Bill Stevens

Harmonic Explrations II

I am excited to announce that on September 30, 2017 I will present the second of a three part series called Harmonic Explorations at Spectrum (70 Flushing Avenue) in Brooklyn, NY. This music came about through my continued study of modal Jazz harmony as taught by Ron Miller at the University of Miami. In May I presented the first concert in the series focusing on the use of alternative source scale material through the use of the modes of harmonic minor, harmonic major, melodic minor and melodic minor#5. All of which I have previously spoken about in past blogs. For this second concert in the series, my focus moves to a study on the use of chromaticism in both composition and improvisation where I have attempted to incorporate not only Ron's teaching, but that of the saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master, David Liebman.

For this performance, I will be presenting four compositions, 1 set of music, that each focuses on one of the four elements of chromaticism as described by David Liebman: Triadic Harmony, Open Voicings, Clusters and Perfect 4ths & 5ths. As I was writing these pieces, I found myself bringing in a number of influences from books that I was reading at the time, from a study of orchestral compositional technics that utilize these same approaches, as well as a continued study of art and artists to attempt to create an image through sound for the listener.

In my approach for the first concert, I found it interesting how the modality of these unaltered source scales created such density and darkness in the harmonic structure. For this second concert, I became facinated with the varied colors of dissonance that each of these areas of study allowed for. I began to think about the comfort zones of both the performers and audience when applying these concepts and that also led me to an examination of silence in music. These pieces each take a level of commitment from the audience and the musicians to engage with one another as I attempt to use sound as harmonic color, expand the use of silence and dynamic range as John Cage once stated after being asked, "How do you approach the entrance that musicians must make after such prolonged periods of silence?". He responded, "As an artist with their brush, inhaling as they approach the canvas, holding their breath during production and exhaling as they pull away."

In order to make this music more accessible, I would like to take this time to briefly describe my inspiration and concepts behind each of these compositions...

Beyond Sound and Space - uses Triadic harmony where two separate triads are placed one on top of the other while in some instances you may also add a single bass note beneath the two triads, for example, from the introduction:

A triad/Am triad/E - Eb triad/G triad/Eb - Db triad/D triad - D triad/Db triad - G triad/Gb triad

Synthetic scales are formed while improvising toward a chromatic approach with no true chord established in the traditional sense.

The Warmth of Other Suns - uses open voicings. In a sense, these are like clusters but separated on the keyboard by wide intervals. The separation is so wide that once again it is more of a color that is produced than a traditional sounding chord and due to the gaps between the notes in the harmony, it allows the improvisor to use the color of what is not there within these gaps.

At the time I was writing this piece I was also reading the book "The Warmth of Other Suns" by the Pulitzer Prize winning author, Isabel Wilkinson on the Great Migration of southern blacks to the city centers of the north at the beginning of the 20th Century. It was also around this time that I was introduced to two other artists, the Estonian composer Arvo Part and the Norwegian artist AK Dolven. From Part, I began to study the compositional concept he refers to as Tintinnabuli (Latin for "Little Bells") and from AK Dolven, the art installation "Untuned Bell" which is a centuries old bell that has lost its tuning and has been placed in a square in Oslo, Norway where through the use of a pedal, observers are able to ring the bell which now produces an unexpected dissonance. Through these influences, I saw the Great Migration as powerful, full of hope and promise. A movement to the bells of the north that themselves where out of tune in the America of the 20th Century.

The Silence of Snow - uses clusters to create colors that are sharp and biting; however in this composition I looked to studying and incorporating the compositional techniques of both Arnold Schoenberg and John Cage. From Schoenberg, I looked to create a melodic line by the use of a Tone Row and from Cage, I looked to experiment with the use of silence and a dynamic range that is as a whisper in and out of the silence. The idea of developing a piece on these concepts came about from a book I was reading called, "Snow" by the Turkish writer Orham Pamuk. In the book he, through his words, sets a scene, an image on how beautiful and silent falling snow can be.

On Parallel Lines - uses Perfect 4ths and 5ths. Without the characteristic tones, these intervals disguise the harmonic structure allowing for the improviser to play at their discretion. Although the most accessible of the four concepts presented I have looked to experiment by stacking these intervals on top of one another creating an open sounding dissonance allowing for the further use of synthetic scales.

As we have come to find Modern Art today as something attractive and to be a part of, I am hoping that after learning something about the compositions in this second Harmonic Explorations concert you will see Jazz composition and improvisation of this nature as something of an event worth attending. Although these concepts are not new, I believe that they have not been explored thoroughly and that this evening will be a reminder of the progressive nature of experimental Jazz.

I am joined by a group of exceptional musicians who are open to experimentation and stretching the boundries of their own playing both individually and collectively: Richard Philbin on tenor saxophone, Harry Miller on keyboard, Luca Rosenfeld on upright bass and on drums, Gary Fogel. Our set will begin at 7:30pm and at 9:00pm we will have a special guest with the Luca Rosenfeld Trio featuring on keyboard, Elias Stemeseder and Billy Mintz on drums. On my Blog page on my website, you can also read about the performance space, Spectrum, where we will be presenting this event and it's owner, Glenn Cornett.

We hope to see you on September 30th at Spectrum for Harmonic Explorations II.