Writings about Music

Lee Konitz Pictures on the Wall

Michael Robinson and Lee Konitz at an Indian restaurant near Lee's Manhattan abode.

Lee Konitz had a ball playing along with Pictures On the Wall, later released on the Trembling Flowers album, attempting to emulate the complex effusions of the melodic lines, and comparing the riffs to Count Basie. Afterwards, we left my Manhattan apartment at First Avenue and 65th Street, enjoying a summer promenade across the Upper East Side and through Central Park all the way to his apartment on West 86th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam.

The view from Michael Robinson's Manhattan apartment where Lee Konitz played along with Pictures on the Wall shows Rockefeller University, the 59th Street Bridge, and the East River, including a Smokestack and Red Roof that became composition titles.

During our walk, I asked Lee if he ever thinks about chord changes while improvising. Lee said if someone is thinking about things like D minor seven and G seven while playing there's not much going on. With Lee now gone, I honestly can't think of any current jazz artist who can improvise a line with the quality and substance of Pictures on the Wall, an early example of how I've assimilated improvisation into composition in unprecedented ways reflecting how American jazz and Indian classical music superseded Western classical music at the time of the world I was born into, thus demanding new approaches to content, form, and expression.

Pictures on the Wall transcription for the second meruvina incarnation appearing on the Trembling Flowers album.


The original version of Pictures on the Wall for the first incarnation of the meruvina appearing on the album of the same name.


Michael Robinson with the second incarnation of the meruvina used for the music Lee Konitz played along with as related above. (Beverly Hills, California)


Charlie and Irene Colin with Michael Robinson (Lahaina, Maui)

Charlie Colin, whose trumpet students included Dizzy Gillespie - there was typically a waiting list of over one hundred trumpeters to study with him - and whose brass publications are renowned, once drove ninety minutes each way even at his advanced age to hear a concert I gave at Saint John's Church in Keokea, Maui featuring Pictures On the Wall. Charlie and Irene became very close friends, and he once told me he believed future composers would be influenced by my innovations. Lee Konitz once told me out of the blue how he believed musical genius was about someone attempting to copy the prevailing style and being unable to created their own style instead.

Michael Robinson in the oceanfront Maui condo where Pictures On the Wall was composed

As is my custom even with scores of over 75,000 individual melodic and percussion notes, not a single note of Pictures on the Wall was changed from the original writing, this being an entirely notated composition. I only write in pencil to allow for mistrokes to be erased.

Mel Powell, the Composition Chair at Yale University, succeeding his teacher, Paul Hindemith, told me during our first private lesson at CalArts, where he was a founder, that the composition method I had developed on my own was the same approach Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had used.

- Michael Robinson, April 2021, Los Angeles


© 2021 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, jazz pianist and musicologist. His 170 albums include 150 albums for meruvina and 20 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University.