Jazz at Lincoln Center proudly announces the release of Portrait in Seven Shades, performed by the word-renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and composed by JLCO reedman Ted Nash. Nash s suite consists of seven movements, each inspired by a master of modern art who worked in the century around the apex of jazz; Chagall, Dali, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Pollock and Van Gogh. The recording also features special guest musicians Nathalie Bonin (violin), Wycliffe Gordon (tuba), and Bill Schimmel (accordion). The writer Will Friedwald said Music is like painting in time, painting is like music in space. Portrait in Seven Shades illustrates this point masterfully.
Portrait in Seven Shades tells a story about seven painters; not through words, as in a museum description, but through music.
Musicians and painters often experience the same struggles, successes and self doubts when creating and later sharing their creations. When artists embrace their own truths, working on art can be an opportunity to discover something new from within. It may also allow us, the viewer, to get to know something of ourselves. Art often reflects the society and times in which we live.
Many parallels can be drawn between the two forms of art. Like painters, musicians talk of colors, layers and composition. Several expressions are used to describe styles in both fields – impressionistic, abstract, pop. And of course there is the blues.
Wynton Marsalis, artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, approached me one day while on tour in Mexico and asked me to compose a long-form piece to be performed at a future date by the Orchestra (that premier took place in February 2007). Although I was given the freedom to take the music in whatever direction I wanted, the only requirement was for it to have a theme. It didn’t take me long to come up with a concept that would truly inspire me to write an hour-long piece of music: each movement would be dedicated to a different painter.
I decided to limit my choices to artists who lived within an approximate 100-year period, about the age of jazz itself. The period spans the end of impressionism through abstract expressionism of the 1960’s. Although it doesn’t correlate exactly with the existence of jazz music (the beginning of the 1900’s to present). It is a similar time frame. During these periods each art form went through many important transformations.
It was hard narrowing it down to only seven painters. There are so many artists I have truly admired, whose works have had some kind of effect on me. Like Cezanne, Degas, Gaugin, Rauschenberg, Diebenkorn, and de Kooning. But there were a few choices that were obvious to me: Picasso, Van Gogh, and Monet.
I think of Picasso as sort of the Miles Davis of the art world. He was responsible for the development of important movements like analytical and synthetic cubism, and his work became more daring and expressive as he got older. Miles, similarly, helped give birth to movements like bebop and modal, and his music also became more daring with the development of fusion.
Ultimately the list would include Matisse, Chagall, Dali, and Pollock. The difference in their styles would help lead to a contrast between each of the seven movements. I have also chosen recognizable artists and their work because I believe it will heighten a viewer’s perspective –
I want the listener to hear music that expresses images with which they are already familiar. I believe this will lead to a greater experience and hopefully, as a result of hearing this music, one will see these paintings in a new fresh way.
I have been a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for more than ten years and have gotten to know the individual members very well – their personalities, their strengths and styles – and have made orchestration and solo choices accordingly. I have also invited guests to perform: Nathalie Bonin on violin, Bill Schimmel on accordion, and Wycliffe Gordon on tuba. Each musician brings his musical sensibilities, helping to realize the musical objectives I have set out to accomplish. It should be noted here that this entire CD was recorded in one six-hour session, a true testament to the ability of this orchestra and the individuals that together make such an incomparable ensemble.
It has been a great journey. I am glad to share with you a little of the creative process the discovery, thoughts, and choices – that led to the making of this music.
—-Ted Nash with Ivette Dumeng
I feel Monet embellished reality by diffusing it, using colors and textures to create fantasy. We feel nature, water, air- things that are very basic. I used Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond as a main inspiration. When you stand up close to this sprawling triptych you lose track of reality, instead you see the strokes, gestures and textures.
Monet opens with a primitive drum pattern, like the beginning of life itself. The trombones form a base, with the woodwinds floating on top creating impressionistic sounds similar to Debussy and Ravel. It expands like the rising sun with the high trumpets, led with great expression by Ryan Kisor. The two sopranos state the main theme. The harmonic structure uses primarily major chords, creating lightness and an uplifting mood. Victor Goines’ soprano sax solo suggests exploration and playfulness. Ted Nash on alto flute plays with mystery and poignancy over a vamp that leads to a dance between clarinet and flute.
Dali incorporated images and objects that are very familiar to us, putting them together in an unfamiliar way, which can create discomfort or insecurity. He combined violence, sexuality, and secrets living in one’s sub-conscience. I think this is particularly evident in Illuminated Pleasures, a lurid and sensational work.
The Persistence of Memory, probably his most iconic work, where he portrays melting clocks in a barren landscape, inspired me to develop an unusual time signature, 13/8. Embracing the effect of this painting I have found sounds and approaches to harmony that on their own are familiar but the way they are put together is unsettling.
Dali, which is basically a disguised blues, opens up with an ostinato figure played by the bass and saxophones, representing the continuum of time. The persistent drum groove exposes a little of the aggressive quality of these paintings. The melody, played in thirds by trumpet and alto, exists in a different tonal center from the bass, like a lost creature searching. Vincent Gardner’s walls on the trombone augment the anxiety. An improvised solo, created simultaneously by Marcus Printup on trumpet and Ted Nash shadowing on alto saxophone, creates long melting lines. It climaxes in an almost violent end. A flamenco-like clave supporting Ali Jackson’s drum solo, emphasized by the orchestra’s hand clapping, references Dali’s Spanish heritage.
What I love about Matisse is the childlike quality and playfulness apparent in his paintings. He was a master of color. There is quirkiness in his works, and instead of becoming more and more sophisticated he became more and more simple, as with the cutouts he did later in his life. I think Matisse is somebody who didn’t conform, very much like pianist Thelonious Monk. In fact, Monk’s rhythmic quirkiness was an influence when I approached this movement.
Matisse opens with Dan Nimmer dancing on the piano, like the five women in the painting La Danse. For this arrangement I use the bass and baritone sax on an angular unison theme, with humorous responses from the bass clarinet, soprano sax, and plunger-muted trumpets, like cutout pieces from The Knife Thrower. Joe Temperley, the senior member of the band brings sophistication combined with a childlike quality to his baritone solo. Carlos Henriquez on bass deals with bouncing rhythms, and intervallic jumps. The bass solo is followed by a sax soli (the saxophones playing together in five-part harmony) expressing very much the reaction I have when I see Matisse’s paintings: joy.
Picasso is one of the most recognized geniuses in the art world and was a well-known public figure. Picasso loved women and celebrated them in his work. This appreciation for women is apparent in many of his works, and in particular with Girl Before A Mirror where he expresses many sides of his mistress Marie Therese Walter, a woman he painted multiple times in the 1930’s. In Les Demoiselles d’Avignon he certainly depicts women freely and in a less “romantic” light. With this painting Picasso overturned established conventions, and all that followed grew out of it. It is the Precursor to his cubist work.
I approached Picasso differently from other movements. In the first section I deal with the romantic and expressive side of the man. The second section explodes out of this romantic setting and moves us to the bullfight. The main body embraces his paintings not only on how they affect me emotionally, but also intellectually, focusing on his cubist style. Using the cubist theme, I explored the idea of fourths (four sides to a cube) throughout the arrangement: the trombone chords are stacked in fourths and much of the material is based on the interval of the fourth. The toreadors are Vincent Gardner and Wynton Marsalis, who solo on the chord structure comprised of four different tonalities, always coming back to E (the lowest note on the guitar and a common tonal center found in flamenco music).
As the piece develops I incorporate mirror images of the thematic material found earlier in the piece. It reaches a climax by moving away from the intellectual and toward something more instinctive as it builds to a big E Phrygian chord, bringing us back to Picasso’s home
The tragedy of unrequited love, the driving need to be accepted as a serious artist, the longing for success that never quite came (he sold only one painting during his lifetime) – most people are just as familiar with the story of Van Gogh’s life as they are with his art. Van Gogh’s paintings express his passion, full of thick strokes and rich colors. His many self-portraits show him to be sad or dispirited. Aware of his struggles, we are drawn into his paintings. The reality he captures is one we want to experience.
In Van Gogh I use words to tell his story (my first foray into writing lyrics). Out of all the movements this comes closest to being in a style of American song form, a very safe and familiar form, and through this familiarity it’s almost as if I can create a safe place and nurturing environment for Vincent. There are a lot of references in Van Gogh to his paintings, and in particular The Starry Night, perhaps his most famous work. In The Starry Night we see the view from his sanitarium – he painted it by memory the next morning.
I chose to feature Wynton Marsalis on the melody and solo. I knew he would express with his trumpet the same broad strokes and textures Van Gogh found in his paintings. Our Vincent (Gardner) tells the story as I pictured Van Gogh talking to his good friend Paul Gauguin.
Marc Chagall was known to have two basic reputations: as a pioneer of modernism, and as a major Jewish artist. He grew up in a Jewish ghetto in Russia. He was also considered to be a master of color. “When Matisse dies,” Pablo Picasso remarked in the 1950’s, “Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is.” Chagall’s paintings are very musical, and there is a lot of fantasy- he has violinists floating in the air and animals dancing. His works deal with family and social gatherings, and you get a strong sense of his theatrical nature (he was also a costume and set designer).
For Chagall I wanted to capture this sense of neighborhood, of people gathering in the streets. To help achieve this sound I invited members of my group Odeon to join the big band: Bill Schimmel on accordion, Nathalie Bonin on violin, and Wycliffe Gordon on tuba.
Chagall begins with accordion on a short cadenza. The accordion is an instrument found in many Eastern-European cultures, and it is the perfect sound to bring us to the streets. The theme is played by the violin and clarinet suggesting a place somewhere between France and Russia, a place we may not have visited in the past, but where we feel at home. There is a short interlude where we see animals crossing the street. We then hear a beautiful cadenza by Nathalie on violin, and later an extended solo. Chagall loved the violin so much that it often appeared as a subject in his paintings, like a muse. The movement culminates with a klezmer-style romp that builds to an exciting climax.
American painter Jackson Pollock came of age at a time when jazz was very popular. The big bands were swinging on the radio and he was drawn to it. Pollock was quite reclusive, but I believe music gave him a sense of belonging, a connection to society. Pollock moved away from figurative art and became known as an abstract expressionist. When once asked, “What is modern art?’ he answered: “Modern art to me is nothing more than the expression of contemporary aims of the age that we’re living in.”
The time of his notoriety came just before the free jazz movement, and I wonder if the abstract form of jazz that began in the late fifties wasn’t influenced in some way by the expressionist art movement that began earlier that decade. In fact, Pollock’s White Light is featured on the inside of Ornette Coleman’s innovative record: Free Jazz: A collective Improvisation.
With Pollock I wanted to create a musical canvas full of paint splatters: musical phrases being loosely tossed about. I sat at the piano and almost threw my hands on the keys and took what came out and captured these phrases. Pianist Dan Nimmer leads the rhythm section in a free interpretation of the theme, which is comprised of these abstract note groupings. The band then reinterprets these phrases as one long swinging line.
The soloists, Sherman Irby on alto saxophone, Chris Crenshaw and Elliot Mason on trombones, and Bill Schimmel on accordion, continue the abstract expressionist nature in their improvisations. For the shout chorus I gave the band specific rhythms to play, but allowed them to choose their own notes. This creates a sound that is both random and organized. All of this builds to a climax, which delivers us into a very cool minor blues featuring Ryan Kisor on trumpet. This section captures the kind of jazz I think Pollock loved, but also reflects the music of the decade during which he did most of his well-known work- the fifties.
Sherman Irby (Alto sax, soprano sax, flute, clarinet); Ted Nash (Alto sax, flute, alto flute, clarinet); Victor Goines (Tenor sax, soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet); Walter Blanding (Tenor sax, soprano sax, clarinet); Joe Temperley (Baritone sax, bass clarinet).
Wynton Marsalis; Ryan Kisor (Lead); Sean Jones; Marcus Printup.
Vincent Gardner (lead, vocal on Van Gogh); Chris Crenshaw; Elliot Mason
Dan Nimmer (piano); Carlos Henriquez (bass); Ali Jackson (drums).
Monet – Victor Goines, soprano sax; Ted Nash, alto flute
Dali – Marcus Printup, Trumpet; Ted Nash, alto sax; Ali Jackson, drums
Matisse – Dan Nimmer, Piano; Joe Temperley, baritone sax; Carlos Henriquez, bass
Picasso – Vincent Gardner, trombone; Wynton Marsalis, Trumpet
Van Gogh – Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Vincent Gardner, vocal
Chagall – Bill Schimmel, accordion; Nathalie Bonin, violin
Pollock – Sherman Irby, alto sax; Chris Crenshaw and Elliot Mason, trombones; Bill Schimmel, accordion; Ryan Kisor, trumpet