Like the junction of several challenging words in the Sunday Times puzzle, the intertwined pursuits of Charlotte musical artist Claire Ritter require careful sequencing in order to occupy just the right space on her busy palate. Possessing more talent than can be confined to a singular label, Ritter’s artistic travels involve composing, teaching, performing, and recording her music. These are but a few of the journeys Ritter undertakes, often simultaneously. 

Ritter, a North Carolina native, grew up just south and east of Charlotte in Weddington. Today a burgeoning bedroom community of the Queen City, Ritter recalls a more rural upbringing filled with sultry summer nights illuminated by fireflies and the occasional flash of heat lightening glowing across the cotton fields that dotted the landscape. 

Possessing a familial connection to one of Hollywood’s most dashing leading men, her great-uncle was the renowned tall-in-the-saddle Western hero Randolph Scott; Ritter started training for her own performance career at an early age. She took piano lessons while in the first grade and was barely into her teen years when her parents connected her with the highly regarded arranger for the Charlotte Symphony and jazz teacher Ziggy Hurwitz. 

With her initial training in classical piano, Ritter’s exposure to jazz at this early age left an indelible mark that fueled her creative energy to compose and record American New Music, a style that Ritter describes as a melding of classical and jazz. 

A recipient of the North Carolina Arts Council Jazz Composer’s Fellowship and twice awarded Regional Artist Grants from the Charlotte/Mecklenburg Arts and Science Council; Ritter finds tremendous satisfaction in giving back and creating opportunities for talented young artists. She has partnered with her alma mater, Queens University, on a master class and workshop, “Beyond the Notes”, and is the Artistic Director of “Composer Charlotte” a venue that showcases her compositions along with those of her colleagues and students. 

“I look to help my students discover their own voice through our work.” said Ritter. Her reward in working with her students often comes in small bits when she sees something click or hears a truly inspirational passage. 

Ritter found and followed her own musical voice through study and work with some true jazz heavyweights. In the late 70’s, she worked with Mary Lou Williams while at Duke University. Williams wrote and arranged for Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman and was a friend and mentor to jazz notables Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. The name for Ritter’s own recording label, Zoning, was inspired by an album of the same title given to her by Williams at an initial meeting. 

Ritter also worked with heralded jazz composer and artist Ran Blake while at the New England Conservatory in Boston, one the country’s premier musical institutions. Ritter found time to give of herself and teach during her time at the Conservatory. While there she founded a contemporary songwriting class. 

Ritter says that teaching others is a “gift” that holds a special place for her in her work. “Teaching is an important part of my work and the creative process.” says Ritter. “The ability to transfer ideas, philosophy and provide inspiration is where I find pure joy.” A sought after teacher, Ritter works with about two dozen Charlotte area youth teaching piano and composition. About half of her students are composing. 

Undoubtedly, her educational work transfers into her own composition. “Composing comes from a deep place inside,” explained Ritter. Her musical style and approach has an intensity and emotion that is colorful and richly layered. She has produced and recorded nine CD’s under her own label, Zoning Recordings

Inspired by her frequent muse, the artistry of water, Ritter’s current project is her 10th CD recording and is entitled; Stream of Pearls. The CD is slated for release in 2010; though Ritter will showcase many of her newest Crystal Scores from the CD in an upcoming fall 2009 performance in Charlotte as part of her Composer Charlotte series. She will split the concert bill with several of her composing students who will feature original works of their own. 

Ritter speaks of water and nature in the most reverential terms. Ritter tells of her respect for the North American and Native American Indian concept of Manitona or Garden of Great Spirit having great influence on her current work. 

“Water is always flowing and ever changing,” noted Ritter, “It creates its own flow and can transform from serene and deliberate to powerful. Jazz for me is much the same, it offers so many contrasts. As an artist it is important for me to tap into the direct essence of the spirit, in this case, the artistry of water. My thirst for clarity and simplicity brings it all together in the scores I’ve written here.” 

The regions and bodies of water that encouraged her 3 year musical journey in development of this project began with the Crystal Coast of North Carolina's Outer Banks, and extended up through the Appalachian Crystalline area, Boston’s Charles River, Niagara Falls, and concluded with the 1,000 Islands & St Lawrence River in Canada. 

Ritter’s new work includes Opus 25: Ten Scores for the Outer Banks comprised of sambas, and ballads and, Opus 26: Eight Scores for the Inland Shores featuring solo and ensemble arrangements. She is dedicating this work to the harmony of nature, and most importantly wishes to embrace and revere water as the backbone of our environmental existence. 

Ritter’s studio rests atop a gentle slope on a rustic stretch of land in Weddington pocked with small ponds and tall grass. An equestrian, Ritter shares the property with her Arabian mare and enjoys the solitude that allows for inspiration and creativity. Opposing head to head grand pianos greet her visitors in a space that is dominated by a south-facing wall of windows that overlook the hillside. 

There is clearly a quiet side to the artist with an out-sized musical voice; one that while recognizing the complexities in life, prefers to look towards simplification. “I like to think I live on the edge – in a good way,” commented Ritter, “the bigger, broader perspective allows me to capitalize on life’s unpredictability and bring it into my work.” What’s not unpredictable is the impact Claire Ritter is making on the American New Music scene.