For pianist Claire Ritter, it’s important to be in the moment when she’s composing.
That allows her to discover new melodies, rhythms, and harmonies. Forty years and 200 compositions later, that openness has led to a new collaboration across art forms. The result of which will be heard and seen at an upcoming performance at Central Piedmont Community College.
Ritter’s interest clearly lies in jazz, but she also leans on her classical training and the influences of other musical styles to create.
The Weddington resident says she composes by ear, recording as she plays, “from bebop and samba to contemporary classical and avant garde.” Her work can be described as colorful, where she applies “splashes of color” by using silent rests in the music.
“Jazz musicians have a distinct sound because of their approach to improv and composition is unique or out of the box in some way,” Ritter said. “Because jazz can be so expressive, I think it’s nice to have those rests in there. … It’s surprising.”
Ritter says she gets her inspiration from art and nature, from a painting to the sounds of her aunt’s neighboring farm.
“When I was composing the piece for Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting “Orange and Red Streak,” a loud peacock shriek from outside my studio window snuck in, and there was a motif for a run.”
A run is a quick succession of notes moving up or down the piano.
Last November, she won an Arts and Science Council grant to record her music for an upcoming, tentatively-titled CD “The Solo Sessions.” The project includes 12 compositions influenced by her Southern roots. She says she’s grateful for the support of the ASC, which has awarded her five grants since 1996.
Some of the compositions supported by the latest grant include her collaboration with fine art photographer JoAnn Sieburg-Baker, which was featured last year at Queens University of Charlotte and at the Charlotte New Music Festival this past summer.
“Observing the technical genie in JoAnn’s work, and the satisfaction of bringing this to live performance was a thrill,” Ritter said.
Sieburg-Baker says integrating her photography to song was a delightful challenge.
The result is an expression of Ritter and Sieburg-Baker’s artistic vision, including the whimsical “Sunshades,” the reflective “Mirrors,” and the surprising “Blue Grits,” which chronicles Ritter’s family history.
Ritter said the maternal side of the family includes the Heath brothers, who owned land in uptown Charlotte and Monroe.
Ritter says her great-grandfather, Benjamin Heath, was a founder of Charlotte National Bank, which later became First Union, and then Wachovia. She also says her family tree includes the late actor Randolph Scott.
“The Scott residence is still located on Dilworth Road,” she said.