A new exhibit at the Black History Museum visualizes the creativity of jazz. 

The Marriage of Jazz and Art

As you climb the stairs of the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia in Jackson Ward, the sometimes soft, sometimes bold sounds of jazz drifting from the speakers create an appetite for understanding the relationship between the art that you hear and the art that you're about to see.

"Collected Sound: the Music of Jazz in Art," the museum's current exhibition, explores the artistic technique that is shared between many jazz musicians and visual artists.

"I am a fan of jazz and art," says Charles Bethea, curator of the museum. "Many artists create with jazz in the background - the concept of combining the two is not new."

The exhibit — sponsored by J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College, First Union Securities and the Richmond Jazz Society — includes 34 drawings, paintings, sculptures and photos by 22 local, regional and international artists. The works are from several collections including Fine Art Images, the Luis Ross Gallery, the Hampton University Museum, and the private collections of individuals and artists, including Bethea himself.

"Collaborations," an acrylic painting by Jerry and Terry Lynn is the first piece to greet you as you enter the exhibit space. The use of soft pastels offset by bold black and white lines in the abstract work demonstrates the powerful and improvisational nature of jazz.

"I think it is always interesting to explore where two or more artistic media overlap or intersect," says Ashley Kistler, curator of the Hand Workshop Art Center. "It was nice to see art by William Johnson." Johnson's works, "Jitterbugs III" and "Street Musicians," are silkscreen pieces portraying common people enjoying and creating jazz.

Kistler is also intrigued by several pen-and-ink drawings by jazz legend Miles Davis. All "Untitled," the works were created between 1986 and 1987 as part of his physical therapy after a stroke.

B.J. Brown, executive director of the Richmond Jazz Society, says the exhibit is well-rounded, and expresses many different elements of jazz.

"As a jazz aficionado, if I can call myself that, seeing original works by Miles Davis had a lot of meaning to me," Brown says. "I was happy to see works by national and international artists, and the works of our local and regional artists as well. We have so many talented people here," Brown says.

Derrick Clayborne, a Richmond artist, has his work "Jam Session" included as part of the exhibit. He uses mixed media — oil, pastel, acrylic and fabric — to create a work portraying the joyful side of jazz. "Jazz artists push the envelope and most visual artists are trying to do the same," Clayborne says. "We try to share art that hasn't been shared before in a different and creative kind of way."

Two photos attempt to do just that by offering perspectives on the future and the past of jazz. "Boy Band," by Theodore S. Holmes, depicts African-American males doing what all jazz greats did in the beginning — playing for anybody who is listening. The other picture, titled "Dizzy Gillespie," captures the jazz great playing his trumpet with those famous expanded cheeks.

Dennis Winston's "Bee Bop King" is an interpretive drawing of the horn player. "My inspiration came from a time when I was working on jazz art and I met Dizzy Gillespie," Winston says. "I wanted to capture him at his best; try and capture a mood. I used black and white to do it."

A Richmond City Schools teacher for 20 years, Winston says expression, creativity and interpretation go hand in hand. "The creative process is the primary link [between jazz and visual art]," he says. "Many of these pieces are trying to express a feeling to get folks to respond."

Those feelings, to some degree, are created in every piece, from canvas to sculpture. "Saxman," a bronze sculpture by Ed Dwight, is a depiction of what jazz veterans might refer to as a "Cool Cat." With saxophone in hand, the saxman dons a gold shirt. His eyes, covered by sunshades, appear to be focused on something in the distance. A wooden sculpture titled "Playing Bass" is Joseph Derr's wood and acrylic interpretation of a stand-up bass player, smoking a cigarette and plucking the strings. The figure is carved in a bold, block form, but the color and deliberate brush strokes enhance the elegance of the piece.

The exhibit has something for everyone, Brown says. "The exhibit is more universal than just art and music," he says. "It is music, art, color, spirituality, and it transcends the world of jazz. It's a way to touch all people." S


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