1990 Clare Hansson, renowned Australian jazz pianist, completed her
composition Azimuth, a twelve-part suite for piano, double bass,
percussion, reeds and voice. In May that year at its world premiere
performance in the Queensland Art Gallery Azimuth was released on
years later in June 2003, at Brisbane Jazz Club, Clare in concert with
local musicians, including her four colleagues in the original ensemble,
celebrated the re-release of Azimuth on CD: a dream fulfilled for
heart of this creative project is collaboration of the most joyful kind:
that of people labouring together to achieve and share with others
something beautiful, pleasurable and life-affirming.
In a time
so inharmonious as now, when “things fall apart” and “the ceremony of
innocence is drowned”, Azimuth is a gift most needed and welcome,
a joy that inspirits.
story behind Azimuth and as a late collaborator, honoured and
delighted to have become involved, I would like to share it in
began with a painting. That I knew from Clare early in 1990. It began
also with a dream – Clare’s dream. I learned about that in detail,
recently. While talking with Clare by phone about the June concert and
the launch of the CD, she told me of her long-held dream of sitting at a
grand piano and improvising to a painting. My eager questioning then
prompted further revelations about her collaboration with painter Irene
Amos. In 1988 at the time of Expo 88 in Brisbane, Clare first saw Amos’s
painting-in-progress (then called Relationships) in the basement
of the Queensland Art Gallery. Amos was painter-in-residence, working
towards a Doctorate in Creative Arts from the University of Wollongong.
watched her one day at work on the huge canvas (6’ x 20’/188 cms x 604
cms), bringing extraordinary patterns and lines and swirls of colour
together in evocative relationships. Clare’s immediate response was:
“It’s a revelation!” Amos thereupon adopted that as the title. Clare in
turn revealed her dream and Amos, enthusiastic about it urged her to
follow it and so the collaboration between composer and artist was
1989 Clare worked on her composition, completed it in early 1990, formed
her five-piece ensemble and on 16 April, Easter Monday, rehearsed the
music. Nine days later on Anzac Day the suite was recorded on tape at
the University of Queensland and in May at the Art Gallery Azimuth
was launched on its journey to the public.
there but I can picture the scene: on stage the Azimuth Ensemble: Clare
at the grand piano, Philip Hansson on double bass, Bob Watson on drums
and percussion, Sue Wighton, vocals and Jim Mackenzie on flute,
clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophones, on display the finished
painting, Revelation, and in attendance the painter, Dr Irene
Amos. (I’ve learned since she was the first woman and Queenslander to be
awarded the Doctorate in Creative Arts).
do I, the wordsmith, come into this story? As an actual collaborator not
until late 1990. But as I’ve said I was already aware earlier that year
of the project-in-progress. In a letter Clare wrote on 13 February, 1990
to my husband John and me she said: “Today I am writing some music, with
a painting as inspiration. I will use your dancing as inspiration, John,
and dedicate a piece to you.”
letter arrived too late for John to learn this. He had died on February
14, St Valentine’s Day. He would have been touched, I’m sure, to be
honoured by Clare in that way.
death I kept in contact with Clare, mostly by letter, but also when she
came to Sydney for some musical engagements in May, June and August
1990. According to my record of those visits she was here on Monday 28
and Tuesday 29 May. We didn’t meet, but Clare phoned me on the Tuesday
and we had as I noted “a lovely conversation” – no other comment. Yet I
know, as I did then but couldn’t express it, that it would have been
lovely and more. For me it was hearing an understanding, wise and
compassionate voice giving me support and strength. Fresh from the
premier performance of Azimuth Clare talked enthusiastically
about it. That was, I think, the first time I heard the name Azimuth.
meet in June, but in August I attended one of the two lunch-time gigs
she had at the Gateway Building at the Quayside.
one or the other of our two encounters, either the May phone call or the
August meeting, Clare surprised me totally when she asked me would I
write some poetry for Azimuth that could be incorporated in a
sure what my immediate response was. Lost for words, probably. I do
remember the rush of mixed feelings. I certainly felt honoured to be
asked, but scared, too, wondering if I could do it.
request stirred a dream of my own: I’d always been attracted to the link
between words and music and wanted to write lyrics for songs and once,
in a wilder flight of fancy, even a libretto for a musical or an opera.
So, prompted by that old dream, perhaps, too, in need of a challenge and
of being involved in something positive, I eventually said yes.
started wasn’t without hesitation. Clare had given me the Azimuth
cassette and a poster of Revelation. First I spread the poster
(36 cms x 68 cms) on the table where I worked, and put the cassette in
the player. I looked at the images of patterns and colours, listened to
the sound patterns and rhythms and was overwhelmed by them. Yet
inspiration wasn’t instantly forthcoming. I had a technical problem,
too: being neither an astronomer nor geologist I needed to check a few
terms: “Azimuth”, for instance, and “Azoic” and “lapus lazuli”. My
indispensable tool, a good dictionary, supplied the answers. From
another source some statements on colours were especially stimulating,
e.g. this one from Louis Denz’s Dynamic Dissonance:
the most corporeal of colours, best expresses the Greek concept of
immediateness – bodily presence;
and Milton’s beautiful line from Paradise Lost:
rosy red, love’s proper hue.;
and one which makes a wonderful connection between
colour and sound from John Berger’s Toward Reality:
comparatively easy to achieve a certain unity in a picture by allowing
one colour to dominate by muting all the colours. Matisse did neither.
He clashed his colours together like cymbals and the effect was like a
and listening, seeing the painting, hearing the music became the pattern
of working, accompanied by the ache of loss. Yet that feeling, as time
passed, was a motivating force generating repair and renewal.
the creative energy began flowing freely and on course I can’t be sure.
But one evening very late while I was listening to the music I looked at
the poster I’d taped on the wall near the table where I was writing. It
wasn’t working for me there. So I took it down, and, with no space to
spread it on my cluttered table, I placed it on the floor. Standing
above it, looking down at it, made all the difference. I felt I was
flying, one minute a passenger in a plane soaring over a vast landscape
of intricate and infinite variety, next a bird hovering above a desert
or a forest in flames or a countryside in a blaze of autumn. Seeing the
painting from that aerial perspective inspired me to write Revelation
on Canvas, in my original version a poem in six parts. As for the
music, the more I listened the more it took me over, as music always
does. I let it, hearing the melodies and harmonies, feeling the rhythms
of sound patterns, absorbing them, letting them flow through me. As the
sounds flowed I listened alone and in stillness and I tried to make
Azimuth a part of me.
haunting, meditative and lyrical melodies, Breathe Through Ivory,
That Faint Face and Azimuth overwhelmed me. I heard in
them a thematic link and tonal mood which resonated with my own; and I
couldn’t resist the rhythmic variation, the beat, the swing, the slow
and the fast, the rhythm of life, the dance of it all. And below me was
Revelation, that blaze of colour dancing before my eyes, that red
becoming the colour of the dance. So I wrote Hymn to Dance in
response and as an in memoriam for John the dancer in red shoes.
May 1991 Clare wrote to say she would be at Soup Plus for gigs on 19 and
23 June, adding: “If your poem falls into shape, Bet, we have a
performance of Azimuth at Noosa on 26th May and one at Gold Coast
on 21st September. For either it would be great to include a reading.”
that I am, I couldn’t get my rough creation into shape for May. By
mid-June, however, I had the final draft of not one but seven poems
under the collective title Poems for Azimuth in this order:
Revelation on Canvas (in 6 parts), Hymn to Dance, The
Azimuth Suite (in 3 parts), Nocturne (after hearing
Breathe Through Ivory), Elegy (after hearing That Faint
Face), Harmony of Contrasts and Words. This was the
text I gave to Clare on Wednesday, June 19, 1991 at Soup Plus. She
expressed her delight with the poetry in her letter in mid-July and
added she would be “using some readings at our Gold Coast Gallery
session, 21st September”.
this year Clare told me of her hope to put Azimuth on CD. A
wonderful move I said. Then surprising me again she said she was hoping
to include a booklet of some of the poems. She asked for a copy of them.
Having just moved apartments she hadn’t access to her files.
oblige I quickly despatched a copy of my original typescript with
details of six of the poems which had already appeared in print
individually in Bikwil in 1999, 2001 and 2002.
June Clare confirmed that she was going ahead with the CD project adding
“The graphic designer is clever and I’m sending copies of your poems and
copies of the ones printed in Bikwil”. When I next spoke with
Clare after the June concert she said it was a resounding success. A
couple of days later I received her joyful account of it in A View
From the Grand Piano (later published in the Brisbane Jazz Club
Newsletter), with the Azimuth CD and a letter in which she
said with enthusiasm that was contagious:
sure you’ll hear a bright new sparkle in the CD.
It was a
HUGE thing to engineer and was surrounded with so much love, yours
included. I hope you are delighted with the presentation.
am. It looks most attractive. Part of Revelation graces the cover
on both the CD and liner notes. The latter describes with admirable
clarity and in praise the history of the project and the collaborators
and features six of the Poems for Azimuth from the Bikwil
versions. Seeing the six together in print and in the order that clever
designer has arranged them – so right in this context – I’m delighted
and honoured again.
the sounds of that music, yes it sparkles, it rejoices, and in its
freshness and vitality, innocence and wonder endure.
dancer in red shoes is honoured, too. John would have loved it and
danced to it and I’d have danced beside him. We’d have done our own
thing but that made us all the more together.
fulfills even more than a dream, it shines as proof of the enduring
spirit of loving co-operation.