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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The black and white nature photographs of Ansel Adams might not seem to have much to do with improvisation, yet jazz pianist Dave Brubeck has set them to music with the help of his son, Chris. Tonight in California, conductor Peter Jaffe and the Stockton Symphony perform the world premiere of "Ansel Adams: America," as Adams pictures are shown above them.

Paul Conley of Capital Public Radio reports.

PAUL CONLEY: Dave Brubeck and the late Ansel Adams had much in common, starting with geography. Brubeck was born in the San Francisco Bay Area town of Concord, while Adams grew up not far from the city's Seal Rock Beach, as he told the BBC in 1976.

Mr. ANSEL ADAMS (Photographer): My childhood was spent near the sand dunes bordering the Golden Gate. At the age of 14, I went to Yosemite Valley and was deeply affected and infected with the grandeur of the scene.

Mr. DAVE BRUBECK (Composer, Jazz Pianist): I used to take my mother to Yosemite.

CONLEY: That was after Dave Brubeck and his family moved to the Sacramento Valley, where Dave's dad ran a cattle ranch.

Mr. BRUBECK: When I turned 14, I got my driver's license and that's where she'd want to go, so I'd take her there for two weeks. But I didn't hike because I had to get back to the ranch.

(Soundbite of piano music)

CONLEY: You can hear Brubeck's western roots in this early piano version of one of the themes in his tributes to Adams.

(Soundbite of piano music)

CONLEY: Dave Brubeck composed the 22-minute work first as a piano piece, working closely with his son, Chris, who later transformed it into a full orchestral score. The process took over a year, with many long distance phone calls between the musicians, while they were on their separate tours. But Dave Brubeck says they always had a common source for inspiration.

Mr. BRUBECK: We got a book of 400 photographs of Ansel Adams. We'd look at the photos and try to think about the music that would go with the photograph: Half Dome in Yosemite, Merced River, Great Falls coming down, Quiet Meadows.

(Soundbite of piano music)

CONLEY: With the pictures in front of him, Brubeck went to town.

Mr. BRUBECK: I didn't stop writing for one month. Mostly at night I'd still be writing - very little sleep.

CONLEY: To help conserve the 88-year-old's energy, and to provide him more objectivity in evaluating the piece, concert pianist John Salmon was brought in to perform early drafts of the score.

(Soundbite of piano music)

CONLEY: As the project progressed, Dave and Chris Brubeck discovered another important fact about their subject.

Mr. CHRIS BRUBECK (Composer, Musician): Ansel Adams was studying to be a concert pianist before he got hijacked by falling in love with Yosemite.

CONLEY: And falling in love with photography.

Mr. ADAMS: Many of my friends would beg me not to think about photography as a career because I apparently was a fairly good pianist. And they would say photography is not an art, the camera cannot express the human soul.

Mr. D. BRUBECK: He loved Bach and Chopin. So I've incorporated Chopin-esque and Bach kind of piano playing into the piece.

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. D. BRUBECK: And it's a tug of war between the camera and the piano that I'm trying to depict.

CONLEY: There's an even more literal aspect to Dave Brubeck's compositional approach, says son, Chris.

Mr. C. BRUBECK: He's got sort of a pet process where he likes to take the person's name and turn the rhythm of that name to the main theme.

Mr. C. BRUBECK: (singing) Bum, dum, dum, dum. Dum, da, da, dum, dum, dum, dum, da, da, dum, Ansel Adams.

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. C. BRUBECK: And I don't know what the rest of the words would be in his mind but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. C. BRUBECK: I said, you know, take that theme and I want you to create a fugue with it.

(Soundbite of piano music)

CONLEY: Chris Brubeck took his father's piano sketches and went to work, orchestrating them on his computer.

(Soundbite of orchestral music)

CONLEY: The composition was commissioned by a consortium of orchestras led by the Stockton Symphony, whose home is about 120 miles west of Yosemite. Earlier this week, the musicians in Stockton began rehearsing the piece they're premiering tonight.

(Soundbite of orchestral music)

CONLEY: Despite their many similarities, Ansel Adams and Dave Brubeck had one major difference. Adams received his first camera from a father who supported his son's enthusiasm, and Chris Brubeck says he got the same kind of support from his dad. But his grandfather wasn't as encouraging of Dave.

Mr. C. BRUBECK: At least when I wanted to become a musician, unlike his father, who wanted him to become a cowboy and was disappointed he became a musician, I don't think Dave's disappointed in me in becoming a musician at all. And there can't be anything too much more rewarding for a father and son to be working on a composition like this.

CONLEY: For NPR News, I'm Paul Conley.

BLOCK: You can hear more of Ansel Adams talking about his photography and how he almost became a concert pianist at nprmusic.org.

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