While Listening to…

“Ascension Jazz in Red” 30x40cm acrylic on wood (private collection, Melbourne, Florida, USA)

John Coltrane’s “Ascension…

I love jazz, always have since the late seventies. I sort of transitioned over from my first love which was and still is, rock. Now they call it classic rock because it has transcended through the decades and it is still as fresh and powerful as when it was originally done. It’s hard to improve on classic rock, I believe.

I have been a musician, a soldier, a playwright, dancer and, I guess, always always involved with something artistic. I prefer to call myself a poet of the brush, the strings and the written word. But I am simply a “jazz” painter. The reason is not just because I like to paint references and scenes that relate to music and dance. Although I tend to usually include in my compositions instruments and players. But the reason, as I have stated in other articles, is that I have adapted the “official” definition of Jazz…developed by the original masters back in New Orleans at the turn of the XXth Century…and made it the ruling guideline for the way I paint.

Jazz is considered to be the “performer’s art”. To define the genre, it was accepted, by convention, I guess, that for a song to be “jazz” it had to have the musical element of improvisation, it had to allow for the player…or players…to compose as they play, musical and compositional spontaneity, and it must swing. Jazz must have rhythm. Some purists actually think that Jazz should not have melody, that it should be purely the structure of the music, placed against a rhythmic back beat and that if it became too melodic, the melody would steal away the purity of the notes, chords and sequences.

I’m not a purist. I love Jazz in most of its forms. But when I heard John Coltrane’s “Ascension” album, I was moved to actually paint what I heard. This was a pivotal album, as some critics have called it, for it broke away, in many ways, from Coltrane’s previous work and it marked his farewell to the Miles Davis ensemble.

Coltrane assembled the following musicians to create “Ascension”: McCoy Tyner on piano; Jimmy Garrison on bass; Elvin Jones on drums; Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone; John Tchicai and Marion Brown on alto sax; Freddie Hubbard, Dewey Johnson on trumpets and Art Davis also on bass. Coltrane played tenor saxophone. The album was recorded at van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on the 28th of June, 1965. “Ascension” was released in 1966. It is a masterpiece.

The year 1965 was a great year for music…and this is an aside, naturally…because that was the year the Beatles released, what in my opinion, is their best album…at least it is my favourite…”Rubber Soul”. Both of these albums, Ascension and Rubber Soul, albeit sounding eons apart from each other, included major changes within the structure of the songs and the instruments used. The Beatles went much further in their musical aesthetics when creating Rubber Soul. They used many studio techniques and many innovations. Their experimentation and quest for a new and unique sound while recording Rubber Soul, led them to record and release, in 1966, the second greatest album they have ever made, in my opinion, which was “Revolver”.

So, from Coltrane’s “Ascension” to the Beatles, that is what Jazz is all about. You know where you start but not so where you will end up and that makes the journey very interesting. I try to capture that in my paintings and my drawings. Not only through compositions that include musical instruments, dancers and musicians, but in the way they relate to each other and in the way the compositions line up in layers with an implicit perspective that enhances the whole idea of improvisation, spontaneity and swing.

So, prepare your ears and listen to “Ascension”. If you are not used to improvisational jazz, sans melody, it may sound like noise to you. But do not give up. Listen as much as you can, then listen again. If you take a break from Ascension, listen to Rubber Soul and then go back to Coltrane. You will see that little by little you will hear the spirit of the album. You will sense the message it transmits. You will commune with the players and meditate upon the endless universe created by the notes, the harmonies, the chords and the rhythm of such an interesting work.

All artwork and photographs included in this blog are my work and original. I am an artist from Valencia, Spain. If you would like to see more of my artwork, paintings, drawings and music, please visit my Instagram @Francisco_Bravo_Cabrera and my YouTube channel under the same name. My “JaZzArt en Valencia” 2019 collection can be seen at my online galleries http://www.ArtPal.com/rfbravo1155