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Meet Jacob Cartwright

Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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Prior to living in NYC I’d been mail ordering music from Downtown Music Gallery for many years, so it was one of those moments that seemed almost like the end of a long journey when I was then able to cross their threshold in person. —Jacob Cartwright
Our August Super Fan is a visual artist with a special affinity for improvisational music, which has spilled over into his jazz-themed painting series. In jazz, as in art, Jacob Cartwright values the past while embracing the forward momentum of the new. Plus he's really "down with the jazz cats"—read on to see what we mean! To see more of Jacob's artwork, visit his website.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm a visual artist, working primarily in painting. I grew up in Illinois, and moved to Kansas City, MO in 1996 to study painting at the Kansas City Art Institute. I left Kansas City for Portland, OR in 2004, and I've been based in the New York City area since I moved to Brooklyn eight years ago. For the last couple of years I've been living across the Hudson in Union City, NJ. During the week I work at Laurence Miller Gallery, a fine art photography gallery in Manhattan, and my painting studio is in Long Island City, Queens.

This year I became a member of American Abstract Artists, a New York City based group that, since its founding in 1936, has been a forum for the exhibition and advancement of abstract art. Early members of the organization included Josef Albers and Piet Mondrian; the current membership is a list of many of the very best contemporary practitioners, a group that I'm honored and humbled to be part of.

I also maintain an Instagram for my paintings and other people's work that I see around town at @jacobcartwrightpaintings.

What's your earliest memory of music?
My first memories of music all revolve around my dad's record collection. Those earliest memories are actually somewhat adversarial in that I was frequently admonished to tread lightly around the turntable lest I skip the record. My parents were big Grateful Dead fans; they met at a Dead concert in '69, and saw them together every year after that, so I'm sure the Dead were the first group I was really aware of. Strangely, it was only in recent years that it really struck me that my love for improvisation in music must be rooted in that early exposure to their music.

How old were you when you got your first record?
I was seven years old when I got my first record, a vinyl copy of the Ghostbusters movie soundtrack. I was crazy about that movie and the Ray Parker Jr. theme song, so my parents gifted me the record. It was the only record I owned for a long time and I played it like crazy so I can only imagine my parents were relieved when my musical interests eventually drifted elsewhere.

Was there one album or experience that was your doorway to jazz?
Chicago, three hours east of my hometown, was my formative reference point for the arts. The music coming out of Chicago was like a beacon to me. There was a lot of experimentation across genres there in the mid-90s; "post rock" players were playing with people from the jazz scene with roots in the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). Those bands turned me on to the recordings that opened up the world of jazz for me.

A particular revelation were the early recordings on Delmark and Thrill Jockey by the Chicago Underground group, a revolving cast of musicians that centered around Rob Mazurek, Chad Taylor and, often, Jeff Parker. I learned that Rob's decision to play a pocket trumpet was inspired by Don Cherry, which of course lead me to the music of free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman. I was hooked on the music from there.

What was the first concert you ever attended?
The first show I went to see was Nirvana in 1994 when I was sixteen. A musician friend of mine, Seth Knappen, picked me up, and it was sort of a double date with us and our girlfriends. During Mudhoney's opening set a girl in the audience somehow dumped an entire beer on my head, but I barely even cared, the whole show was so frenzied, and I was beyond excited to be there.

What is it about live music that makes it so special for you?
That's changed as I've gotten older. When I first started going to shows there was definitely a transportive intensity I was chasing. When I was still under-age I was going to friends shows and often helping out as a "roadie" with older musicians so I could get into clubs. That's when I got my first taste of music as part of an artistic network of peers, and I enjoyed seeing them play the same material over time and develop it. Seeing Tortoise in Chicago in 1996 was a turning point. I doubt I'd ever seen anyone play a mallet instrument before, and there's a group playing both a vibraphone and a marimba onstage. Of course as my interests drifted to jazz from there, the immediacy and spontaneity of the music became key.

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