About the program
“The Five Chinese Elements” is an original jazz suite composed by Michael Arnowitt and Anthony Santor based on the five Chinese elements: earth, water, wood, metal, and fire. The piece has generally been performed with a trio of Michael Arnowitt on piano, with Anthony Santor on upright bass and Steve Wienert on drums and percussion, but it can be performed by different instrumentations, or even piano solo. The composition is about an hour and a half long.
The earliest written material about the five Chinese elements dates from the third century B.C.; the traditions no doubt date from an even earlier time. The ancient Chinese believed that each of the five elements had a particular color, sense, flavor, cardinal direction, time of year, type of weather, and animal associated with it. The performance of this new composition, in a free-jazz spirit, is inspired by these traditional Chinese associations in combination with the trio’s own personal associations with these natural elements.
More about the music (a little technical)
The musical material specified in the printed pages of the composition varies greatly from traditional classical music scores or even standard jazz lead sheets. In some sections, new hybrid scales developed by Michael Arnowitt are used as the basis for melodic and harmonic improvisation. These hybrid scales were devised by taking the bottom half (usually four notes) of a certain scale, optionally altering a single note slightly, and then combining this with the top half of another scale. The scales chosen for the component parts range in origin from Greek and medieval modes to scales from 20th century classical and jazz music, plus a few that are completely original.
Other sections of the suite are based on elements of music such as an emphasis on a particular shape of line (for example ascending, descending, circular), rhythmic riffs, a general outline of harmonic tonal centers, or a sequence of textures or unusual instrumental techniques. Listeners may hear references to jazz form ideas, such as call-and-response, vamps, standard swing form, and spirituals, although the emphasis of the evening is on more free-flowing music, uninhibited by the standard forms of jazz history.
Jazz Biography of Michael Arnowitt
Pianist Michael Arnowitt is profiled in an award-winning documentary film, Beyond 88 Keys, that premiered in 2004 and has been released on VHS and DVD. His solo piano recording Classical/Jazz on the Musical Heritage Society label explored the mutual influence of jazz and classical music throughout the twentieth century. The CD sold 6,000 copies and was praised by both the classical and jazz communities, including L.A. Jazz Scene. In April of 2003, Michael Arnowitt directed “Ella Fitzgerald Night,” a tribute concert to the late jazz singer, with 23 musicians performing transcriptions Michael Arnowitt wrote out of arrangements used by Ella on historic recordings from 1939 to 1964. His second concert profiling a famous jazz artist of the past was a presentation featuring transcriptions he made of the hard bop arrangements used by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers groups from the 1950’s through the 1980’s: this tribute concert was first performed in July, 2004. He is currently exploring the compositions of the contemporary West Coast pianist Billy Childs.