Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ted Nash Plays Jazz Inspired by Art. From VOA

"The Starry Night" Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

STEVE EMBER: I’m Steve Ember.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Many people may know what the artist Pablo Picasso’s paintings looks like. But what would they sound like if they were turned into music? Jazz musician Ted Nash explores this question in his album “Portrait in Seven Shades.”

Nash studied the works of seven important painters who lived during a one hundred year period, a time frame similar to that of jazz. Then, he created a jazz composition in seven parts influenced by their art.

STEVE EMBER: Wynton Marsalis is the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. He asked Ted Nash to write the hour-long composition “Portrait in Seven Shades.” Nash said one of the hardest parts was limiting his choice to only seven artists. Jazz at Lincoln Center worked with the Museum of Modern Art in New York to give Ted Nash access to its art collection. The music is performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, of which Ted Nash is a member.


"The Water Lilies", Claude Monet, 1899

BARBARA KLEIN: That was Ted Nash’s composition “Monet,” influenced by the French Impressionist painter Claude Monet. He was famous for painting flowers, buildings and the natural environment in a way that explored color and the changing effects of light. Ted Nash was influenced by Monet’s famous series of huge paintings of water lilies. Nash liked how these works express the feeling of nature, lightness and air.

When he looked at the paintings up close, he saw brush strokes, texture and fields of color. But seen from a distance, these elements come together to create a dreamy representation of water lilies. Ted Nash said he wanted his music to be the same way. Up close, it is made up of individual sounds and instruments. But when you step back and listen to the composition, all these elements artfully come together.

"The Persistence of Memory", Salvador Dali, 1931

STEVE EMBER: Salvador Dali was a Spanish surrealist painter whose works often represent a strange, dream-like world. Ted Nash’s composition “Dali” was influenced by the painting called “The Persistence of Memory.” The painting shows melting clocks, insects, and a dead tree in an empty landscape.


Ted Nash says that Dali combined everyday objects in a way that creates a feeling of insecurity. Nash did the same thing with music by layering sounds and creating an unusual timing.

BARBARA KLEIN: The French painter Henri Matisse is known for his use of bright colors and expressive forms. His nineteen-oh-nine painting “Dance” shows five women energetically dancing in a circle.

The painting is mostly three colors -- blue, green and pink. Matisse was a master of expressing great beauty using the simplest combinations of colors and forms.


"La Danse" Henri Matisse, 1909

Ted Nash said his main goal in “Matisse” was to express the painting’s playfulness and feeling of joy. He says Matisse showed a child-like quality in his work. Nash wanted his jazz composition for this artist to be swinging, and make you feel good.

"Les Demoiselles D'Avignon" by Pablo Picasso, 1907
STEVE EMBER: Pablo Picasso was a revolutionary modern artist who painted in many different styles during his long career. He had a very strong influence over several art movements, including cubism. His nineteen-oh-seven painting “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” turned the art world upside down. This painting of five women went against the traditional values of artistic representation and changed modern art forever.


Ted Nash explored cubism and the four sides of a square through the idea of fourths in this composition. For example, four musical chords are repeated in this work. The music also has two parts to express different sides of Picasso.

The first part explores the artist’s romantic side and his love of women. The second part is about the emotional effect of Picasso’s paintings.


BARBARA KLEIN: The Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh is famous today for his bold works that use thick paint and bright colors. But while he was alive, he received little respect for his art. Vincent Van Gogh’s life was filled with sadness and struggles. Ted Nash chose to express the tragic side of the artist’s life with this composition. One Van Gogh painting that especially influenced him was “The Starry Night”, painted in eighteen eighty-nine. The curving brushstrokes of Van Gogh’s expressive sky look like explosions of blue fire.


This is the only part of “Portrait in Seven Shades” that includes singing. Ted Nash imagined what Van Gogh might say to his friend, painter Paul Gaugin.

"I and The Village" Mark Chagall, 1911

STEVE EMBER: The artist Marc Chagall was born in Russia to a large Jewish family. He spent most of his career in France. Chagall painted colorful works filled with imaginative details such as floating people and dancing animals. His work was also influenced by his interest in theater. Ted Nash wanted his composition about Chagall to express his ties to family and Eastern European culture. He wanted the music to sound like the streets of Chagall’s neighborhood in Russia.


Ted Nash paid special attention to Chagall’s nineteen eleven work “I and the Village.” It represents the artist’s memories of his childhood village and its farmers, cows and buildings. The work is colorful and playful, just like this music.

"She-Wolf" by Jackson Pollock
BARBARA KLEIN: Of all these artists, Jackson Pollock was the only one who grew up during the age of jazz music. Jackson Pollock helped create the art movement called Abstract Expressionism. His work redefined modern art and brought new attention to American artists.

Pollock’s paintings do not represent objects. They are examples of pure color, action and emotion. Pollock placed the canvas on the floor and threw different colors of paint onto its surface. His works are rivers of paint that are filled with an expressive energy.

Ted Nash wanted to copy the idea of thrown paint musically by creating a composition that sounded big and free. He also wanted the music to express the kind of jazz music that Pollock listened to and enjoyed. We leave you with “Pollock,” the last part of “Portrait in Seven Shades.”


STEVE EMBER: This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Steve Ember.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein. You can read, listen and comment on this program on our Web site, Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special English.


1. In “Portrait in Seven Shades”, Jazz musician Ted Nash explores ______________ .
a: the sounds painters make while painting
b: jazz music at art galleries
c: what paintings would sound like if they were music
d: how to turn jazz compositions into paintings

2. Ted Nash used paintings in a time period _________________ jazz’s time period.
a: different from
b: earlier than
c: later than
d: similar to

3. Salvador Dali combined every day objects to create a feeling of _____________ .
a: insecurity
b: ecstasy
c: jubilation
d: depression

4. Ted Nash did not use the paintings of ______________ in his jazz composition.
a: Mark Chagall
b: Vincent Van Gogh
c: Georgia O’Keefe
d: Pablo Picasso

5. By the word “shade”, Ted Nash probably means _______________ .
a: the painter’s use of color
b: the painter’s style
c: the quantity of work the painter sold
d: the use of shadow in the painter’s works

6. In expressing the theatrical quality in Chagall’s work, Ted Nash created music to sound like ________________ .
a: floating people
b: dancing animals
c: a large family at the dinner table
d: the streets of Chagall’s neighborhood in Russia

7. Ted Nash chose to express __________________ in the life of Vincent Van Gogh.
a: the tragic side
b: the romantic relationships
c: the very successful side
d: the curving, lively brushstrokes of the works

8. A composition that sounded “big and free” to capture the feeling of thrown paint was Ted Nash’s response to the paintings of ___________________ .
a: Claude Monet
b: Jackson Pollack
c: Vincent Van Gogh
d: Henri Matisse

9. Another name for this article could be “_______________” .
a: The Jazz of Ted Nash
b: The Paintings of Europe’s Finest Artists
c: Jazz and Painting, Ted Nash’s Striking Visual Music
d: The Jazz Age and the Impressionists

10. This article is mainly about _____________________ .
a: European jazz
b: seven paintings and Ted Nash’s musical response to them
c: American jazz and Jackson Pollack
d: abstract impressionism in jazz and art

An excerpt from "Chagall" in "Portrait in Seven Shades" by Ted Nash.

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Songs of Spring" from Voice of America.

BARBARA KLEIN: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Barbara Klein.

STEVE EMBER: And I'm Steve Ember. This week on our program, we play some favorite songs about spring.

(MUSIC: Vivaldi, "Spring")

BARBARA KLEIN: On earlier shows, we have brought you some of our favorite songs about summer, autumn and winter. Now it is spring in the northern part of the world so it is time to celebrate that season. Many people think of this classical music piece when they think "spring." It is Allegro from Concerto Number One "Spring" from the "Four Seasons." Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi wrote it in the seventeen hundreds.


STEVE EMBER: Spring is a wonderful season to celebrate rebirth and new life. The long, cold winter is over. The weather is warmer and sunnier. The trees again have leaves and the flowers are blooming. The season represents hope, joy and beauty.

However, not all songs about spring are happy. This song by K.D. Lang is about dreaming of spring in cold dark places. She recorded "I Dream of Spring" in two thousand eight.


She arrives like autumn in a rainstorm
The threat of thunder above
I'll return from the streets of Melbourne
I'll return my love

This is world is filled with frozen lovers
The sheets of their beds are frightfully cold
And I've slept there in the snow with others
Yet loved no others before.

BARBARA KLEIN: Unlike the other seasons, there are not many rock songs about spring. Most of the songs about this season were written in the nineteen thirties and forties by famous modern composers. The songs became "standards," popular songs recorded by many singers.

Here is one example, "It Might as Well Be Spring." Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote the song for the movie "State Fair" in nineteen forty-five. Frank Sinatra sings about having "spring fever." This is not a real sickness. It is a feeling of restlessness or excitement brought on by the coming of spring.


STEVE EMBER: Richard Rodgers also wrote "Spring Is Here," this time with Lorenz Hart. Ella Fitzgerald sings this song about feeling lonely during this season.


BARBARA KLEIN: Frank Loesser wrote this sad song, "Spring Will be a Little Late This Year." Why has the season been delayed? Because the singer's lover has left her. Sarah Vaughn released her version of the song in nineteen fifty-three.


STEVE EMBER: By now you may be thinking: "Enough with the sad songs, already!" OK, then how about a cowboy song? Gene Autry was one of America's most famous singing cowboys. He recorded "When It's Springtime in the Rockies" in nineteen thirty-seven.


BARBARA KLEIN: In most of the United States, spring is a warm and pleasant season. But this is not the case in the northwestern state of Alaska. According to Johnny Cash, it can be extremely cold. He sings "When It's Springtime in Alaska (It's Forty Below)."


STEVE EMBER: We leave you with a sunny song called "Up Jumped Spring." Freddie Hubbard wrote this jazz song and the Billy Taylor Trio performs it.


BARBARA KLEIN: This program was written by Shelley Gollust and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara Klein.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember. Our programs are online with transcripts and MP3 files at Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Billie Holiday, "Summertime"

"Summertime", by George Gershwin
from the musical, "Porgy and Bess"

And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

Oh, Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky

But until that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With your daddy and mammy standing by

And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry.