Beach, Amy (1867-1944). American pianist and composer.
It turns out that the 19th-century American classical composer Amy Beach had both perfect pitch and a set of colors for musical keys. Here are two quotes from biographies:
From Jeanell Wise Brown, Amy Beach and her chamber music: biography, documents, style (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994), p. 16:
"Other interesting stories about Amy's musical personality and her astounding abilities as a prodigy are recounted in almost all previous biographical writings. One such story is Amy's association of certain colors with certain keys. For instance, Amy might ask her mother to play the 'purple music' or the 'green music.' The most popular story, however, seems to be the one about Amy's going on a trip to California and notating on staff paper the exact pitches of bird calls she heard."
References are to letters in the Crawford Collection, Library of Congress.
From Walter S. Jenkins, The remarkable Mrs. Beach, American composer (Warren, Mich.: Harmonie Park Press, 1994), pp. 5-6:
"Amy's mother encouraged her to relate melodies to the colors blue, pink, or purple, but before long Amy had a wider range of colors, which she associated with certain major keys. Thus C was white, F-sharp black, E yellow, G red, A green, A-flat blue, D-flat violet or purple, and E-flat pink. Until the end of her life she associated these colors with those keys."
Reference is an interview of Beach by George Y. Loveridge in the Providence Journal, Dec. 4, 1937, p. 5.
"I hear a note by one of the fellows in the band and it's one color. I hear the same note played by someone else and it's a different color. When I hear sustained musical tones, I see just about the same colors that you do, but I see them in textures. If Harry Carney is playing, D is dark blue burlap. If Johnny Hodges is playing, G becomes light blue satin" (George 1981: 226).
"It was when I was eleven, and working on the F sharp major Prelude from the first book of Bach's Well-tempered Clavier - I perceived something that was very bright, between red and orange, very warm and vivid: an almost shapeless stain, rather like what you would see in the recording control-room if the image of sound were projected on a screen. But as numbers had always had colours for me - two was yellow, four was red, five was green - and as I have always found music evocative, I didn't regard this as unusual. It was more the idea of colour than colour itself. Certain pieces always project me into a particular colour-world. Sometimes it's a result of the tonality - C minor is black, and D minor, the key that has always been closest to me, being the most dramatic and poignant, is blue."
Drummer Elvin Jones was the great propelling force that drove the John Coltrane quartet into vast new territories of jazz, territories that new generations of musicians are still exploring . He was a drummer of inexhaustible energy - physically, emotionally and spiritually - which was a very good thing indeed, because Coltrane could play for hours, wringing the last scrap of meaning from a musical idea. Jones played with Coltrane from 1960 to 1966, an extraordinarily fertile time for jazz music.
He said playing with Coltrane was like "a young boy going to the circus and stopping at the stand selling cotton candy and ice cream cones."
He was still playing with scarcely diminished enthusiasm when he died Tuesday at the age of 76. During these last few months of failing health, he took an oxygen tank on stage with him when he played. He left a schedule of bookings unfulfilled, and unfulfillable.
"Playing is not something I do at night," he once said. "It's my function in life."
To praise Jones and Coltrane is not to disrespect McCoy Tyner, the quartet's pianist, or Jimmy Garrison, its bass player. The quartet came together with rare collective force. They rank in seminal influence with Louis Armstrong's Hot Five, the bebop bands of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonius Monk, and the post-bop quintets of Miles Davis, with Coltrane in one and Wayne Shorter in the other.
"That feeling is always there," Jones once told a Downbeat magazine interviewer. "If you want to call it jazz, you can call it jazz. Anything you want to call it, but it's a spirit ... a cohesion ... joint effort."
You can hear that spirit expressed in pieces as varied as My Favorite Things, where the quartet transforms a pop song into art, or A Love Supreme, one of the great spiritual works in jazz.
Jones played with dynamic power, often setting rhythm upon rhythm, pushing and pulling the music along in an interaction with other musicians that some have called a circle of sound. His drumming was constantly active, a sort of continuous solo without losing rhythmic clarity, adding punctuations and annotations and a flow of inspiration to both solos and ensemble playing.
"I can see forms and shapes in my mind when I solo, just as a painter can see forms and shapes when he starts a painting," he told Whitney Balliett, the New Yorker writer. "And I can see different colors. My cymbals will be one color and my snare another color and my tom-toms each a different color. I mix these colors up, making constant movement.
"Drums suggest movement," he said, "a conscious, constant shifting of sounds and levels of sound. My drumming can shade from a whisper to a thunder. I'm not conscious of the length of my solos, which I've been told have run up to half an hour. When you develop a certain pattern, you stay with it until it's finished."
Jones was born in Detroit, the youngest child in a family of 10. His brother, Thad, a trumpet and flugelhorn player who died in 1986, led a much-acclaimed band with drummer Mel Lewis that played for more than 20 years at the Village Vanguard, the hallowed New York jazz sanctuary. Hank Jones, now nearly 86, remains one of the great jazz pianists.
Elvin was once asked what his brothers thought of his music: "I don't know," he replied. "They just love me. I'm the baby."
He has performed with Sting, Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds, Joe Satriani, Tori Amos, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, among others.
"With the little bit of sight he possessed, Brooks was unable to read or to identify objects, and lead sheets remained a forever closed door to him, but he was able to differentiate colors. I remember when he first told us that in his mind's eye every musical note was a different color and that the scale resembled a rainbow. He fingered a C on the piano, explaining, 'This note is red.' He hit a D. 'This one is dark blue.' He hit an F. 'This is yellow.' His finger wandered to a G. 'This one is light blue'" (George 1981: 225-226).
Hungarian composer. Ligeti is probably best known to the wider world for his early works, some of which were 'borrowed' by Stanley Kubrick for the soundtrack of "2001".
"I am inclined to synaesthetic perception. I associate sounds with colours and shapes. Like Rimbaud [sic; Rimbaud was not a true synesthete], I feel that all letters have a colour."
"Major chords are red or pink, minor chords are somewhere between green and brown. I do not have perfect pitch, so when I say that C minor has a rusty red-brown colour and D minor is brown this does not come from the pitch but from the letters C and D. I think it must go back to my childhood. I find, for instance, that numbers also have colours; 1 is steely grey, 2 is orange, 5 is green. At some point these associations must have got fixed, perhaps I saw the green number 5 on a stamp or on a shop sign. But there must be some collective associations too. For most people the sound of a trumpet is probably yellow although I find it red because of its shrillness" (Ligeti 1978/1983: 58).
A strange twist: Ligeti studied and taught (1950 - 1956) at the Franz Liszt [another true synesthete -- see below] Academy in Budapest.
"When Liszt first began as Kapellmeister in Weimar (1842), it astonished the orchestra that he said: 'O please, gentlemen, a little bluer, if you please! This tone type requires it!' Or: 'That is a deep violet, please, depend on it! Not so rose!' First the orchestra believed Liszt just joked; more later they got accustomed to the fact that the great musician seemed to see colors there, where there were only tones" (quoted from an anonymous article in the Neuen Berliner Musikzeitung (29 August, 1895); quoted in Mahling 1926: 230) (my translation).
"Visionary Brisbane-based performer Trash McSweeney sees colour in his music. Ever since suffering a near-fatal seizure eight years ago, Trash set out to share with the world a lifetime's worth of ideas about what he has seen and felt. By taking to his guitar, piano, and notebook, The Red Paintings were officially born upon the dawn of the new millennium."
Composer Olivier Messiaen, who flourished in the 1940's, was self-admittedly a synesthete, as is quite well detailed in his own writings and in interviews (see Samuel 1994 (1986)). Many of his compositions, such as Oiseaux Exotiques, L'ascension, and Couleurs de la cite celeste, are directly based upon his, in a sense, trying to "produce pictures" via sound, writing specific notes to produce specific color sequences and blends.
"For him there existed a strange, mysterious connection between sound and color, between the most secret perceptions of the eye and ear. Everything he saw produced a corresponding impression on his ear - every impression of sound was transferred and fixed as color on the retina of his eye and thence to his memory. And this he thought as natural, with as good reason as those who did not possess this faculty called him crazy or affectedly original.
"For this reason he only spoke of this in the strictest confidence and under a pledge of silence. 'For otherwise they will make fun of me!'" (Adolf Paul (1890), as quoted in Ekman 1938: 41-42).
“I definitely associate music with color. For example, my first record has a red cover but it is totally green and blue to me. So, it’s not very direct but I’ll think things like ‘that song’s orange’ or something like that. […] It’s the same for me with numbers. Like, four is just yellow to me and it would be weird to me if it were not. And songs are the same way. It’s never been something I need to think about.”
according to her statements in an interview for Paste.
“I'd always had a little bit of synaesthesia and would often see colors and textures and shapes in some part of my visual imagination when listening to music. So I was looking for a system that could communicate and share those sensations, using the exact same data to generate the sound and the visuals" (from "7 visionary Women Who Paved the Way for Electronic Music: Part 2", by Sarah Statham)