Paul Klee’sRose Garden
I’ve been a fan of Rick Margitza’s saxophone playing for quite some time – particularly his musical presentation and harmonic ingenuity. I’m fairly certain that during my dissertation proposal defense (the honorable!) Whit Sidener mentioned Rick as a possible musical “visualizer.”
Rick is one of many amazing jazz musicians who spent formative years at the University of Miami, and there are a number of great anecdotes about Rick’s playing and descriptions of synesthesia from some of the Nashville UM grads (there are a number of us working in town).
Rick currently lives in France and we’ve been corresponding via e-mail for awhile about his visual experience while improvising – which involves colors. What follows is Rick’s responses to a general questionnaire I sent him awhile back. I’ll take this opportunity to thank Nashville Studio Pro and all-around great guy Doug Moffett for introducing me to Rick.
If you could, please provide a general description of your visual experience while improvising, specifically how it relates to colors.
“It’s more of a feeling of being enveloped in a color…like being in a room where everything is the same shade. I have very strong colors for most major keys and not that many for minor ones. people with true perfect pitch have very specific colors for every key.”
Do you have absolute pitch? If not, do you visualize in general or visualize colors in concert pitch or transposed for your instrument?
“I have relative pitch and hear/feel everything on the saxophone (in Bb) the colors are related to the keys I’m playing on the sax.”
Most cases of Synesthesia describe key centers as having specific colors, is this your experience? Since jazz often has a number of key modulations or harmonic chromaticism, do you experience specific chord qualities as having unique colors as well?
“Just keys and not chord types.”
Do the pitches you choose to play have specific colors as well? Can those pitches change color based on function (when compared to the chord or key).
“Not really, but say if I’m superimposing one key over the other….say F# major over Bb major, I do see/feel purple over blue.”
Is your visual experience linked to what is being played in time? If so, can you alter it based on what you play or in reaction to what someone else (rhythm section) is playing? For example, can you change the color experience by improvising “outside” or using other musical material?
“Nothing rhythmic…sometimes when superimposing as I said above.”
Do you have any other visual experiences related to notation (seeing what you’re playing notated on staff paper), or rhythm? Can rhythmic aspects have colors too, or is it just melody and harmony?
“None related to notation or rhythm.”
Has there always been a visual component/experience during improvisation or is it something you consciously or unconsciously developed over time. Do you recall the first instance of experience visualization through performing or listening?
“It’s nothing I consciously developed, and I don’t really remember the first time. I have the sense that it’s just always kind of been there.”
Are there any other influencing factors, such as art, or education, that may have influenced your experience?
“I’m sure looking at and loving paintings has some influence, but it’s not like I look at a painting and hear a key. I love the work of Paul Klee and I know that he was very into music. Each color has a certain frequency at which it vibrates and note are also just vibrating frequencies.”
How do you think visualization helps in the improvisational process or getting your musical intent across?
“Not sure it does, except maybe it does on a level where if I’m feeling something very strongly because of the vibration of the key and then what I’m feeling comes through my playing without any thought getting in the way. Then the audience would then be able feel that as well if their mind doesn’t get in the way as well.”
Is the visual experience always present when you improvise, or does it need to be activated by either you or an outside source?
“Always there but definitely, but more on a subconscious level.”
Do you have any specific ideas of how it may relate to traditional music terminology and analysis, specifically melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and formal considerations?
“Not really. Perhaps in terms of form where sections that were contrasting in terms of feeling and mood would also correspond to contrasting colors. Once again I think this is something that would be realized afterwards instead of something deliberately planned…at least in my case.”
Does visualization have an effect on your practice or composition strategies? Is it something you implement or discuss in teaching? Do you think it can be taught at all?
“Not in my practice or composition as stated above and it’s nothing that I use in my teaching. I’m not sure it could be taught.”
I asked Rick in a follow-up question whether he feels and visually experiences a song in its “home key,” even if it has typical harmonic movement (to the 4, 6 minor, etc.), or if each one of those key centers is experienced as a new color.
“I basically feel everything in the home key. If the bridge or any part of the tune modulates, I do feel a color shift.”