Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 December, 2010, 12:00am

The violin has been a jazz instrument from the birth of the music, but the number of notable fiddle soloists has been remarkably small. In the 1920s and 30s Eddie South, Stuff Smith, Joe Venuti and Stephane Grappelli carved out a niche for the instrument, and Ray Nance made his mark with Duke Ellington in the 1940s, but after that there were few new players of note until the emergence of Jerry Goodman, Billy Bang and Jean Luc Ponty in the 1970s.

One of the most interesting and versatile younger keepers of the flame is Christian Howes, 38, who will be appearing tonight and tomorrow at the Skylark Lounge in Wyndham Street ( An in-demand violinist on the New York scene, Howes has performed and recorded with alto saxophonist Greg Osby, pianist D.D. Jackson, guitarists Les Paul, Frank Vignola and Joel Harrison, drummer Dafnis Prieto, vibraphonist Dave Samuels, and Spyro Gyra. He spent four year with Bill Evans' Soulgrass and 11 working with the late Paul.

'It used to be you could hardly find a good jazz violinist,' Paul said. 'Nowadays there are four for five really good players, but there is nobody better than this guy.'

Howes splits his professional life between his role as a music educator - he's an associate professor at the Berklee College of Music - and as a gigging and recording jazz musician.

He has an interesting career history, which includes a couple of years in prison for a drug offence. While inside he played the violin in gospel church services and says that experience led him to explore jazz and the Afro-American musical tradition more thoroughly.

He was released in 1996 and made his first album, Confluence, which included music made with fellow inmates from the correctional institutions in which he had served his time.

'The most powerful lesson I learned in prison is to have respect for each individual's experience. In my life, I would like to use my position as an artist to help make the world a place which is more respectful of the diverse experiences that different people have,' Howes says.

His most recent project is an album, Out of the Blue, cut with blues-jazz guitarist Robben Ford which has been generally well reviewed. He will be backed in Hong Kong by a trio comprising Rickard Malmsten on bass, Robbin Harris on drums and James Schneider at the piano. Today's show begins at 8.30pm, tomorrow's at 9pm. Admission is HK$80.

Take Three

Three albums featuring giants of the jazz violin.

Violin Jazz (2000, Yazoo): a compilation of groundbreaking sides recorded by Joe Venuti between 1927 and 1934 and featuring his regular musical partner Eddie Lang on guitar. Hot jazz fiddling at its best.

Quintet Du Hot Club De France (1990, Vogue Europe): a collection of classic performances featuring arguably the greatest violin guitar partnership of them all - Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt in their 1930s prime.