Blog: MCA DNA

Painting Music: Summer Jazz Picks

By Lewis Achenbach

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I don’t climb mountains or jump out of airplanes. Instead, I get to kibitz with jazz luminaries. I get to witness jazz history unfold and document the evidence of cultural freedom and inclusion in visual form.

On May 24, 2017, I found myself on a bus chatting with Greg Ward, Norman Palm, Ben LaMarGay, and Junius Paul as we made our way from Berlin to Poznan, Poland, for the 12th Made in Chicago Festival, where I was the resident visual artist. This creative journey—filled with workshops, improvisational painting at a concert headlined by Dee Alexander and Grazyna Auguscik, and a solo exhibition at Galleria Oko Ucho—was one of my great adventures. Weaving in about and among the elite of the international jazz scene, continues to be a surreal and unique honor.

Using my formative memories of Made in Chicago, here are my top choices for planning your Tuesdays on the Terrace/Chicago jazz experience. Watch for me as I’ll be documenting this experience by drawing and painting the music on the terrace.

June 13: Caroline Davis Quartet

Caroline Davis at Tuesdays on the Terrace

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The MCA’s Tuesdays on the Terrace opened with the confident Caroline Davis Quartet. Caroline plays with a kindness and power that I really appreciate. In Poland, Caroline and Juli Wood brought forth the We ReInsist: Freedom Now Band with Maggie Brown breathing life around Oscar Brown & Max Roach’s We Insist! Freedom Now Suite. This wasn’t a cover of the record. This was another chapter in a struggle. The sublime takeaway was the sharing in storytelling and emotion. I had to stop drawing at one point, feeling moved by Maggie’s honest and open portrayal.

You can catch her on July 20 at the Emporium with Maitri.

 

June 27: Maggie Brown

Maggie Brown and Junius Paul at Tuesdays on the Terrace

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Maggie is a living, breathing songbook of positivity and light. She brings a showperson’s energy to every event, fostering smiles across the audience’s faces.

Riding in a taxi in Poznan, we talked about her father (Oscar Brown Jr.) and how his career choices shaped his enduring legacy. Fiscal sacrifices and a steadfast hold on artistic integrity shaped a man who taught his daughters to be correct and true in their craft. Maggie and her sister Africa are brilliant in their focus of bringing their father’s writings and music to the people. And they are adding a full chapter to the songbook themselves. I applaud Maggie’s theater endeavors with young folks. She is doing important work here in Chicago.

Maggie was generous enough to join both of the XII Made In Chicago workshops on “painting music” that I led in Poznan. At the Uniwersytet Artystyczny, I showed students a work in progress of David Weathersby’s Jazz Occurrence: ACT I documentary (on my continuing sonic arts/visual arts project). Maggie sung free form from the stage as a skilled student quartet played below; and students painted and experimented with me, as we captured the sound, the vibe, and the frequency in the atrium. No translation necessary yet again. Even my abstract concepts of a space filled with physical sound were implemented with skilled curiosity.

See Maggie and her sister at Bantu Fest on July 29.

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Painting music in Poznan
 

August 1: Dee Alexander

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If you get the chance to hear her up close and live, take it. I met Miss Dee for the first time, backstage at the Scena na Piętrze – Estrada Poznańska sitting next to another legend, Ari Brown. She was gracious, cool, glamorous, and subtly divine. Her duet with the equally radiant Grazyna Auguscik at the Centrum Kultury ZAMEK w Poznaniu was unforgettable. Unrecorded, attended by the President of Poznan, and now deeply ingrained in my memory of experience, the tough subject (in the words of Chicago pianist Miguel de la Cerna) of freedom in this modern world was sung to light to a receptive audience.

You can hear her on 90.9 fm WDCB on Sundays 8–10 pm. She has wonderful energy.

 

September 12: Ari Brown

Art Brown during the Made in Chicago festival

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I just love this man’s sound strength which is self-assured and approachable (his music and person). He’s a great man. He was gracious enough to play for my first Jazz Occurrence back in 2014 at the Aurora Public Art Commission. For the festival, Ari taught workshops and performed with the next generation of Polish musicians at Plac Kolegiacki. I was late in arriving to the concert, got lost, then found my way following the unmistakable sound of his horn carried through the Poznan streets.

 

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As artists in an improvisational environment, we create and explore pockets or bubbles of time and space that are there with the intended purpose to be filled with the magic that is unique to those environments. And hopefully, the audience get to groove on some of that. When you see a burst of smile on a player’s face at a concert, sometimes it means that the pocket is being utilized and he or she just figured something out (or a musician just made a musical joke only a few can hear). Either way, it’s a sense of building and getting better at what you are doing.

I learn from Caroline, Maggie, Dee, and Ari. By example, their works in the moment guide my brushes and charcoals. Their sound directs my movements. Life is a blank canvas; I let the music tell me what to do. And the music makes my canvas vibrant and unashamedly multicolored.

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Funding

Thank you to the funders and organizers of the Made in Chicago festival, especially Lauren Deutsch and the Jazz Institute (Chicago) and Estrada Poznańska and Zofia and Zuza Juszczak (Poznan). This is a labor of love for these women and the institutions they represent. Much like the continuing Tuesdays on the Terrace series, they find funding, pay the artists, and do the culturally responsible thing: bring art to the public.