Superstar Violinist Nigel Kennedy Reinvents Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”: Watch Two Dynamic Performances

Vio­lin­ists don’t often make the news these days, but when one does, you can be rea­son­ably assured either that a musi­cal con­tro­ver­sy is afoot, or that the vio­lin­ist in ques­tion is Nigel Kennedy. This time, both of those are the case: Kennedy, as The Guardian’s Dalya Alberge reports, “has pulled out of a con­cert at the Roy­al Albert Hall with only days to go after accus­ing the radio sta­tion Clas­sic FM of pre­vent­ing him from per­form­ing a Jimi Hen­drix trib­ute.” At issue is his intent to per­form a ver­sion of Hen­drix’s “Lit­tle Wing,” but even with its “Celtic-sound­ing melody,” that com­po­si­tion was ulti­mate­ly deemed “not suit­able” for the audi­ence.

It seems that Clas­sic FM’s man­age­ment would have pre­ferred Vivaldi’s Four Sea­sons, of which Kennedy record­ed the world’s best-sell­ing ver­sion in 1989. That a clas­si­cal radio sta­tion famous for con­cen­trat­ing its pro­gram­ming on the “hits” and a clas­si­cal per­former famous for delib­er­ate­ly unortho­dox musi­cal turns would fail to see eye-to-eye should not, per­haps, come as a sur­prise.

But then, Kennedy has long dis­played a keen instinct for pub­lic­i­ty and a ten­den­cy to — well, one would say épa­ter les bour­geois, were Hen­drix not now regard­ed as so thor­ough­ly respectable in his own right. As Kennedy sees it, he was “one of the fore­most com­posers of the 20th cen­tu­ry, along with Stravin­sky and Duke Elling­ton.”

The gui­tarist’s exalt­ed sta­tus rests, Kennedy argues, on his hav­ing “brought all types of music togeth­er.” Even in a song like “Pur­ple Haze” — which you can see Kennedy rein­ter­pret with the Pol­ish Cham­ber Orches­tra in 2005, and again at the 2015 Thanks Jim Fes­ti­val in Wro­claw — musi­col­o­gists hear traces of both the Amer­i­can blues and the Mixoly­di­an mode, along with such uncon­ven­tion­al-for-1967 touch­es as the dimin­ished-fifth melod­ic inter­val, long known as the “dia­bo­lus in musi­ca” and the E7♯9 chord, now known as the “Hen­drix chord.” Much of the song only uses two oth­er chords, mak­ing “Pur­ple Haze” the rare three-chord, under-three-minute rock hit that con­tains more than enough sub­stance to inspire an uncon­ven­tion­al­ly mind­ed clas­si­cal musi­cian. But then, try telling that to a pro­gram direc­tor.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Lost Record­ing of Pink Floyd Play­ing with Jazz Vio­lin­ist Stéphane Grap­pel­li on “Wish You Were Here”

Japan­ese Vio­lin­ist Cov­ers Eddie Van Halen’s “Erup­tion”: Met­al Meets Clas­si­cal Again

Watch Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” Per­formed on a Gayageum, a Tra­di­tion­al Kore­an Instru­ment

Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” Shred­ded on the Ukulele

How Sci­ence Fic­tion Formed Jimi Hen­drix

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Yody Dee says:

    I’ve just watched both videos. I sup­pose the trib­ute at the RAH would’ve been like the one in the first video (ie. with a full clas­si­cal orches­tra) and it’s quite a mas­ter­piece, fan­tas­tic orches­tra­tion, daz­zling play­ing by both Kennedy and the orches­tra, it’s an elec­tri­fy­ing, edgy mod­ern piece and would be valid and wel­come in any con­cert hall.

  • Samuel Wilson says:

    I think it was a fine work and yes he did a won­der­ful job thank you

  • Dennis Dio Parker says:

    Hmmm … I’m on the fence about this. On the one hand, if I get myself out of my clas­si­cal mind, this is a pret­ty cool piece. It does not — for me — come across as “Pur­ple Haze.” I can rec­og­nize it as com­ing from “Pur­ple Haze,” but it does not cap­ture the feel, moment, and mood of the song as a Rock piece, and it is a Rock mas­ter­piece in that world.

    Would it be worth it to me to attend a pay event play­ing this? Sure! But only if such event does not bill itself as a Clas­si­cal music activ­i­ty. Truth in adver­tis­ing is para­mount. If I go with my Clas­si­cal mind­set turned on and then hear this, it will be mon­ey wast­ed and unre­cov­er­able time spent. I will be very unhap­py with the event hosts and will have less con­fi­dence in what they pro­vide in the future. Tell me that it’s some­thing very alter­na­tive that’s a fusion of gen­res.

    Of course, in the Clas­si­cal crowd it’s cus­tom­ary to pub­lish in detail what’s appear­ing at a musi­cal event in the play­bill. That gives us the pow­er of choice up front before we make our plans and pay our mon­ey. I might stand *one* per­for­mance of a piece like this in an oth­er­wise Clas­si­cal event. More than that, and I’m not going.

  • Penny says:

    I think you put that over very well. I total­ly agree with you.

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