Forest Park musician Jonathan Ross, whose new album will be debuted at the Forest Park Arts Alliance Meet the Artist event on April 25. | Photo provided

At a Meet the Artist event sponsored by the Forest Park Arts Alliance on April 25, Jonathan Ross will sample tracks from his brand-new album and engage in a Zoom conversation with attendees.

Ross is a Forest Park resident who is known in the area mainly as a jazz guitarist. Unable to play gigs live during the quarantine, he took advantage of the down time to write the whole album titled Octavia.

“Everyone I’ve shared the album with,” he said, “has agreed that it’s something that they haven’t quite heard before and feel it’s a unique kind of sound.”

It’s unique, he explained, partly because he was using the project as a means for creating his own style and partly because it combines elements of folk, hard rock and classical music.

And because the stay-at-home orders prevented Ross from getting together with other musicians to make Octavia, the only live musicians on the CD are himself on guitar and another musician playing a Greek mandolin called a bouzouki. The other musical sounds were programmed by Ross into a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface).

“I had to write the whole score,” he explained, “separate each instrument into its own MIDI file, and then send them to a friend in Indiana who put them on a grid on his computer.”

Although he is pleased with the result and believes that listeners will not be able to tell that most of what they are hearing has been created digitally, he added, “Hopefully on the next album I can have a live band.”

Ross received the first copies of his album just two weeks ago, so this Meet the Artist program on April 25 will serve as the world premier of Octavia. The Zoom program which begins at 3:00 p.m. will feature Ross playing samples from his album together with time for conversation.

Lin Beribak from the Arts Alliance and who will serve as moderator said, “We will begin with a quick introduction, then turn the spotlight and microphone over to Jon. He will play and talk about his process, his influence, his reason for writing the piece as he wishes, and, of course, play a few pieces from his album. Then we will open the microphones so anyone can ask a question, make a comment and Jonathan can respond.”

One of the topics of the conversation might well be the fact that although the music on the album is completely instrumental, Ross said, “The concept of the album is sort of like an instrumental telling of a story of sailors going out to sea to hunt this mythical creature, a giant octopus called Octavia, which they think is dangerous, but it’s not what they think it is.”

“What is this supposedly dangerous creature?” he continued. “What if it is a creature of great beauty and not a killer like they’ve been told? For me Octavia became a metaphor for a lot of what’s going on right now in our culture.”

In that sense, musicologists might categorize the project as “program music,” i.e. music without lyrics which has an “extramusical meaning.”

In some ways Octavia is in the tradition of Greek epics like the Illiad and the Odyssey or the American classic Moby Dick. It’s a journey with a quest which also turns out to be a journey of self-discovery.

“I use the term self-discovery in the notes inside the album cover,” Ross said. “It’s a very in-depth idea. It invites us to ask tough questions about ourselves. It’s easy to point our fingers at other people when we see what’s been going on during the pandemic, but it’s hard to ask ourselves what’s wrong with me.”

FPAA’s Meet the Artist events are always the last Sunday of the month at 3 p.m. A call for artists on the FPAA page brought a few artists, including Ross, to the attention of the Alliance.

“We started Meet the Artist last fall,” Beribak explained, “when we wanted to continue to promote local artists and maintain Covid-19 safety. Since FPAA had started to build a good following with the Stoop Sessions (averaging 50 adults at each event), but was not able to sponsor live events in 2020, we came up with the Zoom event, to bring visual and musical artists to ‘the people’ and follow with a Q & A for the audience.”

Beribak added, “We are hoping that by the end of this summer we might be able to bring Stoop Sessions back. Also, the FPAA and the Chamber of Commerce are working on starting First Thursday Art Strolls, beginning in June. We had good response to the Madison Street Art Stroll last year, and are hoping to build on that, with smaller, but repeated events, where artists can interact with patrons. We are looking at partnering with local businesses to be the showcases for visual, musical, spoken word, etc. artists. And FPAA’s Garage Galleries will be held this August.”

To attend the FPAA event featuring Jonathan Ross on April 25 at 3 p.m., Zoom in at https://fb.me/e/jt5hr3wK8, Meeting ID: 821 0708 8445, Passcode: 722129.