At some point in the mid-1960s, Elaine, who had always been fond of jazz, made a series of drawings of Ornette Coleman (born 1930) with his saxophone. The album Free Jazz (1961) by the Ornette Coleman Double Quartet—with its lengthy track and freewheeling, atonal, and discordant sound—changed the shape of jazz.
Through erasure, stumping, and improvisational graphite lines, Elaine created drawings that capture Coleman’s likeness while giving a visual sense of jazz’s rhythm and movement. She made at least three likenesses: this improvisational sketch, a drawing focused entirely on Coleman’s disembodied head (displayed to the right), and a more finished image that includes Coleman’s hands and his saxophone (in a private collection).
En algún momento de mediados de los sesenta, Elaine, eterna aficionada del jazz, hizo una serie de dibujos de Ornette Coleman (nacido en 1930) con su saxofón. El álbum Free Jazz (1961) del Ornette Coleman Double Quartet, con sus largas pistas y su sonido libre, atonal y discordante, cambió el rumbo del jazz.
Valiéndose de borraduras, difuminados y líneas improvisadas en grafito, Elaine creó dibujos que captan la imagen de Coleman y transmiten una sensación visual del ritmo y el movimiento del jazz. Hizo por lo menos tres retratos: este boceto improvisado, un dibujo de la cabeza sin cuerpo de Coleman (mostrado a la derecha) y una imagen más terminada que incluye las manos y el saxofón (ahora en una colección privada).
Ben Shahn's 1956 drawing is one of a series commissioned by Edward R. Murrow and CBS producer Fred Friendly for a documentary on the legendary trumpeter, singer, and bandleader Louis Armstrong. Shahn had recently represented the United States at the Venice Biennale and been asked to give a prestigious series of lectures at Harvard. Armstrong was hitting even greater peaks of international renown. Performing in Europe in 1956, Armstrong and his band were sent by CBS on a historic side trip to Africa. In May Armstrong received worldwide attention performing for a huge crowd in Accra, Ghana. The African visit was an exhilarating experience for Armstrong, who felt especially connected to the Ghanaian people. Murrow's documentary was first edited for a television show and then released by United Artists as the documentary film Satchmo the Great (1957).
Al Hirschfeld’s drawing of Earl “Fatha” Hines is a variant of the one published on the cover of Stereo Review in February 1980, when the jazz pianist was awarded the magazine’s annual Certificate of Merit for outstanding contributions to the quality of American musical life. Stanley Dance, credited with reviving Hines’s career in 1964, noted in his accompanying article that “for more than fifty years Hines has been famous for the independence of his two hands.” Jazz commentators marveled at Hines’s ability to establish a separate rhythm and melody with his left hand rather than just keeping the beat. On one occasion, while listening to a playback, Hines himself commented that “the left hand got away from the right.” Through the double-imaging of the hands and the long flexible fingers, Hirschfeld, a jazz aficionado himself, conveys independence, movement, and speed.
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; purchase partially supported through the generosity of the Abraham and Virginia Weiss Charitable Trust, Amy and Marc Meadows; and Jewell Robinson
Born Chester, Pennsylvania
African American artist Beauford Delaney first gained a reputation in New York City in the 1930s with distinctive pastel portraits like this image of blues singer and actress Ethel Waters. New York, Delaney claimed, “had a rhythm as distinct as the beating of a human heart. . . . I paint people, . . .and in their faces I hope to discover that odd, mysterious rhythm.” The artist’s passion for jazz and blues took him frequently to the nightclubs of Harlem and Greenwich Village, where he began making portraits of the musicians he met, including Waters, W. C. Handy, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong. Waters, who already had a busy recording, touring, and Broadway career, was a particular favorite. After hearing one performance, Delaney wrote that she made him “proud to be a Negro.” He and his protégé, James Baldwin, would often listen to, and sing along with, her music.
For both his musical virtuosity on alto saxophone and his compositions, Ornette Coleman is one of the major forces in American music in the late twentieth century. Like painter Jackson Pollock and writer Walt Whitman, who rejected traditional forms as too constrictive for human expression, Coleman broke with existing jazz diction, creating a raw sound that seemed to deliberately avoid the musical scale in favor of "playing in the cracks." In 1959, Coleman's quartet produced The Shape of Jazz to Come, a musical manifesto that was the aural equivalent of Pollock's abstract expressionism. Coleman disavowed the idea that "free jazz," as his music was called, was pure improvisation, maintaining that careful planning went into each composition. In the 1970s Coleman moved into jazz funk, using electrified instruments. He is still a prolific musician, and his album Sound Grammar won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2007.
Ella Fitzgerald entered a Harlem talent contest in the mid-1930s, intending to do a dance. On stage, however, her legs froze, and in desperation she launched into song. Her fallback alternative proved good enough to win the contest, and so began a singing career that would make Fitzgerald the "First Lady of Song." Blessed with a voice capable of seamlessly spanning three octaves, Fitzgerald soon perfected her remarkable gifts for vocal improvisation, known as "scat" singing. Her "songbook" recordings of American standards, made from 1956 to 1964, are the definitive tributes to Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, and others. Fitzgerald's respectful understanding of a composer's intentions made these songwriters some of her most ardent fans. "I never knew how good our songs were," lyricist Ira Gershwin once said, "until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them."