Jazz and Painting

Romare Bearden (1912–1988), Empress of the Blues, 1974, acrylic and pencil on paper and printed paper, 36 x 48 inches, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase in part through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

The relationship between music and art has been a very intimate one since the Romantic period. The early romantic idea of ​​a synthesis of the arts, which had precursors scattered in the “painting” music of the Renaissance and the Baroque or in the eighteenth-century tone paintings, is found in tandem gifts, as they have been accumulating since the Romantic era, notable embodiments: Carl Maria von Weber Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy or Frédéric Chopin; later, in the modern age in artist composers like Arnold Schönberg, Klee or John Cage. Even linguistically, terms such as coloratura, timbre or color indicate a close connection between art and music.

Seen in this light, it is not surprising that some twentieth-century artists felt a strong affinity to the music of the sekulum – jazz – while mirror-image jazz musicians were attracted to art. His drip paintings created Jackson Pollock to the accompaniment of hot swing numbers from the turntable. Conversely, the jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who recently died, observed analogies between his music and Pollock’s painting technique; Cover motif of his album “Free Jazz” was a painting by the artist.

In 1915, an article appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune about improvised dance music with African-American roots from the southern United States that was so addictive that it could ruin it; probably for the first time in this context appeared in a printed text the term jazz. The career of the music genre was then breathtaking. Just a few years later, when F. Scott Fitzgerald spoke of the “age of jazz” in the early 1920s, music could be considered a secular event. Shortly after the First World War, rumors about jazz spilled across the pond to Europe. Starting from the big cities, the music spread at a rapid pace on the continent, conquered the dance halls and variety shows.

Josephine Baker’s performances in the “Revue Nègre” in Paris, later in Brussels and Berlin, contributed not least to the popularization of jazz in Europe. Barbusig, dressed in a short haircut and a banana skirt, danced Charleston and Jazz hot. Baker gave the jazz, who had found enthusiastic supporters in bohemians and the bourgeoisie, among intellectuals and young people, a sexy image and the flair of freedom of movement in Europe. The French painter and commercial artist Paul Colin, who designed the posters, stage sets and costumes for Baker’s Paris Revue in 1925, created the most important work of the Baker reception in Europe four years later with the portfolio “Le Tumulte noir”. In addition to the “Black Venus”, the 44 lithographs show dancing couples and musicians. For Kees van Dongen and Raoul Dufy, too, the dancing Josephine Baker became an image subject; Matisse dedicated to her one of his biggest murals. Le Corbusier worshiped her; Adolf Loos designed a house for her. To date, she has inspired artists: Kara Walker’s paper “Consume” shows a little boy sucking on the banana skirt of a colored dancer.

Thanks to Baker, jazz in Europe has been considered libertarian and sexy from the very beginning, as well as politically progressive in the criticism of racial discrimination as in his country of origin. The “swing boy” K. R. H. Sonderborg spent a year and a half of Gestapo imprisonment at the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp at the beginning of the 1940s. And in 1938, the accompanying brochure on the exhibition “Degenerate Music” organized by Hans Severus Ziegler in 1938 graced the clichéd depiction of a black jazz saxophonist with fluffy lips in Düsseldorf. For Duke Ellington, jazz, which for him was something of a “barometer of liberty,” sprang directly from what he considered lost US political liberalism. George Grosz’s preference for jazz may have been fueled, among other things, by this liberal attitude. In his lithograph “Jazzband” (1928) she finds her pictorial equivalent in a softly curved, detached stroke of the pen.

The enthusiastic swing dancer Otto Dix commemorated jazz with the motif of a jazz band and jazz dancers in the middle part of the “big city” triptych. And Mondrian, another avid jazz dancer, saw in the “Destruction of the Melody” in Boogie Woogie a musical parallel to his own “destruction of the natural phenomenon”. While Max Beckmann made the saxophone the hero of a still life and portrayed himself with the instrument.

After the Second World War, jazz and abstraction became the paradigmatic art expressions of the free West. In the propagandistic mandate of the American government, jazz bands have now campaigned for foreign affairs for democracy. For Jackson Pollock, jazz, along with Abstract Expressionism, was the only original art form that the United States had produced. And with Norman Lewis, the affinity of jazz and abstraction to the incomprehensible “Jazz Musicians” (1946) was documented in oil. As with Mondrian, the essence of jazz and geometric abstraction was revealed to artists such as Frank Stella, Swiss Verena Loewensberg and Blinky Palermo.

The free jazz of the sixties found in Walter Stöhrer an early lover and in the liberated brushstroke of his (near) abstractions an artistic equivalent. In contrast, Karel Appel expressively portrayed the jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie as Feuerkopf, while James Rosenquist portrayed guitarist Bo Diddley in a wonderfully soft Pop Art style. In 2009, Konrad Klapheck created a black jazz saxophonist in the pictorial language of his magical realism. And his admiration for jazz greats such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane expressed Albert Oehlen in a brilliant series of ink drawings.

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