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Friday, 18 June, 1999, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
Kennedy plays Hendrix
Rock legend Jimi Hendrix has been given a classical makeover
By Mark Coles of BBC Radio 4's Today programme

Jimi Hendrix may have been crowned the "Wild Man of Pop" but almost 30 years after his death, it is in the world of classical music that he is causing a stir.

Classical violinist Kennedy - the artist formerly known Nigel - has given the rock guitarist a complete makeover with the release of an album of Hendrix covers.

The Kennedy Experience, says the musician, is "an album of music inspired by Jimi Hendrix. It is an extended instrumental work in six movements - each movement a classical interpretation of a Hendrix song".

It features such Hendrix greats as Third Stone From The Sun, Little Wing, Purple Haze, Fire And Drifting.

Nigel Kennedy: Hendrix is on a par with Bach
But whereas Hendrix recorded largely as a trio with guitar, drums and bass, Kennedy's Hendrix is performed by an eight-piece classical ensemble featuring cello, acoustic guitar, flute, oboe, bass guitar and lead violin.

Kennedy, 44, says he sees Jimi Hendrix as a traditional composer trapped in traditional rock format. Hendrix, he insists, should be up there with the all-time greats, on a par with Mozart, Bach, Liszt or Chopin.

"I think he was possibly more akin to Franz Liszt or Chopin. He was more like one of those figures, a great composer and player of his instrument who made music in a totally new genre," he enthuses.

But such talk has infuriated some classical music critics. Cosmo Landesman of the Sunday Times is just one of those who says that Hendrix is simply not appropriate for such treatment.

"The point of Jimi Hendrix and that kind of music is not to find inner depth. You cannot transform the Hendrix sound upon a violin, you end up with a terrible mush.

"And anyone who has heard Nigel Kennedy play Purple Haze will know what I am talking about," he says.

Of course, there have been rock, classical crossover projects ever since the Moody Blues first experimented with strings.

But Hugh Canning, chief music critic of the Sunday Times, says serious classical musicians have always borrowed heavily from popular music.

Hendrix's legendary guitar
"The greatest names in classical music have concerned themselves with popular music. In our time, Ravel and Poulenc have been very interested in modern trends in music such as jazz through to blues."

Kennedy says that an entire album of classical Hendrix should not surprise us, or the critics:

"If anyone cannot hear the merits of Jimi Hendrix's music then what on earth are they doing in a job writing about music. They should go and be a librarian," he says.

But classical Hendrix is no surprise for Cathy Etchingham, Jimi Hendrix's girlfriend in the 1960s. In fact she says, Hendrix loved classical music.

"We used to go round HMV and pick up various classical albums, particularly Mozart, Bach and Handel - he listened to all of them.

"He would have approved. And I think he would have given Nigel a job."

The Kennedy Experience is on sale from 14 June.

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