All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Jazz Art

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...


Drawing Jazz

Keith Henry Brown By

Sign in to view read count
A twist on the old cliché, "Those who can't play—draw,"—that's my personal point of view. I've been a jazz nut since as long as I can remember, and as soon as I could push a pencil—even though I could barely bang out a simple tune on a piano—I was sketching some of my favorite players, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington.

In 2000, after beginning a career as a graphic designer, I was awarded the position of design director at Jazz At Lincoln Center, hired by Wynton Marsalis himself. After a year or two working there I could see the jazz community was relatively small, so I got to know various musicians who came through its doors as performers or supporters. I worked with a good friend of mine there who eventually became manager of the superb jazz bassist Christian McBride.

One Summer, Christian was scheduled to perform at the famous New York spot Village Vanguard and Lorraine Gordon, the owner of the club, wanted Christian to assemble some musicians because she preferred McBride's acoustic music to the electronic sounds he was currently exploring.

So Christian put together an awesome band—saxophonist Steve Wilson, vibraphonist Warren Wolf and drummer Carl Allen—who were later dubbed Inside Straight. Christian's label Mack Avenue Records wanted to release an album quickly, based on the success and acclaim the new music was getting, but they had no current photos so someone had the bright idea of having an artist draw the band. And so my buddy from JALC invited me to sketch the boys rehearsing. Those drawings, inspired by the great jazz cover illustrator David Stone Martin, who designed and drew dozens of wonderful jazz covers in the 30's, 40's and 50's, became the basis for the album art of my first disc & LP cover, Kind Of Brown. Christian liked the result, so I also became the illustrator of two more subsequent releases—The Good Feeling and People Music.

Working with Christian is a real pleasure. It usually starts with a phone call— "Brother Brown, guess we're gonna be working together again..." and he'll give me an idea of what he's thinking about for the cover, and I'll send him sketches, as well as to Mack Avenue's creative director Randall Kennedy. While Christian and band are touring, I'll receive emails with changes or approvals.

Our last collaboration, People, was our first truly conceptual collaboration. The first two covers were portraits of the musicians in performance, while People was a personal statement. It came out of Christian's feeling about the general makeup of the audience he often saw when he looked out from the stage every night. He explained that over the years he's often seen the same sort of fans over and over again in clubs and concert halls. He believed that jazz has a stigma—it's old, it's anti- melodic, and it's boring. But anyone who's been to a Christian McBride show knows his music is the opposite of those things. It's a real funky good time (McBride's been known to throw in a James Brown jam or two in his shows), as well as being musically adventurous—but in a way that most folks can get into it.

Christian's idea for the cover was to portray a typical line-up of fans at the front entrance of a jazz club featuring folks of all different races, ages and backgrounds happily awaiting a typically groovy Inside Straight gig. For this job, because we were on a very tight deadline, I sketched very quickly. I drew each character separately, scanned them into the computer, and created different layers for each in Photoshop—along with the background, so each individual would be separate as well every element, so I could move them around in the illustration so, for example, I could remove or add a figure if Christian or Randall wanted me to, without having to redraw or erase over and over again.

It ended up being a good game plan, as there were many opinions on the specifics of each character, down to how they would stand and what they were wearing, even the breed of the dog sitting on the corner!

This eventually led my latest assignment: to illustrate the cover art for Duets, A beautifully recorded collaboration between the brilliant guitarists Kevin Eubanks and Stanley Jordan. Duets presented a new challenge: how to suggest the lovely music on disc without showing the artists themselves, who declined to be depicted visually anywhere on the package.

After a productive phone call with Randall, I set about making sketches and came up with the idea of two lone guitars on their stands. The idea suggested also the sound of the recording, which is clean and sparse, and also that it's a musician's record and about the straight-ahead beauty of the playing.


comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Ziga Koritnik and The Eye Jazz Art
Ziga Koritnik and The Eye
by John Kelman
Published: April 3, 2015
Read Drawing Jazz Jazz Art
Drawing Jazz
by Keith Henry Brown
Published: March 12, 2015
Read We Want Miles: A Series of Reinventions Jazz Art
We Want Miles: A Series of Reinventions
by Greg Masters
Published: June 23, 2010
Read Impressions: The Story of a Collection by Alastair Graham Jazz Art
Impressions: The Story of a Collection by Alastair Graham
by Alastair Graham
Published: June 16, 2008
Read John Taylor's Jazz Caricatures: Louie Bellson Jazz Art
John Taylor's Jazz Caricatures: Louie Bellson
by John Taylor
Published: February 17, 2008
Read John Taylor's Jazz Caricatures: Cannonball Adderley Jazz Art
John Taylor's Jazz Caricatures: Cannonball Adderley
by John Taylor
Published: February 16, 2008
Read "Mindi Abair at The Empress Theatre" Live Reviews Mindi Abair at The Empress Theatre
by Walter Atkins
Published: December 8, 2017
Read "Novara Jazz 2018" In Pictures Novara Jazz 2018
by Luciano Rossetti
Published: August 18, 2018
Read "Radian at the 2018 Torino Jazz Festival" In Pictures Radian at the 2018 Torino Jazz Festival
by Antonio Baiano
Published: April 27, 2018
Read "Hiromi and Edmar Castaneda at Blue Note Milano" In Pictures Hiromi and Edmar Castaneda at Blue Note Milano
by Carlo Mogavero
Published: October 20, 2017
Read "The Holy Trinity of Soul: Three Craft Reissues" The Vinyl Post The Holy Trinity of Soul: Three Craft Reissues
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: May 13, 2018
Read "Clean Feed 2018" Multiple Reviews Clean Feed 2018
by Mark Corroto
Published: May 9, 2018