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“Jazz and the Black Aesthetic,” American Jazz Museum

“Jazz and the Black Aesthetic” showcases the visual work of members of the local Black Space Black Art (BSBA) collective but feels like jazz music. From acrylic paintings to 3-D works, the exhibit featured in the American Jazz Museum’s Changing Gallery is an interstellar interpretation of jazz music through visual media.

The work explores the arenas of women in jazz, historical subjugation and lynching, and the stories of local jazz artists.

Curator and BSBA founder Natasha Ria El-Scari said the American Jazz Museum’s executive director, Rashida Phillips, suggested the exhibit that explores jazz music through the artistic and cultural lenses of the BSBA artists. “This gave me the chance to teach a little about jazz to those who didn’t know as much about it,” El-Scari said. “And, of course, from a feminist standpoint, to pinpoint those women who are the mothers and lovers of jazz musicians. And also to pinpoint those women who are the jazz musicians themselves.”

The exhibit in the Changing Gallery is emotionally significant, but not sentimental. It feels like the Newport Jazz Festival of art exhibits, full of exchanges of varying degrees of permanence. “Charlie at Rest,” an acrylic painting by Warren Harvey, portrays Kansas City jazz artist Charlie Parker. The figure is rendered sitting and smoking a cigarette against a plane of fluid contours and shapes, producing a visual narrative that leads us to consider the inner life of the late jazz artist.

Adrianne Clayton’s painting “Esperanza Spalding” features a solid black female figure wearing a black and white afro and bright salmon skirt. The figure is depicted holding an upright bass that is formed from the white space of the image. Vivian Bluett also presents stunning work that looks closely at the musicianship of female artists. Strong works by Avrion Jackson and Lynell Diggs add to the vibrant display.

Not unlike experiencing a performance in the American Jazz Museum’s Blue Room, viewing Harold Smith’s paintings makes us simultaneously aware of the absorbing physicality evoked in his pieces and the multiple ways in which each brushstroke might be read and experienced. The 36 x 48″ acrylic and oil painting “Art Blakey” (2011) consists of a chalky drum set, a drummer painted in black, and two ghostly sticks that rise as if from pure music. The background punctuates the narrative and sends music looping out from the painting. “Harold is the epitome of Black male genius in Kansas City,” said El-Scari.

All of the works in the exhibit are for sale and prices are posted in the gallery space. Perhaps unsurprisingly, El-Scari’s entire career has centered around education and access. “I don’t mind being someone’s entry point into art buying,” she said. “I don’t mind being the kindergarten teacher. Everyone remembers their kindergarten teacher.”

The collective has partnered with more than 30 businesses and sold over 300 works of art. It is from this generative ground of improvisation and collaboration that art (and jazz!) in Kansas City continues to flourish.

“Jazz and the Black Aesthetic” continues at the American Jazz Museum’s Changing Gallery, 1616 E. 18th St., through April 25. Hours are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, 816.474.8463 or www.americanjazzmuseum.org.

Robert Brown

Robert Brown is a poet and multimedia artist who works with the Foundation Department at the Kansas City Art Institute. His poems have appeared in “Chicago Quarterly Review” and Kansas City Ballet educational materials.

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