Title: Modern Jazz Quartet's Last Concert
Medium: Four colour lithograph
Size: 30" x 41.75"
Edition size: 50
"Jazz simply inspires me. Of all the subjects that I have dealt with, none has been re-visited like jazz. Jazz is second nature to me. I come from a family of jazz lovers. My eldest brother, Ranky, was a jazz musician. I used to hang around with him and his friends a lot. I still play the flute that he gave me. I think at heart, I am a non-practising jazz musician!
Painting jazz pieces is an avenue or outlet for expressing my love for the music. As I paint, I listen to jazz and visualise the performance. Jazz performers improvise within the conventions of their chosen styles. In an ensemble, for example, there are vocal styles that include freedom of vocal colour, call-and-response patterns and rhythmic complexities played by different members. Painting jazz allows me to literally put colour onto these vocal colours.
Jazz is rhythmic and it emphasises interpretation rather than composition. There are deliberate tonal distortions that contribute to its uniqueness. My jazz collages, with their distorted patterns, attempt to communicate all of this. As a collagist and painter, fortunately, the technique allows me this freedom of expression. Like a jazz musician who can depart from the original melody altogether and improvise on its harmonic base, I create a well-balanced final product with interesting textures, perspective and dimensions from juxtaposing pieces from different original backgrounds. What I am doing is not new though, as there are other artists before me, who painted jazz pieces e.g. Gerard Sekoto, Romare Bearden, Henri Matisse.
The jazz musicians I chose inspire me. Their music is educational. Nina Simone, for instance, sings about the suffering of African Americans. I enjoy her music and message. Modern Jazz quartets music is instrumental but meaningful.
I buy jazz CDs and dvds as part of my career. Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, John Coltrane feature highly in my collection and I also have their autobiographies. Ron Carter made me love acoustic bass especially in his album with Roberta Flack "The first time I ever saw your face" - I was 17 when I first listened to it and knew pretty little about love but I enjoyed the instruments played.
In addition to the international jazz musicians in my collection, I have a number of locals like Miriam Makeba (or Mama Africa as she is affectionately known), Lemmy "Special" Mabaso, Abdullah Ibrahim etc. Their early music reminds me of Keith Jarrett's words: "Jazz is like a vehicle that transports various traditions..." Lemmy Maseko played the penny whistle with skill; Miriam Makeba's "Malaika" backed by overseas musicians became a hit. Abdullah Ibrahim is a well-respected pianist. You can bring together jazz musicians from different backgrounds to perform and they will produce a stunning piece of music!
Sam Nhlengethwa / Modern Jazz Quartet's Last Concert
Sam Nhlengethwa is one of South Africa's foremost artists. Born in 1955, he studied at Rorke's Drift and the Johannesburg Art Foundation. He was awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year award in 1994, the year South Africa held its first democratic elections and freedom was won for all its people.
He has successfully exhibited all over the world from Senegal to New York and Cologne. His work is largely figurative and he explores themes that are close to his heart such as the plight of mineworkers, jazz and the physical space of contemporary Africa.
In his prints and paintings, Sam Nhlengethwa uses overlays of techniques such as collage painting, drawing and photography. His fine sense of colour and form lend an abstract quality to his work.
He has been included in many contemporary South African art publications and his work can be found in leading South African and International collections.