Music: Musical fusion

Mads Tolling blends jazz and classical

by Lily O’Brien

Jazz and classical music might seem like a strange combination to some, but if you listen to it, the result is quite provocative. And Mads Tolling, a classically trained violinist who has earned international recognition for his work as a jazz/classical/rock fusion performer, is currently at the forefront of this innovative and ever-expanding genre.

“I think in classical and jazz, as opposed to a lot of other styles, you are really taking the instrument and playing it to the extreme—as far as what’s possible technically,” Tolling, 35, says by phone. “Certainly there is very much of a different aesthetic when it comes to the written note—in jazz you are supposed to mess with that and in classical the written note is kind of gospel and you don’t mess with it—so in that way they are different, but I think that’s kind of the fascination between the two sides.”

Tolling, who moved from his native Denmark to study at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, began playing violin at age 6; after hearing Miles Davis at 15, he was hooked on jazz. Listening to jazz violinists like Stéphane Grappelli and Svend Asmussen inspired Tolling’s direction, and he grabbed the attention of jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty.

Tolling has since worked and recorded with an impressive roster of jazz musicians, including the groundbreaking jazz fusion group Turtle Island Quartet, which earned two Grammy Awards in ’06 and ’08 for Best Classical Crossover album.

These days, Tolling performs with his own group—The Mads Tolling Quartet—and with another version of it, the Mads Men, which puts a new spin on ’60s TV show and movie theme songs. “It was a great period of time in music history when everything changed—music kind of became art and it moved to another place,” Tolling says of the Mad Men era.

The musician, who says that many people have a hard time connecting with jazz, feels that crossover music can help them understand it better.

“[Jazz is] a bit too cerebral for them and it’s a little bit intimidating, too, because they don’t understand what’s going on, and I think some of these tunes provide the right kind of vehicle for an exchange to go on with the audience that would otherwise be a little tougher to have.”

The Mads Tolling Quartet performs Friday, August 14 at the Marin Country Mart’s Friday Night Jazz Concerts; 2257 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur; 6-9pm; free. For more information, call 415/461-5700, or visit

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