‘Jazz’ by Henri Matisse

Jazz by Henri Matisse is a set of 20 colour stencils and more than 70 pages of calligraphic writing. Jazz was pivotal in Matisse’s transition from oil painting to the cut-out collages that dominated the last decade of his life. To create these works, Matisse cut forms out of large sheets of paper previously painted with gouache by his assistants. The cut-outs were then assembled on the wall of Matisse’s studio, under his direction.

Jazz was published by Tériade in an edition of 250. The book’s title evokes the idea of a musical structure of rhythm and repetition, expressed through the handwritten text, which is broken by the explosive improvisations of the colour plates. Matisse’s subjects are taken largely from the circus, mythology and memories of his travels. They represent either isolated figures or paired forms that suggest a dialogue between artist and model. Despite the vivid colours and folkloric themes, few of the plates are actually cheerful. Several are among Matisse’s most ominous images.

The writing of Jazz was very important for Matisse and though the pictures were mostly finished by 1944, he continued to work on the text until shortly before the book was published in September 1947. While the text gives the impression of great spontaneity, it was written out four or five times until Matisse was satisfied with the manner of expression and size of handwriting.

Matisse stated that his manuscript pages represent merely a visual accompaniment to the plates and ‘their role [was] thus purely spectacular’. Despite Matisse’s claim, the text and plates are actually subtly and consciously related. The underlying themes of art and artifice find many parallels in the text.

Jazz represents one of Matisse’s most interesting statements about his artistic development and the act of creation, which he believed results from the synthesis of instinct and intellect guided by discipline.

If Jazz, and the cutouts in general, approach the liberated abstraction of music, still Matisse never strays far from the sense of an objective world. Painter and art historian Sir Lawrence Gowing described the cutouts as ‘cutting into a primordial substance, the basic chromatic substance of painting… . With each stroke, the cutting revealed the character both of the material, the pristine substance of color, and also of an image, a subject.’

In Jazz, Matisse’s subjects are more like verbs than nouns, however. They express the feeling of leaping, flying, swimming, falling. They cut straight to the viewer’s experience rather than merely depicting someone else’s.

I The Clown
II The Circus
III Monsieur Loyal
IV The Nightmare of the White Elephant
V The Horse, the Rider and Clown
VI The Wolf
VII The Heart
VIII Icarus
IX Forms
X Pierrot’s Funeral
XI The Codomas
XII The Swimmer in the Tank
XIII The Sword Swallower
XIV The Cowboy
XV The Knife Thrower
XVI Destiny
XVII Lagoon I
XIX Lagoon III
XX Toboggan

[Various sources]



Marabi piano style

Thomas Mabilesta – Zulu Piano Medley No.1


Thomas Mabeleta’s ‘Zulu Piano Medley’ is one of the few surviving recordings of  Marabi, a keyboard style popular in the shebeens. The influence of jazz, ragtime and blues is obvious, but its roots lie deep in African tradition. Early Marabi musicians were part of an underground musical culture, so were typically not recorded. As with early jazz in the US, this music confronted establishment culture. Nonetheless, the lilting melodies and catchy rhythms of Marabi found their way into the popular dance music of Southern Africa.


The Takadimi system can help you to understand and perform rhythm. It works like Solfege, but for rhythm. It assigns a distinct syllable for each point of a beat. The beat is always spoken as ta.  The division of the beat is spoken as ta – di in simple meter or ta – ki – da  in compound meter.

More …

Saxophone slings & throat constriction

Recently I bought a saxophone sling (neck strap) that had two apparent advantages over my old ones, as explained here:

Major nerves and the blood supply for the brain run through the cervical vertebrae. With the XXX Sax-Strap this area of the neck remains open while the weight and pressure are distributed to the muscles of the left and right sides of the neck.
Carotid Artery
Conventional slings can cause unpleasant pressure on the right and left sides of the neck, compromising the carotid arteries. A spacer just above the sling-length adjuster reduces this.

ceb sling.png

Now, that second feature of the XXX Sax-Strap is very useful, but the problem with the neck cushion design is that the sling has to stay completely symmetrical. My playing position skews it slightly, causing sideways pressure on the neck vertebrae from the RH cushion. After two rehearsals the consequent pain stopped me playing for a couple of days.

One solution is to stick with a conventional neck strap and use a spacer, such as Andy Scott’s Libero, which retails for £75, about twice the cost of the strap itself. So, here’s my solution, costing £1 in materials, taking 15 mins to construct, and weighing in at 1oz (28 grms):

With spare parts and tools from a child’s construction kit, in this case Meccano, here is what I used for my alto sax:



This simple version with just 2 nuts and bolts worked fine, but here’s a refinement using a rubber band around the two nuts to ease the gaps for your strap, while protecting it from chafing against the nut:


Finally, to guard against slippage once the spacer is positioned comfortably, two nuts may be added at the ends. Here I’ve added a central nut for bracing, plus stopper bolts.


Joe’s Jika

Here’s an outline transcription of Joe’s Jika, by Dudu Pukwana and Spear (The Spears), from 1969. I have no way of paying the rights to publish my transcription. So, if you find it useful, please consider a donation to an appropriate charity: e.g. WaterAid, Bridges for Music, Buskaid, etc.

Joe’s Jika – transcription

Spotify Link



Pentatonic Pairs

I’ve just been looking at Willie Thomas’s teaching on ‘Pentatonic Pairs’ as a simple way of navigating ii-V-I progressions. Link

Here’s my adaptation of the technique using just four notes of the pentatonic scale (major or minor), i.e. avoiding the tonic. For each chord play the associated pentatonic pair in any order, or choose just one of the pair.

Partial pentatonic solutions to major ii-V-Is
added notes (chords 1 & 2) are ∆9ths

Partial pentatonic solutions to minor ii-V-Is
added notes (chord 1) are 4ths and m6ths

Not and end in itself, but a useful exercise nevertheless.