Champion: An Opera in Jazz

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Terence Blanchard’s ‘Champion: An Opera in Jazz’

A groundbreaking work combining the disciplines of opera and jazz,Terence Blanchard’s Champion: An Opera in Jazz tells the real-life story of world champion boxer Emile Griffith, a man haunted by memories of his past who struggled to reconcile his sexuality in a hyper-macho world. Produced by SFJAZZ in conjunction with San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle,Champion is a visually stunning production features elaborate staging and video elements with a jazz trio, orchestra and chorus, bringing out the full glory of Blanchard’s soulful score as it illuminates a tragic story that remains acutely relevant today. Tormented by the death of opponent Benny Paret following their 1962 bout for the welterweight title, Griffith spent his life questioning himself and a society that would accept his accidental killing of a fellow athlete, but not his sexuality. The opera features a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Michael Cristofer and features renowned bass Arthur Woodley reprising his role as the title character. Far more than one of jazz’s most prodigious trumpeters,  Blanchard has carved out a brilliant career as an A-list composer. He premiered Champion at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in June 2013, and has substantially re-worked the piece for this exclusive string of performances on the Miner Auditorium stage, the first since the premiere. (Excerpt taken from a piece written for the SFJSZZ Center.)

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The Press takes notes,  while the fight goes on.

 

I kill a man and most people understand and forgive me. However, I love a man, and to so many people this is an unforgivable sin”. —Emile Griffith

Placing Myself Under House Arrest and Reading Michael Ondaatje

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Wynton at the Fairmont by Carla Saunders

Probably no one will notice that I’ve been put under house arrest. I’m not Lindsay Lohan or Aung San Suu Kyi. All I want to do is go to the studio and paint, hang out somewhere and draw or take some photographs, even try writing a poem. My studio is neater than my room at home. There are three paintings at the studio waiting for me to complete. But, here at home there are bills to be paid, forms to be filled, magazines to be read or to be thrown away and piles of papers, books and ‘stuff’  waiting to be put someplace. We’ve moved a bookcase into my room.  It’s empty. Books are in bags, piled on the floor. Papers are stacked in the bathtub. There is a tower of art that is about to topple.  A soft white rabbit ready to pop out of a soft black top hat, sits by my computer.   Legacy by Linda Spence is open on my desk.

Michael Ondaatje’s book,  Coming Through Slaughter is on top of a pile of books somewhere in this room.  Ondaatje wrote about  Buddy Bolden  a New Orleans cornet player in the early 1900’s. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6fezzxFjcf This book is my all time favorite. It’s as if you are reading a poem, or going in and out of jazz improvisation or wandering through an abstract painting. Today and until I finish this room, time on all technical devices shall be limited (after I finish this post.)  Permission is granted to go out to buy food or get some exercise. Maybe I’ll listen to some jazz while I get this place organized.

Listening to Miles or Kind of Blue

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‘Listening to Miles’    6. 12. 2013       64″ x 46″    Atelier Interactive Acrylic on canvas

‘Listening to Miles’    Day #5

Ouch !  I need a professional photographer, John Janca,  to record my paintings. I have lots of parallax distortion, here.  The color and focus definitely could be better. Cadmium red and cadmium orange are used here. My hands are taking a beating from using the computer too much. Leaving the computer at home, I’m heading to Oregon to paint with a group of artists for a week. By settling myself in the middle of the woods I plan to take chances, paint what is unfamiliar to me, try new colors, new shapes, new whatever – just throw away the familiar for awhile and see what happens. If you keep doing the same thing, you are going to stay in the same place. Right? We will see if I can do it.

This painting came very fast – 5 days.  I was listening to Miles Davis in the studio. My idea was to paint about the sound of his  music.

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Day #1 – What a fun day this was!  The painting stayed very loose, strong and lots of color.

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Day #2 – At some time the painting takes over and I let the painting take me in a new direction. Fantasy animal-like shapes started to appear, a couple of  figures popped up, a strange shape with blue lines punctuated the painting.

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Day 3# – Detail showing brush strokes.  I changed the Stripe to green.

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Day #4  Today I took out the stripes. They were distracting. My eye went to them first and that wasn’t what I wanted to emphasize. Adding black on the lower left hand corner seemed to be right. I strengthened my shapes. Now I see a four legged animal in there.

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Definitely some guy is tapping his foot over there on the left.  I was listening to a lot of his music when I painted this. Interesting, there are no cool blues  in this painting.

A few months ago I did go see a small exhibit of artwork by Miles Davis in Napa Valley. His trumpet was displayed. So was one of his jackets and a wonderfully soft leather bag. It was a thrill to be so close to part of him. He was an extraordinary jazz musician.

Painting the Sound of Jazz – Brad Mehldau – San Francisco

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Painting the sounds created by Brad Mehldau April 25 2013

Last night I went to a solo concert by Brad Mehldau, a young pianist in jazz. I decided to leave my crazy mind, my business mind and my mind that is crammed with issues from ‘the other world’ and go back to my world – art. I had planned to bring a small moleskine notebook and a tiny box of watercolors. But Mehldau is big, bigger than a little moleskine notebook so I bought a larger book, one that could still fit into my purse. I bought some neocolor watercolors, soluble caron d’ache crayons. (I could draw now, later add water to them if I wanted.)  I had an aisle seat at the SFJAZZ Center. I wouldn’t distract anyone if I sketched during the performance.

How was going to paint sound? The concert started  – I listened – tentatively, I started to sketch what I was hearing. Interpreting the concert in a whole new way, I made one drawing after another listening to the notes build and fall, soften and sprinkle. It was like being on drugs. I was full of music. One time I came out of that world and looked at Mehldau sitting there, playing the piano, my mind drawing what I saw. How different. How much richer my experience of drawing and listening had become.

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Sketch made at Yoshi’s in 2011

At the beginning of the concert I was just using crayons, but some drinking water was by my feet. Rubbing a little of water on my paper in the dark, I put crayon to paper.. Oh how nice!  What neat effects! Needless to say I kept going, pouring more water on the paper, hunting for a tissue to mop up my drawing and my lap!

Before going to bed I couldn’t wait. I looked at my drawings and worked on them a little knowing his music was still fresh in my head. Waking up this morning thinking about the sketches I started planning a big abstract painting about sound. I remember Ralph DuCasse, my mentor, saying, when you are into your painting the first thought in your head when you wake up is about your painting. You want to go see what you did the night before. Leigh Hyams would have said the same thing. She was there on my shoulder when I was drawing. I think the following painting was made while I listened to ‘Holland.’  Do any of the sketches remind you of a particular piece  Mehldau plays? Click on images to see details of the drawings.

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A Porkpie Fedora,Wingtips and a Sax Thrown In – San Francisco

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The guy sitting over there on the right. His foot kept bobbing up and down, like it just kept it’s own rhythm with music that filled the room. It was just an ol’ dark shoe with a pointed toe, not new.

About that foot, that shoe. It was more than a dark ol’ shoe. It was full of color and sound, soul.  It didn’t care who was watching.porkpie-fedora-2905

Been thinking about the red hat that came out on stage. I don’t care if you all are in suits and ties and no suits and no ties

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I’m red

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I’m big and brassy. I shine. My sound comes from deep within.

Three acrylic paintings size from top on down 14″ x 11″, 18″ x 16″, 14″ x 11″

These paintings were painted January 2013 after hearing McCoy Tyner, Bobby Hutcherson, Joshua Redman and Regina Carter perform with The SFJazz Collective perform at the new San Francisco Jazz Center.

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Got Jazz? The San Francisco Jazz Center

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The SFJAZZ Collective

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The San Francisco Center For Jazz  – Oh what a treat to be in the new glass and concrete building created just for jazz!  The new space designed by architect Mark Cavagnero is the first structure in the country designed visually and acoustically  for jazz. The space feels intimate like a club but the acoustics are perfect. Among the performers were McCoy Tyner , Bobby Hutcherson and Mary Stallings. Saxophonist Joshua Redman played in the second set.

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Regina Carter played “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder. I jotted down some words while drawing and listening to this piece.

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Sparkles and Stars

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Crickets

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We were all caught up in the spell of the beautiful new building, the music, and the performers. The night was a special one, but then, after playing together, McCoy Tyner and Bobby Hutcherson started talking to each other about how they had played together off and on for about 50 years.  One would say, I’d forget and you would pick me up then the other one would say I’d forget and you would pick me up – lots of laugher and reminiscing  Earlier in the evening, problems of the world had come up like race, politics and hatred. These two guys said, hey, let’s just be happy! With that said, they gave each other big hugs while they received a standing ovation.

Sketching in the Dark while Listening to Branford Marsalis – Grace Cathedral

I felt like I was in Westminster Abbey in London when I was looking around the small apse of the cathedral where we were sitting. The dark wood carved walls were the backdrop for the men and women I was drawing. The Cathedral was full. Branford Marsalis,  walked out,  said a few words in that wonderful voice of his and the lights dimmed. Except for applause the audience was absolutely still and quiet while they listened to the sounds of his saxophone fill the space around them.

Grace Cathedral is the third largest Gothic cathedral in the country.  Besides magnificent stained glass windows, there are copies of the  famous Ghiberti Gates of Paradise, priceless icons and frescoe-style murals depicting California’s colorful history. There are two Labyrinths, one inside and one outside.  Keith Haring AIDS Chapel altarpiece is to the right after you enter the Cathedral. Click on images to  enlarge.