Joe Gilman



The idea for "AMERICANVAS" actually began in 1992 while I was searching for compositional ideas for a suite for piano, string quartet, and three winds. I have always had deep admiration and respect for American artists, and I found myself regularly flipping through the pages of art anthologies and researching the works of Rothko, Pollock, Guston, Davis, Warhol, and others. I eventually composed the multi-movement work "Synesthetic Fantasy" as a series musical realizations based on the creative processes used by seven American painters.

"AMERICANVAS" follows the same creative procedure. The idea for the composers was to find paintings by American painters over the past 70 years, determine the original creative process used to create the painting, and follow that same creative process to compose pieces as vehicles for jazz improvisation.

"The Gossips" is the 1948 Norman Rockwell oil that depicts 15 pairs of busybodies tattling, dishing, and buzzing about what a woman in a floral cap has said about the man at the bottom right. The rumors eventually circle back around to the man, who in turn confronts the woman.

The musical composition "Gossip" begins with a simple idea in the piano introduction that repeats and is gradually morphed into related but new ideas. This then becomes the catalyst for the tune, which is then tossed around by the improvisers. At the end, I wanted the idea to return to its original form, much as the painting brings the gossip back to the instigator. You hear the tune in reverse, and the piano coda is a reverse of the intro. We end as we began.



Americanvas (2010)

Where the Wild Things Are
Cebola Church
Monkey Puzzle
Color Arcs In Four Directions
Nothing At All of This is Fixed
Nocturne Du Romare
Yellow, Red, Blue

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Chad's tune is an interpretation of the cover art from Maurice Sendak's classic children's book "Where the Wild Things Are" from 1963. The composition conveys a sense of wonder, mystery, and secrecy through the eyes of a child. In fact, those beloved monsters of "Where the Wild Things Are" are none other than Sendak's maternal aunts and uncles who visited his childhood home in Brooklyn every Sunday, pinched his cheeks and ate all the food in sight.

Although Georgia O'Keeffe is known mostly for her paintings of flowers, rocks, shells, landscapes, and animal bones, her 1945 painting "Cebolla Church" provides more musical programmatic depth with it's remoteness and sheer simplicity. The church in the painting is the Santo Niño Church near her home in Cebolla, New Mexico. O'Keeffe felt that the message in the painting was not as pleasant as many of her other paintings. I tried to tell a musical story of a short history of events that might have happened in the church in one season. While I had a definite storyline in mind, it is more engaging for the audience to imagine their own story while listening.

"Whaam!", Roy Lichtenstein's 1963 Magna on canvas, is one of the earliest known examples of pop art, adapted from a comic panel of a 1962 issue of DC Comic's "All-American Men of War." Chad explains; "the painting was very exciting, yet it had a bleak ambience in my mind. The comic-book painting was unsettling and fierce. I knew I wanted the musical interpretation to have flashes of pandemonium, symbolize the firey explosion created by the red and yellow, and have the very dismal atmosphere portrayed by the grays. The first idea that eventually came to mind was the ascending line that Ben and I play, with a half-step clash towards the top of our range. I wanted this sound to capture the struggle and tension in the action, as well as create the image of a missile being fired, shooting through the air. Each time we play the theme, the rhythm section plays a dismal response that represents the explosion and crash. During the main melody, Ben and I play a descending riff in short round form that consists of a note choice very similar to the theme. We each represent a fighter aircraft in the painting, chasing after one another. Under the melody, Joe and Zach play a bass line that uses a similar intervallic sequence to the ascending theme."

Keith Haring was fascinated by complex surface patterns and startling color combinations. He used a very basic yet iconic visual language. In "Monkey Puzzle" from 1988, we have seven monkeys and a toddler monkey, all painted in bright colors; yellow, red, blue, green, purple, and orange. While the individual figures appear in a contorted quagmire, the painting appears collected to create one amalgamated ring.

I wanted to write a tune that would have several individual melodies that when played simultaneously would combine to create a new and different melody. This was a very difficult task and took several attempts to achieve the desired effect. You hear three melodies with staggered entrances, combining to make the theme. It is totally by coincidence that this tune sounds like a Monk tune ("Monk-ey"), or that the "Monkey Puzzle" painting is in a "sphere"!

"Nighthawks" is Edward Hopper's 1942 oil which portrays people sitting in a downtown diner late at night. The street is empty outside the diner, and inside none of the three customers is looking or talking to the others. There is a couple, and a man sitting alone with his back to the viewer. The couple's noses resemble beaks, perhaps a reference to the title. The diner's only bartender, looking up from his chores, appears to be peering out the window without regard to the patrons. This portrayal of urban life in the 1940's as empty or lonely is a common theme throughout Hopper's work. If one looks closely, it becomes apparent that there is no way out of the bar area, as the three walls of the counter form a triangle that traps the attendant. The diner has no door leading outside, exemplifying confinement and entrapment.

The musical interpretation of "Nighthawks" has the lonely feeling of a theme form a 1940's film noir. It is actually a short theme which repeats with minor variation four times (representing the the four characters in the oil), while the harmonies move in a cycle of minor thirds. For the improvised section, the soloists sound as if they are moving further and further out of key. This is only an auditory illusion however; the soloists stay in key while the harmonic progression cycles progressively further away. This represents the imbalance, separation, and surreal nature of the painting.

Sol LeWitt's "Color Arcs in Four Directions" from 1999 is a wall drawing and a great example of conceptual art. The planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.

"Color Arcs" was composed in much the same way, as a conceptual work. There are four composed segments; a downward arcing melody with a rising bass, an upward arcing melody with a falling bass, a downward arcing melody with a falling bass, a upward arcing melody with a rising bass. These segments also feature different chord qualities; suspended, minor-major, half-diminished, and major-seventh. Different meters are introduced; 4/4, 6/4, 7/4, 3/4, For the improvising section, the soloist could combine as many or as few of these elements as they wish to create their own feature section.

Scott Collard's piece is based on the Alexander Calder painting "Friendship." Calder's image immediately suggested a very specific tone color and pan-diatonic harmonic palette. The visual composition offered several obvious choices from which to assemble the form of his composition (e.g., the interlocking rings), but he also allowed inspiration to come from a passage written by Calder in 1932:

"Nothing at all of this is fixed. Each element is able to move, to stir, to oscillate, to come and go in its relationships with the other elements in its universe. It must not be just a fleeting moment but a physical bond between the varying events in life. Not extractions, but abstractions. Abstractions that are like nothing in life except in their manner of reacting." - Alexander Calder, 1932

Finally, Scott chose melodic elements, or a lack thereof, to provide the necessary abstractions using the lingua franca of this medium: improvisation.

"New York at Night" is Romare Bearden's 1982 watercolor abstract painting in Black, Blue and White, depicting a dark evening at a busy intersection in New York. This painting was chosen mostly for it's title and theme. Many of Bearden's works depict jazz musicians in colorful cubist abstractions. I liked the busy, yet dark and gloomy nature of "New York."

"Nocturne Du Romare" was written by Javier, who simply looked at the painting and wrote his interpretation. You can certainly hear daring young jazz lions exploring the scene and ready to make their mark.

"Yellow, Red, Blue" is based on Mark Rothko's multiform painting. Rothko's images are organic, possessing their own existence. The blurred blocks are expansive and welcoming and suggest the breath of life. The colors synthesize. The musical composition floats in and out of tempos and textures, suggesting tonalities that shift gradually, allowing for fixed parts and improvisation to flow and circulate.


Chris Spector
Midwest Record

JOE GILMAN/Americanvas: This is certainly a new way to fuse art and jazz. Impressionistic jazz taking it's cue from existing paintings as interpreted by young players that have the fire in the belly. Pulling from the works of any artist that speaks to them as opposed to restricting themselves just to the classics, the masters etc. The thing that speaks to me is that this is a fun, upbeat jazz date that spotlights youngsters with more talent than they should have. It's probably a really cool, candid look at the stars of tomorrow.

All About Jazz
by Bruce Lindsay

Pianist Joe Gilman leads a young and talented quintet on Americanvas, an album of original tunes inspired by American artists such as Mark Rothko, Edward Hopper and Norman Rockwell. Jazz that takes its inspiration from the visual arts is not rare—British saxophonist Andy Sheppard's Movements In Colour (ECM, 2009) was so inspired, for example. Like Sheppard, Gilman's varied choices are reflected in the music's range of styles and moods ensuring that this is a constantly intriguing recording.

Gilman is an experienced musician and educator, with eight previous albums under his own name, and is a regular in vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson's band. His fellow musicians on Americanvas are precociously talented players, all members of the Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet, with abilities already well-established, even at such an early age.

Saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown also contributes two compositions to the album, including "Whaam!" The Roy Lichtenstein painting used as the basis for the tune is one of the most recognizable images in twentieth century art, and Lefkowitz-Brown's music creates immediate links to the work. A key musical feature is the slightly discordant clash of notes played by Lefkowitz-Brown and fellow saxophonist Ben Flocks at the top of their ascending line. The tension this creates is heightened by Gilman's rolling piano phrases, while Zach Brown's walking bass line and Adam Arruda's cymbals drive the rhythm, adding to the pace and excitement of the tune.

"Cebola Church" is inspired by a Georgia O'Keefe painting. Zach Brown's arco bass gives Gilman's tune its emotional center, aided by a soprano sax solo played with verve and precision, though sadly, it's not clear whether the player is Flocks or Lefkowitz-Brown. Gilman's musical interpretation of another iconic painting—Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks"—successfully recreates the late-night loneliness of the diner and its inhabitants. This is a smoky blues, with a tenor sax lead line that is simple, but wonderfully effective.

"Yellow, Red, Blue," based on a Mark Rothko painting, is another Gilman composition and another highlight. It's a floating, relaxing, composition whose twin saxophones create a rich, enticing sound. Gilman's own piano and Arruda's cymbals add to the dreamlike feel the softness of the instrumental sounds reflecting the gentle calmness of Rothko's composition.

Americanvas is a lovely album, the inspirational artworks are well-chosen, and their musical interpretations beautifully executed. It affirms Gilman's talents as a player and composer, but also acts as an introduction to four young players of great potential.

Lucid Culture

Pianist Joe Gilman's New Album Gets Synesthesia

A cynic would say that when musicians aren't stealing ideas from each other, they're stealing them from other artists. Some of the tracks on jazz pianist Joe Gilman's new cd Americanvas seem to be an attempt to sonically interpret a series of fairly well-known works of visual art; others simply use the paintings as inspiration. More often than not, this approach works, in ways that are surprising and surprisingly fun. As one of the head honchos at the Brubeck Institute, Gilman has access to some of the world's most promising up-and-coming jazz talent, and puts them to good use. Here he's joined by saxophonists Ben Flocks and Chad Lefkowitz-Brown along with 19-year-old bassist Zach Brown and fearless 20-year-old drummer Adam Arruda, who absolutely owns this album.

Fast-forward past the opening cut, which is like Rick Wakeman at his most olympic. Instead, savor the devious, playful, absolutely spot-on Where the Wild Things Are, a Maurice Sendak homage – it has nothing to do with the movie and everything to do with the book. Arruda has a field day, in both senses of the word, with this, bounding and rumbling all the way through, ever-present but never to the point where the ostentation might get annoying. Gilman's hop-skip-and-a-jump piano solo brings the adventure to the point where the monsters appear, the soprano sax goes modal and they go out in a quietly glorious, chordally-charged shimmer. Roy Lichtenstein's Whaam! gets a bustling, rapidfire, unselfconsciously cartoonish rendering; Keith Haring's Monkey Puzzle (no relation to the Saints album that preceded it) gets a surprisingly serious, straight-up swing treatment with expansive lyrical piano solo and genially smoky tenor sax. The standout piece in this gallery is, unsurprisingly, Nighthawks, which interprets the iconic Edward Hopper diner tableau as Huis Clos (look closely: there's no exit). After Gilman's slow noir ambience sets the stage, there's a very long, very slowly unwinding tenor solo, and then a casually stunning shift: waiter? Garcon? Whichever the case, the alto sax offers a welcome break from the long, long night…until he leaves, and it's back in Gilman's lowlit fingers.

Romare Bearden's classic New York at Night appears here as the vividly evocative Nocturne du Romare, Brown's agile bass walking it lickety-split beneath late 50s-inflected solos around the horn. The moody, catchy Yellow, Red, Blue – a Rothko reference – echoes with Mulatu Astatke-ish circularity and another sudden shift from sinister to sunny, Arruda's big, irresistibly fun, dramatic cymbal accents as effective here as they are in several other places on this disc. Other tracks here include a subtly interlocking exercise in contrapuntal melody and tempo shifts, and a viscerally anxious Scott Collard ballad carried by the reeds. It's out now on Capri Records.

AAJ/ reviewed by Woodrow Wilkins

Originality plus artistic vision equals an irresistible palette for jazz. Pianist Joe Gilman, music director of the Brubeck Institute's fellowship program, mixes both elements with Americanvas, musical interpretations of 10 American paintings.

"Gossip" begins with a spirited solo piano that shifts gears a few times before bringing in the rest of the band. The saxophones lead in a series of frenetic, stop-time phrases. Bass and drums are fully engaged behind the soloists, starting with the alto sax, followed by the piano and then the tenor. Arruda fills in response to sequential phrases by the alto, piano and tenor. The song ends with the melody and introduction played in reverse.

The jaunty "Monkey Colors" at first sounds like an abstract piece, with each instrument doings its own thing. However, the melody soon becomes clear, with the saxophones and piano playing in unison at one point. As they do throughout the set, Arruda and Brown express themselves freely while underscoring the leads.

Gilman composed seven of the songs on Americanvas, while Lefkowitz-Brown penned "Whaam!" and "Where the Wild Things Are," and associated producer Malcolm Javier Santiago wrote "Nocturne Du Romare." The combination of new music and unrestricted performance creates more than an hour's worth of jazz that's unpretentious and engaging.

Joe Gilman's Americanvas
reviewed by Paul Conley, Capital Public Radio, 11/04/2010

Classical composers have long been inspired by great artworks. Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” is one example. Now, local pianist and composer Joe Gilman has explored the connection between art and jazz with a CD called “Americanvas."

Full audio review and transcript here. / reviews/americanvas-11-19-2010

The Celebrity

11/19/2010 by Sari N. Kent

Pianist/composer Joe Gilman's ninth album, his third for Capri Records, entitled, Americanvas,is a compilation of musical interpretations of the canvasses of 10 American painters over the past 70 years. Gilman is joined by Ben Flocks on both soprano and tenor saxophones, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on soprano, tenor and alto saxophones, Zach Brown on bass and Adam Arruda on drums and percussion.

The opening track, which is entitled "Gossip," begins with Gilman showcasing his prowess on the piano as he plays a simple yet fast-paced melody repetitiously, which is Gilman's attempt to musically convey how gossip travels swiftly. The mood then mutates into a fresh new sound courtesy of Flocks's precise tenor saxophone work and Lefkowitz-Brown's supreme alto saxophone play, which could make listeners envision how gossip changes as it moves from person to person.

The third track, entitled "Cebola Church," is about a Georgia O'Keeffe painting of a church called the Santo Nino Church near her home in Cebolla, New Mexico. In the liner notes to this song, Gilman states that, "I tried to tell a musical story of a short history of events that might have happened in the church one season." The simplistic tune that makes up the track begins with Gilman striking low piano notes as Zach Brown's bass work brings about a portentous and penetrating feeling. Arruda's drumming can be heard intermittently in the back and then Lefkowitz-Brown's alto saxophone play lifts the spirit of the track a tad.

"Whaam!" the album's fifth track, is the musical interpretation of Roy Lichtenstein's 1963 Magna on canvas, which is one of the earliest known examples of pop art, adapted from a comic panel of a 1962 issue of DC Comic's "All-American Men of War." The track begins as its title suggests, with Flocks's tenor saxophone playing an urgent feverish rhythm accompanied by Arruda's rapid drumming and Gilman's brisk piano stroking. Zach Brown's soft bass work can also be heard faintly in the background.

The fifth track on Americanvas is entitled "Monkey Puzzle." It's the musical form of Keith Harring's 1988 painting of seven monkeys and a toddler monkey all depicted in a variety of vibrant reds, yellows, blues, etc. In the album's liner notes, Gilman describes his version as having "three melodies with staggering entrances…sounds like a Monk tune ('Monk-ey') or that the painting is in a "Sphere!" This is exemplified by Gilman's jumping from piano note to piano note as monkeys often do and Lefkowitz-Brown's alto saxophone play following suit.

In conclusion, Joe Gilman's Americanvas is a unique album that accurately illustrates through music the sensation that can be conjured when beholding some of America's artwork of the past 70 years.

Sari N. Kent's Rating: 4.00Stars

Joe Gilman – AMERICANVAS: Joe is no stranger in our pages… my most recent review of his exciting piano work was in issue # 84, but this new CD threw me for a loop, to be sure! The theme (duh!) was interpretation of 10 American painters, and they've managed to incorporate all the life and vigor of life those artists had in their paintings. The opening track, for instance, "Gossip", is a whirlwind ride through the emotional roller-coaster that such yakking generates – pure power, I'll tell you! Professor Gilman has taken his talent to brand-new heights with his incorporation of (several) young players in this set… just killer jazz! The moods (like paintings) vary a great deal, too… check out the sweet and beautiful "Cebola Church"… absolutely inspiring for the entire 6:48 length. One of the best jazz tunes I've heard this year, though, is "Color Arcs In Four Directions"… you can hear the dedication to the spirit of music in every single note of this marvelous track! This CD (Joe's ninth) is, for my ears anyway, an "instant classic"… not one of the 10 tracks on this powerful CD is a throwaway – every one is a KEEPER! I give it a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, along with "PICK" of this issue for "best all around jazz CD for 2010". "EQ" (energy quotient) rating is a top-of-the-line 5.00. Get more information at

~Rotcod Zzaj

Monday, December 6, 2010

Joe Gilman Gives Us Something Substantial on "Americanvas"

I ordinarily give the first one or two listens to a new CD for review without reading the liners or other written descriptions of the musicians and the music. So it was with Joe Gilman's new Americanvas (Capri 74105-2). This way the music speaks to me directly and I get a more or less pure first experience of what's going on.

As I listened I started realizing that there was something original happening. Hard-swinging soloing, a very good band . . . but the writing was unusual. Some repetition in a quasi-minimalist sense, some unusual phrasings. When I finally went to the reading material I found that pianist-composer Gilman was devoting each composition-improvisation sequence to a particular American painter and one of his works. So you get one on Haring, on Rockwell, Rothko, etc.

Gilman sounds great on piano and the rest of the band, largely made up of up-and-coming younger players, has fire and facility.

It is music that hits you as not at all beholden to the formulas of the past. It's a straight-ahead jazz date with a ballsy countenance and a definite twist on how one can do a contemporary date and also avoid the typical.

Highly recommended music. Thank you Mr. Gilman.

Americanvas, Joe Gilman

Sacramento's Gilman is the primary pianist with Bobby Hutcherson, and he has performed with artists as diverse as Marlena Shaw and Joe Locke, George Duke and Chris Botti. As a solo artist and composer, Gilman's compositions are sophisticated and cerebral. The title is meant to evoke the painterly arts, and it does that through its creative process. The opener, "Gossip," is a minor-keyed, hard bop burner that has a staccato, angular melody. Gilman's pouncing solo is a highlight, as is the tenor solo by young saxophonist Ben Flocks. In fact, Gilman, who is a jazz educator as well, utilizes young talent throughout. Gilman uses texture like oil paint. "Where the Wild Things Are," is a Afro-Latin number using both broad strokes and pointed stabs, while " Cebola Church" goes for long tones and greater uses of white space. The music here is not easy. Chords are dense, even on prettier tunes such as the moody "Nighthawks." But you can appreciate and enjoy its drive, youthful energy and tight structures.

2010, Capri Records, 62 minutes. / cdreviews.htm