Art re­flect­ing art

Jazz mae­stro brings cur­tain down on Rauschen­berg ret­ro­spec­tive in Bei­jing with unique col­lab­o­ra­tive per­for­mance

China Daily (USA) - - PEOPLE - By LI JING li­jing2009@chi­nadaily.com.cn

That was re­ally the first hint of what a great ar­ranger he is, in ad­di­tion to be­ing a com­poser.”

While there may be many par­al­lels be­tween paint­ing and jazz as art forms, for Ted Nash, there is one ma­jor dif­fer­ence.

“The two both in­volve a lot of col­ors, tex­tures and layers, but the end re­sult is so dif­fer­ent,” says the jazz sax­o­phon­ist and com­poser. “A paint­ing ex­ists for­ever, ex­actly how it is, and with jazz mu­sic, it changes all the time.”

The ex­cite­ment in­volved in com­bin­ing a fixed piece of art with a freeflow­ing jazz per­for­mance was one of things that led him to ac­cept an in­vi­ta­tion to run a week of in­tense work­shops with pro­fes­sional and ama­teur Chi­nese mu­si­cians that cul­mi­nated in Rauschen­berg in Jazz: Nine De­tails.

On Aug 19 and 20, Nash and nine lo­cal mu­si­cians per­formed the unique show at Bei­jing’s Ul­lens Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Art, us­ing as a back­drop some sec­tions of Robert Rauschen­berg’s The 1/4 Mile or 2 Fur­long Piece. The show con­cluded Rauschen­berg in China, the gallery’s ret­ro­spec­tive of the late Amer­i­can artist’s work.

Nash, a 56-year-old mu­si­cian with the Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter Orches­tra in New York City, ar­rived in the Chi­nese cap­i­tal on Aug 15. He spent the next few days hang­ing out at the gallery in front of the gi­ant piece and im­pro­vis­ing with a sax­o­phone and flute.

“The piece is a quar­ter mile (402 me­ters) long. You can fo­cus on one area of the piece and get so much. You can also stand back to get a feel­ing over­all,” he says. “It’s like mu­sic. When you lis­ten to a small piece of mu­sic, you fo­cus on one in­stru­ment and lis­ten to one pas­sage, while you can also step back and lis­ten to a whole piece of mu­sic and get a dif­fer­ent feel­ing about it.”

Nash first saw Rauschen­berg’s art­work in New York City in 1978. He was 18 and had just moved to the city from his na­tive Los An­ge­les.

“I spent a lot time in gal­leries and mu­se­ums. I loved im­pres­sion­ism, but I was par­tic­u­larly moved or fas­ci­nated by con­tem­po­rary art. Rauschen­berg was then very pop­u­lar. You saw his works in many mu­se­ums.”

Decades later, when he saw The 1/4 Mile or 2 Fur­long Piece, he re­calls feel­ing very moved. “He had an amaz­ing imag­i­na­tion. The knowl­edge that I was go­ing to be in­volved in com­pos­ing a piece of mu­sic to it made me also look at it dif­fer­ently, look­ing for spe­cific sort of sig­nals, sym­bols and ideas.”

More than 20 Chi­nese mu­si­cians joined Nash at the work­shops, mark­ing the first time he has com­posed with a group.

Dur­ing af­ter­noon ses­sions, they would spin through the ex­hi­bi­tion hall with in­stru­ments, some­times play­ing and some­times just look­ing and tak­ing pictures.

“It’s a fresh yet challenging process,” says bassist Wang Chen­huai, a sec­ond-year post­grad­u­ate study­ing com­po­si­tion. “Mu­sic and vis­ual art are two dif­fer­ent art forms. They can­not be trans­formed di­rectly. You have to be fo­cused to get in­spi­ra­tion while you’re sur­rounded by cu­ri­ous gallery vis­i­tors who talk and take pictures of you.”

Back in the stu­dio, Nash asked his col­lab­o­ra­tors to go through the images they had taken, talk about their feel­ings and each pro­vide a mu­si­cal phrase.

“It was to of­fer them the idea that the first thing is the best,” says the Amer­i­can com­poser. “A lot of peo­ple take too long to make mu­sic, as they don’t trust their own mu­si­cal in­stincts.”

Re­hearsals also in­volved a lot of im­pro­vi­sa­tion, he adds. “That’s the na­ture of jazz — in­flu­ence each other, re­act and be en­gaged and have mu­si­cal con­ver­sa­tions with other play­ers. That’s when the mu­sic is strong­est.”

Nash wrote down each sug­gested phrase and or­ga­nized them into a form. The fi­nal re­sult was nine move­ments, or de­tails, for a se­lected nine sec­tions of The 1/4 Mile or 2 Fur­long Piece. The per­for­mance was cou­pled with slide pro­jec­tions, too.

Cathy Bar­bash, who helped or­ga­nize the event, says Nash’s tal­ent, com­bined with his warm per­son­al­ity and gen­eros­ity of spirit, made him the ideal di­rec­tor for the project.

Nash has been with the Lin­coln Cen­ter orches­tra since 1997. Its artis­tic di­rec­tor, Wyn­ton Marsalis, calls him “the wild­card chair” in the band.

“He plays, on a vir­tu­oso level, all of the reed in­stru­ments,” Marsalis says. “He plays them all per­fectly in tune, and he has a per­son­al­ity on each one that’s dif­fer­ent. And he can read mu­sic un­be­liev­ably well.”

In 1999, Nash made his break­through al­bum, Rhyme & Rea­son, for a jazz quar­tet and strings.

“That was re­ally the first hint of what a great ar­ranger he is, in ad­di­tion to be­ing a com­poser,” says pian­ist Frank Kim­brough, who played on the al­bum.

Born to a mu­si­cian fam­ily — his fa­ther was trom­bon­ist Dick Nash and his name­sake un­cle was also a sax­o­phon­ist — he was a prodi­gious tal­ent. Start­ing at age 16, he held down jobs with a suc­ces­sion of firstrate big bands, and af­ter mov­ing to New York he was a prom­i­nent mem­ber of the Jazz Com­posers Col­lec­tive, which was ded­i­cated to fos­ter­ing orig­i­nal mu­sic. He was part of its best-known en­sem­ble, the Her­bie Ni­chols Project.

In 2007, Nash de­buted Por­trait in Seven Shades, a large-scale jazz suite in­spired by pieces from the New York Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art’s col­lec­tion, di­vided into seven move­ments, each re­fer­ring to a vis­ual artist, in­clud­ing Claude Monet and Sal­vador Dali. The work, re­leased on al­bum in 2010, was nom­i­nated for a Grammy Award.

“As a com­poser we look for in­spi­ra­tion in many forms,” Nash says. “It can be from peo­ple. It can be from ar­chi­tec­ture. It can be from the mu­sic it­self. And it can be from art.”

Frank Kim­brough, pian­ist, who played on the al­bum of Ted Nash

Zhang Hongyang / For China Daily

Ted Nash, play­ing in front of The1/4Mile­or2Fur­longPiece at Bei­jing’s Ul­lens Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Art, says he sees par­al­lels be­tween jazz and paint­ing.

Nash (cen­ter) and lo­cal mu­si­cians at the fi­nal re­hearsal be­fore the pre­miere. Li Jing / China Daily

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