Portraits of America: A Jazz Story


News | Jun, 3rd 2019

On June 7-8, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis closes the 2018-19 season with Portraits of America: A Jazz Story. For this season finale, orchestra members selected a work of art from the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, as inspiration for a new composition. We asked the JLCO to share which piece they chose and why.  

Chris Crenshaw
"Black Balloon" by Gene Davis

I thought “Black Balloon” would stand out as a piece that has so much intrigue that people would want to find out if there is a story or concept behind it. The detail and rhythm of it speaks of improvisation and spontaneity.

Gene Davis, Black Balloon, 1964, acrylic on canvas, 93 1/2 x 171 1/2 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2010.36.

Paul Nedzela
"The Tree" by Helen Lundeberg, 1938, oil on board, 30 1/2 × 24 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2013.46. 

I've always been fascinated with the Buddhist concept of duality and non-duality, and "The Tree" captures the paradoxical relationship between opposites beautifully. When I was a kid I used to draw only a few simple things, and one of those recurring images was a half-lush, half-dead tree, so the connection was just too strong to ignore.

Vincent Gardner
"Trinity" by Adolph Gottlieb, 1962, oil on canvas, 80 x 185 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2011.23.

The work "Trinity", which, inspired my composition “One Understands”, expressed clear objectives to me upon my first viewing of it. It stated to me that all perspectives on the divine lead to one place of understanding regardless of what the religion may be named or what language is spoken. I was inspired to write a piece that encompasses the sounds of many different religious and musical perspectives working together in one groove, which we all should strive for in life.

Kenny Rampton
"Landscape with Indian" by Thomas Cole

I chose Thomas Cole’s "Landscape with Indian" because it reminds me of a place up around the Woodstock area where I like to go hiking. The funny thing that I discovered later is that the artist, Thomas Cole, actually lived in that area in the 1800s, and many of his paintings were inspired by the mountains around Woodstock, New York. So I may have actually hiked through the very scene that he painted over 160 years ago. The other element that drew me to the painting is the Native American, who is the centerpiece of it. I’ve studied Native American philosophy and spiritualism in-depth and hold those beliefs very close to my heart. 

Thomas Cole, Landscape with Indian, ca. 1826, oil on panel, 18 x 14 3/4 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2006.53. Photography by Edward C. Robison III.

Sherman Irby
"Rough, Ain’t It" by Grace Hartigan

When I first saw Hartigan’s "Rough, Ain’t It", I immediately saw the saxophone with “Rough, Ain’t” written in the bell. I then visualized Grace capturing a jam session in her Lower East Side neighborhood, playing the popular music of that time—bebop—and that inspired me to compose “A Hot Jam on Grand”. 

Grace Hartigan, Rough, Ain't It, 1949, oil and mixed media on canvas, 40 x 54 in. Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas. Photography by Steven Watson.

Carlos Henriquez 
"Two Women" by George Wesley Bellows

Bellows' piece helped me understand the notion that beauty is life. By depicting two women of different ages, one clothed and the other naked, Bellows captures the idea that their beauty lies in the fact that they both can produce and birth life.

George Wesley Bellows, Two Women, 1924, oil on canvas, 59 1/4 × 65 1/2 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2014.25. Photography by Edward C. Robison III.

Walter Blanding
"Sacrifice" by Romare Bearden, 1941, gouache and casein on paper, 31 1/4 x 47 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2007.13.

The first thing that attracted me to Bearden’s "Sacrifice" was the combination of colors, bodies, and faces. It reminded me of something almost Caribbean. After some biographical research and spending more time with his piece, I also found myself struck with a sensation of profound tragedy. The music written for this piece is a combination of this tragedy and beauty, combined with an imaginative interpretation of what stories and experiences may have influenced Bearden to create this masterpiece.

Elliot Mason 
"Summer Day" by Frank Weston Benson

The atmosphere, play on lighting, and feeling radiating from the paint were the first things that captured and drew me into Frank Weston Benson’s "Summer Day". As I embraced these emotions, I became deeply inspired to create music that would intimately portray the movement of the visual. 

 Frank Weston Benson, Summer Day, 1911, oil on canvas, 36 1/8 × 32 1/8 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2005.13. Photography by Dwight Primiano.

Ted Nash 
"Au Café (Synchromy)" by Stanton Macdonald-Wright

I was particularly drawn to "Au Café (Synchromy)" both because of the similarities and differences to the cubist movement that began a few years before (I’m a big Picasso fan). What Stanton Macdonald-Wright does for me with this hauntingly beautiful painting is to draw my attention to a place in the center that seduces my emotions. I get lost in it—disappear into the shapes and textures (but feel safe there). 

 Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Au Café (Synchromy), 1918, oil on canvas, 50 x 28 in. Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas. Photography by Dwight Primiano.

Join us for Portraits of America: A Jazz Story June 7-8 in Rose Theater, or watch the Livestream.


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