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. In selecting the seven painters for the Portrait in Seven Shades suite, I was drawn to Pollock and his work because although he was reclusive, 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. Once, when 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.”
Pollock’s initial 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 Abstract 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,” the final movement of Portrait in Seven Shades, 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 I took what came out and captured these phrases. For the shout chorus of this piece, I gave the band specific rhythms to play, but I allowed them to choose their own notes in order to create a sound that is both random and organized. This piece captures the kind of jazz that I think Pollock loved, but it also reflects the music of the decade during which he did most of his well-known work—the 1950s.
Composing and performing Portrait in Seven Shades has been a great journey, and I am glad to have shared with you a little of the creative process—the discovery, thoughts, and choices that led to the making of this music.