Teaching the Eye to Hear: Musical Reflections on Matisse’s Jazz Series
Statement by Stanley Chepaitis
In February of 2014, I received a call out the blue from jazz pianist Chris Bakriges. I had heard of Chris as an extremely gifted jazz musician and also for his groundbreaking forays into world music with the Oikos Ensemble and his work in India.
Chris asked me to join him in developing performances of his compositions based on the Matisse book of paper cuts which is called "Jazz". Needless to say, I accepted. As we worked on fleshing out his conceptions through joint improvisations I was completely seduced by the beauty of Chris' music, and by the awesome creativity of Henri Matisse. I was also impressed by the fact that, while the music is jazz based and appeals to the sensibilities of the jazz musician, it also reaches into more wide ranging , even universal territory.
Now that we have done several live performances, these impressions have held up. They have also been confirmed by audience reaction. We have received many audience comments to the effect that " I'm not really a jazz fan, but I loved your music". Audiences also enjoyed viewing the art works in projection while hearing the music. You can read some of the comments by audience and presenters below. You can also hear some of the compositions while viewing the artworks they reflect by accessing those pages on the links below.
We feel that the Matisse Project music has demonstrated strong potential to reach beyond the boundaries of the jazz world to bring in new fans.
Statement by Christopher Bakriges
In 2009 I began composing music to the first ten scissor cuts collectively called Jazz; the entire collection of twenty compositions was completed in 2012. Words cannot adequately express the impact of my encounter with Henri Matisse’s book. It was as if I was automatically writing music to each of the works while traveling between Vermont and New York City. In fact, it was the first time I had written music away from the piano. I was so struck by Matisse’s collection and the circumstances surrounding their evolution that I proceeded to create lecture and performance programming around the topics of American jazz and the city of Paris. This work lent itself to my academic writing on the globalization of jazz, musical modernism, and avant-garde movements and moments in history.
The discoveries I have made of my own compositional “voice” due to the inspiration derived from Henri Matisse’s Jazz series have been astounding. His creative process, transforming the raw materials of paint, paper, and scissors, is something to marvel over. The fact that Matisse’s Jazz series was conceived when he was ill, bedridden, and amidst the German occupation is nothing short of a triumph.
Press and presenter reactions to the Matisse Project Music
I was almost breathless as I listened to the works, sometimes melodious, other times, cutting edge like the blades of scissors. I'm a poet, not an expert in music, and I'd never met Chris before the performance. But to this day, I carry the music with me, still not believing the work was improvisational.
Teaching the Eye to Hear: Musical Reflections on Matisse's Jazz was absolutely spellbinding. The proceeds will help us match a challenge from the Bill and Melinda Gates Online Opportunity Grant to assist the Library in upgrading their public access computers. The main goal of the grant is to help libraries and their communities build long-term capacity for supporting free computer and Internet access in public libraries. It was an unforgettable evening and a high point in the Library's year."
Jerry Carbone, Director, Brook Memorial Library, Brattleboro, VT
The Matisse Project was a great concert. The music was magical and the interplay between Chris and Stanley was astounding. The program was sold out and a great success. People loved it and were riveted. Projecting the works while the music was being performed was a hit! The Matisse Jazz Project will stay with us for a long time to come.
Linda Magill, Ph.D., cellist and curator, Jazz in Jefferson Series, Jefferson, NY
Thank you for your beautiful concert. What a magical way to experience the resonant vision of Matisse. I was transported by the sound of your pieces. The voice of your playing made a world so imaginative emotional and wise! Inspired!
Malcolm Dalglish, Composer, Ooolitic Music, Bloomington, IN
The Matisse compositions are keepers in jazz literature.
Karen A. Leuders, Atty., walkOver Concert Room, Bristol, VT
The museum has received numerous compliments regarding your artistic excellence and interpretations of Matisse’s Jazz series, including several remarks from community members saying this was their favorite program the museum has ever presented. Teaching the Eye to Hear: Reflections on Matisse’s Jazz is truly a treasure, and it was terrific to hear the images brought to life through your music. Your ability to compose, perform, and communicate your process greatly enhanced our program and conveyed a very deep understanding and reflection on Matisse’s work.
Ann K. Fields, Curatorial & Educational Programs Coordinator, Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington, IN
Photos for print, Bios, and a poster template for Matisse Project Concerts are available on the "For Presenters" Page