Wednesday, April 13, 2016


I’m watching a wonderful Ken Burns series on Public Television called “Jazz”.  The similarities between music and art are striking and worth thinking about.

Jazz is a combination of many musical styles. It’s distinctive sound ranges from smooth, classic jazz and swing all the way to extreme jazz. The jazz musician takes an ordinary melody and transforms it into a new sound. Some musicians push it even further until the music resembles an abstract painting. It is music that we can feel, as well as hear. Music with a soul. In painting, a good artist takes an ordinary scene and shows us more. I’ve heard it referred to as the “Wow Factor”.

The elements of jazz, like a painting style, are difficult to define. One key element is Improvisation, which is a very personal response to the music. Improvisation is a part of our everyday life, our inner being, influencing how we live, how we dress and speak, what we do and how we act. And it is constantly changing and evolving. The dictionary defines Improvisation as - “Creativity; spontaneous or unplanned changes; the ability to create something personal; a unique process of expression”.

In the movie, “The Glenn Miller Story,” Miller (played by Jimmie Stewart) was an unsuccessful, struggling bandleader. Out of desperation, he came up with the idea to modify the reed section of his band and alter the pitch. Success! His distinctive new sound was born. He said,” A band ought to have a sound all its own. It ought to have personality.”

The traits these successful musicians all had in common were hard work, dedication, a love of music and a determination to find their own voice. We all start as beginners producing the technically correct but stiff painting or music. Somewhere along the line, our inner muse begins to take over and we begin to feel the freedom of self-expression developing. Our paintings begin to have “personality and a sound all its own” -  and how far we take it is up to us. 

As Duke Ellington said, “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.”

Can you put the swing into your paintings?

Happy painting,

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