Cowell, who has performed and recorded with important jazz artists such as Max Roach, Miles Davis, and the Heath Brothers, has created a 30-minute musical work reflecting his appreciation, impressions, and study of the Museum's Asian art collections. The composition, which Cowell describes as jazz outside the box," incorporates musical and artistic practices associated with the cultures of the Museum's Indian, Japanese and Chinese art collections.
I was struck by the spirituality of the Museum's Asian art collection," Cowell said. The galleries that Cowell repeatedly visited while writing his music are some of the most inspiring spaces in the Museum, including the spectacular 16th century Pillared Temple Hall from Southern India, carved with huge figures and scenes from Hindu mythology; the traditional Japanese teahouse, Sunkaraku, originally used for tea ceremonies built around concepts of harmony, respect, purity and elegance; and a 14th century Japanese Buddhist Temple of the Attainment of Happiness. Additionally, a 1,000-year-old bronze sculpture depicting the rhythmic movements of Rama, an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, inspired a lively piano tune. I couldn't help but write a blues for Rama," Cowell said.
Joining Cowell (piano) for the world premiere performance are John Blake (violin) and his son, Jonathan Blake (drums); Ralph Bowen (alto sax and flute); Mike Richmond (cello and bass); Robert Benford (percussion); and Sunny Cowell (viola), the daughter of the composer and a senior at Burlington Township (N.J.) High School.
The concept, conceived by Sara Moyn, the Museum's Manager of Evening Programs, explores relationships between music and the visual arts, allowing an interdisciplinary approach within the Museum's jazz programming. The Museum's collections have inspired generations of artists, and that tradition continues with Cowell's musical interpretation of the treasures in the Asian art galleries. The original works of music composed by Cowell and Liebman further spotlight the Museum as a unique and engaging venue where the performing and visual arts work together.
This program, including the commissioning and presentation, is made possible by a grant from the Philadelphia Music Project, an Artistic Initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, administered by The University of the Arts.