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Christian Howes: Bowing the Blues

Violinist experiences a musical awakening in the big house

Christian Howes

Christian Howes’ new album explores that transitional passage as music comes out of the blues and into jazz. The recording is called, aptly, Out of the Blue (Resonance), and the title track, a Howes composition, examines that journey in slow motion. When the 38-year-old violinist, his small brown fiddle tucked under his enormous square jaw, first played the tune at Baltimore’s An Die Musik Live! in November, it was as a slow blues with a slippery, syncopated rhythm and a suggestive vocal-like purr. But the second solo was something different: a slow hymn, all humble reverence and sustained tone. Howes seemed to be explaining how gospel music was the midwife that delivered jazz out of its blues womb.

That may not be true of music history in general, but it is certainly true of the violinist’s own history. Back in 1991, Howes had been a highly promising classical student at Ohio State University, seemingly on his way to a concert career. But he got caught up in a drug deal gone wrong and eventually found himself in Ohio’s London Correctional Institution. There he found himself so desperate to play music that he would try anything: He’d play violin with the young inmates who slapped out hip-hop beats on the picnic tables in the exercise yard, or he’d jam along with the old guys picking bluegrass. But he found his home in the prison church.

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