Last year, jazz composer and musician Justin Morell contacted the Art of Autism about his project All Without Words. Justin had composed jazz music that was inspired by his autistic son Loren. He wanted some artists to listen to the music and create a piece of art based on their experience of his original compositions. Many of the autistic artists in The Art of Autism project have synesthesia and are able to see colors or symbols around music.
John Daversa and Justin Morell’s album is debuting this April for Autism Awareness Month. All Without Words was supported by New Music USA’s Creator Development Fund in 2021. Below are some questions I asked Justin about this project.
Can you tell me something about your son Loren and how he inspired your music?
Loren is a generally happy 16 year-old kid, though we have our challenging moments! He loves listening to music, usually from three different sources at once. He has always loved music. He also loves to hang out in our yard and explore the various plants and grasses.
The theme on which the eleven variations are based is Loren’s theme—literally. One night when he and I were hanging out together, he was doing some of the vocalization/singing that he often does, and I was able to capture some of it on my phone’s voice recorder. I later found two segments that, when slowed down, became the melody of “Loren’s Theme”. Each of the variations is inspired by our experiences together, and with our family. They express moments of small triumphs, as well as some of the difficult times around things like frustration with communication.
Loren uses a picture system on his iPad to communicate, but has no verbal communication.
How did you partner with multi-Grammy winning composer and musician John Daversa to create this CD?
John and I have known each other since childhood—our families were very close friends and our fathers were colleagues in the recording studios of LA before we were born. I had wanted to write a piece about my experience as a parent, and when John asked me to write him a concerto I knew it was the perfect opportunity to realize the story. John and I have collaborated on many projects for decades now, and I believed without a doubt that John was the one person who could bring this very personal story to life.
How many artists participated in creating art after listening to All Without Words?
At this point, we have, I think, eight different artists working on various types of visual art inspired by the music. Each of them has a unique voice, and we are so proud to be collaborating with such a skilled and dedicated group of people.
The cover of the CD was created by Angela Weddle, who is an autistic artist. Can you tell me about why you chose that piece of art for the cover of the CD?
When my wife and I first saw Angela’s piece, we both had the same reaction: she captured something about Loren so accurately, it really touched us. The image of the boy, alone, exploring a world full of grasses, looking down—it was magical. I reached out to John shortly after and told him that I wanted to use it for the cover art, and he said that he and his wife felt a similarly strong connection to the piece. I should mention, too, that so many of the other artists have been able to capture things about Loren that I never thought would be possible without knowing him. Seeing those pieces has been so incredibly rewarding for my family.
Editor’s Note: Angela Weddle who created the cover art for All Without Words is also a Board member for the Art of Autism nonprofit.
Can you tell me when and where you are going to premier the music?
The album will be released at the end of April, but we are planning a live premiere in Miami in fall of 2021. We don’t have the details yet, but we are working on it! The album can be pre-ordered here.
Several of the artists who were part of the All Without Words project will have their art on display at Oceanside Museum of Art April 17 – July 11 for the Art of Autism Color of Sound exhibit. The art below of Sydney Edmond inspired by Loren’s Theme will be on display at the museum.
Sydney writes about her art created for this project:
“This painting was completed while listening to Justin Morell’s jazz piece, ‘All Without Words – Loren’s Theme’ for his Jazz Concerto Project. It is about his son Loren who, like me, has autism and cannot speak. I saw and interpreted the music to show that a swirling background oppresses his voice and silences his dreams. It loads him with sorrow. But also swirling, is Hope, and it sustains him. Yellow is his voice. Brilliant and bright and clear. It is surrounded by the purpleness of God, the only one who hears him. Shards of hope, nurtured by God, are with him in his prison of silence and these are light fluffy blue. His dreams and hopes, a loud glorious scream of orange, are also lovingly tended by God. In the intensity of his mind, his prison is aflame. He whirls and swirls through each day. A giant ball of passion and possibility.”
Other art inspired by All Without Words music:
About Justin Morell
Guitarist and composer Justin Morell received his BA from UCLA, an MA from California State University East Bay, and his Ph.D. from the University of Oregon where he studied under Robert Kyr and David Crumb. While his main interests are composition and jazz performance, he is an experienced guitarist of all styles. Justin’s list of concert works includes: a symphony, a string quartet, a saxophone quartet, a chamber sinfonia, a percussion ensemble (for two pianos and four percussionists), a large chamber winds piece, compositions for large jazz ensemble, and a number of smaller chamber works. Read more about Justin here.
About John Daversa
John Daversa is an American recording artist, composer, arranger, orchestrator, producer, bandleader, and educator from Los Angeles, CA, currently residing in Miami, FL. World-renowned for his virtuosic, dynamic, personal and emotive style of trumpet and EVI playing, along with imaginative, genre-bending compositions and arrangements, his music embraces gratitude, humility, integrity, and innovation, striving for presence and balance of the head and heart. He has been recognized with 3 Grammy awards for his large jazz ensemble album, American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom, and was nominated for 3 Grammy awards for Kaleidoscope Eyes: Music of the Beatles. Trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard says of Daversa’s work, “This is art. This is what music should be. No re-creation. No mimicking. Just honesty. Fearless honesty.” Since 2013, Daversa has served as Chair of Studio Music and Jazz at Frost School of Music, University of Music, and is passionate about serving through the muse of music.