Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson prefers not to place his music in a certain category.
Jazz music, classical music, African music, American folk music and Asian music are all part of his "musical heritage" and language as an artist. As Takemitsu once said, "music is like a mountain and you take from it what you need." Nelson feels at home with this philosophy. No category in the music as well as in the person.
He must maintain constant vigilance against a world that feels very comfortable with labels and categories that are only safe and limiting. For Nelson, the world of music is his universe.
Work with and for children
For over thirty years, Nelson has worked in the field of creative music education, starting with the Lincoln Center Institute in New York in 1974. He also worked at the Henry Street Settlement in Lower Manhattan and taught Black Music History at Adelphi University, Long Island, N.Y. for five years with the Learning Through the Arts Program and for five years with the "Meet The Composer" Composer in the Schools Program, and at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern and the Creavia Institute. He has presented music workshops in California, Arizona, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Munich, Amsterdam, Bern, Budapest, France and Berlin.
Nelson has composed several works for young performers: SPRINGRAIN/SWEETRAIN and PEACESONGS for voices and instruments, created for the Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn in 1989; Just Joking, a musical; L/SWEET, a jazz work for instruments and voices, and many other works.
Nelson believes that every child has a right to have creativity as an important part of their education.
Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson began composing music around the age of seven years old. His first instrument was the
piano, and he received his first and important inspiration from his aunt, who sang in the church choir as
well as playing piano. He would follow her along to her piano lessons.
On most Sundays in his childhood he would go to his grandmother's house, where there was a piano. While she made Sunday dinner, he would compose little piano pieces with the encouragement of his grandmother and aunt. His other early inspirations were Leonard Bernstein, Jean Sibelius and Louis Armstrong as well as black gospel music.
These early formative years helped shape the artist as he is today. His grandmother and aunts always encouraged his early music explorations and this helped shape his attitudes about music and the arts. He also received further encouragement from his school music teachers: the late Mr. Corlandus Lang, W.E. Perry, Ancio Francisco, Leroy Hicks and Mrs Dorothy Barret. They gave him hope and confidence in those sometimes difficult years.
In 1969, Nelson began studying at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. He studied with the composers
John Eaton and Iannis Xenakis. He had discovered the Greek composer Xenakis two years earlier in Oklahoma,
and he was attracted to his philosophy about music and architecture which interested him very much. And to
his great surprise, Xenakis was a teacher at Indiana. Nelson kept contact with him until a couple of years
before his death in Paris.
During his college years, Nelson began to discover and develop his musical voice. In addition to studying composition and trumpet, he began working with other artistic disciplines: sculpture, dance and theatre. These collaborations continue to this day.
Nelson became interested in dance after he saw his first ballet in Oklahoma City. And later he saw the great Jose Limon dance. In later years, he would receive a commission from the Limon Company.
He began taking ballet lessons at Indiana, resulting in dancing a small part in the Nutcracker ballet. After this he began playing for dance classes and formed a music and dance improvisation group.
Nelson composed music for various ensembles at Indiana. This being a very large music school, he had no problem finding performers. It was during this time that he discovered the world of visual and sound poetry and met the poet Mary Ellen Solt, who would become a great influence upon him and a dear friend.
In 1972 he attended the world premiere in Atlanta of the opera by Scott Joplin, Treemonisha. It was here that he met the widow of Mr John W. Work III, the conductor of the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers and a collector of Black Spirituals. She mentioned to him that she was starting a foundation to help young composers. It was in 1974 that she began this fellowship, and he became the first winner of the John W. Work III Composer's Fellowship. In the summer of 1974, he received a composer's fellowship to attend the Berkshire Music School at Tanglewood, where he studied with Jacob Druckman and Gunther Schuller.
Nelson lived in New York from 1974 to 1981, when he moved to the Netherlands where he lived until 1985.
In Holland he composed music for the ASKO ensemble, De Nieuwe Ensemble, the Rotterdamse Dance Group and other ensembles.
In 1985 Nelson received a commission from the Kronos Quartet and the ODC dance company of San Francisco. In May 1986, Litost was premiered at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco, with the Kronos Quartet playing live.
The same year, Nelson returned to New York, where he lived until 1994. During this time he had many performances of his works by various ensembles at places such as the Miller Theater, Weill Recital Hall, the Whittney Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, Symphony Space, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Merkin Hall, La Mama Theater and many others.
In 1994 Nelson moved to Switzerland.
Jazz and Ethnic Music
Jazz, popular music and ethnic music have always been a part of Nelson's musical life since he began playing trumpet in Oklahoma City in soul music groups during High School.
His major influences were Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, John Coltrane and others. The music of Miles Davis during the 60s and 70s had a major influence on him. The first time he heard Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, it changed his idea about what was possible in jazz. At Indiana, he formed several jazz ensembles and in New York he continued playing improvised music, working with African, Latin and Asian musicians. He has continued this association in Europe by working with Moroccan and gypsy musicians.
In 1992, Nelson toured Europe with the violinist Nigel Kennedy in a classical and jazz ensemble. Among the
places they performed were the Vienna Opera House, the Tonhalle in Zurich and the Gesteig in Munich.
Nelson has also composed over fifty ethnic-jazz works for various formations.
Works for Dance
Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson's love of dance and theater began in his childhood in Oklahoma City, after seeing his first ballet. The combination of lights, decor, music and movement was a perfect world for him.
Along with his music studies at Indiana University, Nelson also briefly studied dance, then began playing for dance classes there and forming a music and dance improvisation group.
Over the years, the techniques he has played for are Graham, Horton, Release, Limon, Cunningham, African, Falco and Linke. He has played classes for Mary Hinkson, Robert Kovich, Sophine Maslow, Joyce Trisler, Jorma Uotinen, Susanne Linke, Carolyn Carlson, Joe Allegado and others. He has composed music for the Jose Limon Dance Company, Bill T. Jones, ODC San Francisco and the Kronos Quartet, Solomons Company Dance, Susanne Mueller, Robert Kovich, Feldman Tap, Diversions Dance Company Wales, the American Dance Festival and the Vienna Dance Weeks for two summers.
Music Theater, Film and Museum Works
Nelson has created several Music Theater works. Among them are Die Schwester (The Sister) for three voices and chamber orchestra, with text by Gerhard Rühm; Nacht Night Nuit for twenty-three performers, premiered on March 24, 2006 at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, which commissioned this work.
Nelson has also worked in the area of film. Dreamsteps, a film produced in the Dohanny Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary, was premiered in Budapest in August 2000. Killing The Word for solo trumpet, four percussion and film was premiered in May 2000 at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, and was commissioned by the SWR radio of Germany. A filmed version of this work was shown on 3SAT in June 2002.
Nelson has presented many performances in galleries and museums, among them the Guggenheim, Whittney and Cooper-Hewitt museums in New York. In these spaces, he has presented works involving music, visuals, theater and dance.
Poems and writings
Writing for Nelson is an extension of the world of music. He has been writing poems and journals since the age of sixteen. He admires the work of Hughes, Beckett, Ellison; Rumi, Neruda, Marquez, Morrison, Okri, Merwin and others.
His meeting Ralph Ellison at the age of sixteen had a profound effect on him, as did his meeting on several occasions with Duke Ellington. These experiences gave him a grand vision of what it is to be an artist.
Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson has had a long interest in art and architecture. Some of the architects he admires are Ando, Tange, Aalto, Kahn, Pie, Wright and Itozaki. He has created works on paper inspired by Japanese art. He has also created several installations. Some of the artists he admires are Jan Telting, Romare Bearden, Henri Michaux, Francis Bacon and Jacob Lawrence.
Along with composing, Nelson has always been a performer, since the age of nine when he played yearly piano recitals at Mrs Dorothy Barrett's Music Studio in Oklahoma City. It is she who encouraged him to begin composing.
He began playing trumpet at the age of twelve, inspired by the great Louis Armstrong. During high school he
played in soul-funk bands with his young musician friends.
After attending Indiana University, he began playing jazz.
In recent years, Nelson has begun using his voice in performances, along with playing the trumpet, percussion and piano.
He has performed in theater and dance works as an actor-musician, which is a continuation of his early
explorations at Indiana University. He has also begun working with DJs and live performances of dance
He is in constant search of new frontiers of artistic expression.
For Nelson, the arts are a way of life. They color life itself. They are his "Love Song". Duke Ellington
once said that he was "Beyond Category" and Nelson believes this as well for himself.
Through art, he makes sense of his internal and external world, and through these various art forms he experiences the ultimate expression of life itself.