they are as musicians.
“Turtle Island Quartet was the first string quartet that could make a living playing jazz," he said. "We weren’t a group of classically trained string musicians who decided to try and play jazz. We were first, and foremost, jazz musicians who happened to play stringed instruments.”
The quartet has won two Grammys and headlined jazz festivals over the years, but for some Utah jazz fans, Turtle Island's sound will give their ears a new experience, Hanks predicts.Comment on this story
“I think this year in the concert series we’ve really tried to expose our patrons to some new groups, some new sounds, and I think Turtle Island Quartet will be a big surprise to those not familiar with their music,” Hanks said. “Their sense of timing and improvisation is second to none. They are charting new conversations in jazz without forgetting where it all comes from.”
If you go …
What: Turtle Island Quartet
When: Monday, Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South
How much: $29.50 for adults, $10 for students with ID