House of Numbers

Pianist and composer Edward Simon will create House of Numbers, a 40-minute suite in four movements exploring the cross-cultural meanings of numbers and the possibilities offered by bringing jazz and classical musicians together.  The work will incorporate musical traditions from Europe, Africa, North and South America in composed structures with improvised sections.  Simon’s own jazz quartet Afinidad and the classical ensemble Imani Winds will give the premiere performance at the SFJAZZ Center in July of 2016.

House of Numbers is a work which will bring together the distinct and often exclusive worlds of jazz and classical music, challenging chamber musicians to stretch their improvising and interpretive skills, while inviting jazz musicians into the formal structures of classical music.  The numbers 3, 4, 5, and 7, and their cultural and musical implications, will form the basis of the new work, with one movement in the suite devoted to each.

The movements will delve into all the formal and emotional possibilities generated by a given number.  The number 3, for example, can suggest triple meters such as 3/4, 6/4 or 6/8, which in turn could suggest certain grooves or genres, especially the music of South America.  It can also point to the use of triads and three-bar phrases.  “To me however, the number 3 suggests balance,” says composer Edward Simon.  “The even distribution of forces into three equal parts, which in turn suggests equilibrium.”  Simon’s creative approach will focus on allowing all musical and cultural facets of a number to manifest and evolve into a musical composition.In the premiere performance, the Afinidad quartet and Imani Winds will represent the jazz and classical worlds, respectively, and fulfill Simon’s goal of integrating orchestral instruments into a jazz setting.  His bandmates in Afinidad are versatile jazz players whose musicality, openness and breadth will allow him the greatest freedom as a composer.   Their musical bond of trust, built over many years, will underpin and encourage the explorations to be undertaken in House of Numbers. Imani Winds was chosen for their musical adventurousness and history of cross-genre collaborations, as well as their improvising skills and proficient ensemble playing.  

Beyond his extensive jazz background, Simon reports an affinity for the Western classical tradition, especially minimalist composers, and their way of expanding a simple idea to its fullest realization.  “In my compositions, I endeavor to develop a sound that strikes a balance between the structural clarity of classical music and the moment-to-moment interaction of jazz,” he says of his own creative process. “Aesthetically, I'm concerned with simplicity and economy. I strive to get to the essence of the message I wish to communicate by making every note count, just as every word counts in a good story.”

Drawing upon and structuring source material from four continents – Europe, Africa, North America, and South America – and examining the relationships of numbers to many cultures will speak to Simon’s own experience as a U.S. immigrant and the challenges of adaptation and identity faced by all multicultural individuals, particularly artists.  The result will combine ethnic rhythms, jazz harmony, and improvisation organized around each number.The idea behind House of Numbers is to hear the story numbers want to tell.


House of Numbers is being commissioned by Chamber Music America's New Jazz Works funded through the generosity of the Doris Duke Foundation. The premiere performance will take place July 15, 2016 at the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco, California.