The Brussels Jazz Orchestra (BJO), an award-winning ensemble well known for its innovative approach, will be performing what looks like an intriguing multimedia piece at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola this coming weekend (March 20-22). The group has commissioned six composers to team up with illustrator Philip Paquet for the creation of a "visual jazz score." Paquet's graphic novels will be projected on screen (in the form of videos), while the orchestra performs the six pieces, each of which relates to a specific illustrated story. The composers include Bert Joris, Lode Mertens, Dieter Limbourg, Pierre Drevet, and Michael Herr.

For more information about the performances, click here.

I recently had a chance to interview the BJO's Musical Director, Frank Vaganee, and illustrator Philip Paquet:

CD: Can you tell us a little about how Graphicology came about? What was the developmental process of this interesting project?

FV: Brussels Jazz Orchestra (BJO) is always looking for original ways to bring jazz music to a wider audience. Combining jazz with other art forms is one of the tools we use to reach a broader public. Belgium has a long tradition of graphic novels. Philip Paquet loves jazz music -- he's even a self-taught jazz bass player himself -- and much of his work is inspired by jazz music and musicians. So we had a match with Philip, and we could start working on the creative process.

PP: BJO leader Frank Vaganee and manager Koen Maes approached me with the request of creating stories for this project. I didn't hesitate -- its' an honor to work with these amazing players, and the idea of mixing the music and the artwork turned out to be a vivid combination. Koen came up with the name Graphicology, a little reference to Charlie Parker.

I already had some stories that were perfect for Graphicology, taken from my graphic novels Louis, Snapshots, and Playin' Smilin' Fightin' Cookin', all jazz-inspired books. I drew two new stories as well: The Blues and the main theme Graphicology. Next I sat down with a movie editor and we created dynamic videos, a little animation here and there, within a certain timeframe. Then the composers got to work with the images -- basically the same process of making a movie soundtrack.

CD: Have you commissioned these composers before, or are these new collaborations?

FV: The composers are mostly musicians from our orchestra. There is also Bert Joris -- he's one of our greatest suppliers of music since the start of BJO 22 years ago. Everytime when we develop a new project, these composers are regularly involved.

CD: I'm assuming each composer has an individual approach; can you describe some of the ways the music relates to the projected videos?

PP: Each composer put his own voice in there, and every tune has it's own feel and vibe -- they did a great job! Bebop, Blues, New Orleans, Free... the whole jazz spectrum coveredů

I hope Graphicology will be well received in the US and that there will be other gigs...everybody, anywhere, can relate to jazz, but i'm really stoked that this fine project is finally landing in the motherland of this rich music.

FV: Sometimes the music is accurately synchronised, as in a cartoon. Sometimes the function of the music is to create an atmosphere. Although the music was written on the timing of the images, and the orchestral arrangement has an important role, the musicians also have soloist space where they can express themselves individually.

CD: Can you tell us about some of BJO's educational projects?

FV: "First Class Concerts" is a project for 6 year old children. From work songs, through the blues, to contemporary jazz: the BJO plays new work, dealing with many aspects of jazz and its instruments. The entire saxophone family, the particular sounds of trumpets and trombones, the rhythmicality of the bass and drums, and the unique role played by the piano are revealed. Everything in this new work revolves around the interaction between the children and musicians.

"International Composition Contest" is one of the few international competitions for jazz composition, and more specifically compositions for a big band formation. The Brussels Jazz Orchestra feels it is important to discover and encourage young talent. The BJO keeps up with the winners through their careers, and sometimes commissions them to write new works for the orchestra. The winner is elected by an international jury and takes home the Duvel Jazz Award worth 3000 euros.

We also have "Brussels Youth Jazz Orchestra." Every three years, 17 promising young jazz musicians are selected to form an exclusive jazz orchestra. Under the artistic direction of BJO, the BYJO builds an extensive repertoire over three years. Twice a year an intensive week-long project is led by a guest conductor.

The BJO also organises workshops, where amateur musicians can enjoy a few hours of big band lessons in a professional context. The BJO opens the doors of its rehearsal studio for art schools and their jazz departments: students can take a look behind the scenes and experience how the creative process and the preparations for an artistic project evolve.

CD: Frank -- if you had to give only one piece of advice to a young professional ensemble, what would it be?

FV: I would tell them to learn Bird as Told by Miles the Cat, a composition by Dieter Limbourg!