The Hearing Eye: Jazz & Blues Influences in African American Visual Art

By Graham Lock; David Murray | Go to book overview

SEVEN
Wadsworth Jarrell and AFRICOBRA:
Sheets of Color, Sheets of Sound

Interview by Graham Lock

In the 1960s, Wadsworth Jarrell worked on Chicago’s Wall of Respect, then became a founder-member of the revolutionary artists’ group AFRICOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists), whose new black aesthetic was inspired in part by African American music. In a 1973 exhibition catalogue, he wrote: “I’m painting the colors, the sounds, and the messages of this music.”1

Born in Albany, Georgia, in 1929, Jarrell studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and later taught at Howard University and the University of Georgia. His studio in Chicago served as the venue for many concerts by members of the city’s AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians).2 In the ’80s and ’90s he produced numerous canvases, painted in the bright, vibrant AFRICOBRA style, that reflected his lifelong love of jazz and blues. Now retired from teaching, he lives in New York City and continues to paint and sculpt. He has also completed a first novel, is learning to play the electric guitar, and has recently started to work on a history of AFRICOBRA.

We met at his studio in New York’s Washington Heights in April 2004.

WJ: I started off hearing people on the radio; I heard a lot of Duke Ellington on the radio. I was living in the South, in Georgia, so there you’d hear a lot of blues. Not the Delta blues so much but what they call urban blues: Jimmy Rushing, Jimmy Witherspoon. I was going to clubs early. I visited Chicago—my brother and sister gave me a trip up there when I was a teenager, about nineteen. I saw some of the big-time jazz people, like Lester Young, Jimmy Rushing, and Count Basie, that I’d been hearing on the radio.

GL: When you moved to Chicago in the early ’50s, did you spend time in the clubs sketching musicians?

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