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By Culturekiosque Staff

BARCELONA, 22 JULY 2009 - Along with the cinema, jazz is one of the most important artistic achievements of the 20th century. Since its emergence in the early years of the last century, America's highly original contribution to the history of music has marked every aspect of world culture with its sounds and rhythms. An exhibition opening today at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona and on view until 18 October 2009, attempts to showcase how the sound of jazz has nuanced all the other arts, from painting to photography and from the cinema to literature, graphic design and cartoons.

EntitledThe Jazz Century and curated by philosopher and art critic Daniel Soutif, the 1200-square-meter exhibition is organized chronologically along a timeline that highlights the history of the 20th century using music as a leading thread.

Soutif develops his thesis according to the following schema of mini displays of some 1000 exhibits including artworks (150), audiovisuals (80), photographs (100), scores (100), album covers (200), and miscellaneous documentation, including books, magazines, programmes, posters and objects.

1. Before 1917

It is impossible to put a date to the birth of jazz, though the year 1917 is considered crucial due to the conjunction of two decisive events. In February, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, an orchestra of white musicians, made the first record with the word "jazz" (or, to be precise, "jass") on the label. In November, the U.S. Army closed down Storyville, the prostitution district of New Orleans, whose famous brothels had employed many musicians; the vast majority then decided to move north, specifically Chicago and New York. However, one must not overlook the many earlier manifestations (minstrels, gospel, cakewalk, ragtime) that heralded the musical phenomenon that was about to transform the century and which long before had inspired many artists.

Winold Reiss: Interpretation of Harlem Jazz, 1925
Photo courtesy of CCCB

2. The Jazz Age in the U.S. 1917 - 1930

World War I was followed in the States by the surprising fashion of jazz music, acclaimed in 1922 by Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It was such an important fashion that the expression "the jazz age" coined by the writer has been constantly used to refer not just to the music that provided the soundtrack but also to an entire age and even a "jazz generation."
Testimonies to the jazz age included the fabulous illustrations decorating the scores of the latest hits and various photographs by Man Ray (specifically one entitled Jazz from 1919) and many other works by American artists, such as James Blanding Sloan, and others who lived in the States, such as Miguel Covarrubias and Jan Matulka.

3. Harlem Renaissance 1917- 1936

While white America lived its jazz age, for the first time in history African Americans experienced true cultural recognition with the movement that would come to be known as the Harlem Renaissance. And although the jazz of Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington was definitely one of the most important aspects of this creative effervescence, music was not the only field of creation. Behind foremost figures such as the writer Langston Hughes and the painter Aaron Douglas, a host of artists produced a prolific body of literary and visual masterpieces for which music was a favourite theme. Although this was an essentially black movement, white artists such as Winold Reiss and Carl van Vechten also played an important part.

Carl Van Vechten: Portrait of Billie Holiday, 23 Mar. 1949
Photo courtesy of CCCB

4. Wild Years in Europe 1917 - 1930

During World War I, the Harlem Hellfighters, the regimental band of James Reese Europe, had the privilege of introducing the new syncopated rhythms into Europe. When hostilities ended, every aspect of culture in the old continent was infected by the jazz virus. The arrival in Paris in 1925 of La Revue Nègre, with Josephine Baker, marked the peak of the invasion of this Tumulte noir , as it was christened by Paul Colin's famous work. From Jean Cocteau to Paul Morand, Michel Leiris and Georges Bataille, countless writers were inspired in some way by this inexorable tide. From Kees van Dongen to Pablo Picasso and George Grosz, the phenomenon was just as keen in the field of fine arts.

5. The Swing Era 1930 - 1939

The jazz age was followed by the fashion of swing and big bands, whether black, in the case of Duke Ellington and Count Basie, or white like those conducted by Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, who made the masses dance in the explosive thirties.

When the talkies reached the cinema, a host of musical comedies reflected this new craze and its seductive syncopated rhythm, which also inspired many artists. In the U.S., despite their differences, modernist Stuart Davis and regionalist Thomas Hart Benton shared an interest in the music. In Europe, František Kupka produced various paintings devoted to the jazz that specialists such as Charles Delaunay termed "hot" to differentiate it from its more staid derivatives. The close of the decade was marked by an event that was to determine the future: Alex Steinweiss, a young known graphic designer, created the first album cover for Columbia.

6. Wartime 1939 - 1945

World War II left a dramatic mark on Western culture. Thanks to the V-Discs produced for the U.S. Military, music went with the soldiers into battle, and hostilities did not undermine the influence of jazz on other artistic fields. Piet Mondrian, who had just arrived in New York, discovered boogie-woogie, which was key to his latter works. In the field of dance, William H. Johnson introduced the jitterbug, the latest dance craze. At the same time, in Paris, the Zazous, probably named after a song by Cab Calloway, stood out for their eye-catching zoot suits, proof of their rather daring opposition to the invaders. Jazz became very popular in France, which explains Jean Dubuffet and Henri Matisse's interest in it. The latter took his scissors to coloured paper to make Jazz, his famous limited-edition book.

I Like Jazz!, 1955 - Columbia LP JZ1
Photo courtesy of CCCB

7. Bebop 1945 - 1960

The advent of bebop at the end of the war led to a modernization of jazz, and in the field of painting abstract expressionism started to take off. Some of its exponents, specifically Jackson Pollock, found a direct source of inspiration in the jazz music they constantly listened to. With the microgroove came a new artistic field: album covers. David Stone and Andy Warhol, Josef Albers and Marvin Israel, Burt Goldblatt and Reid Miles were among the dozens of graphic designers, some known, some anonymous, trying to seduce music-lovers with a strict format: 30 x 30 cm. Nor was the cinema ultimately immune to the contagion of modern jazz. Just two examples of the dozens of films that used it are Ascenseur pour l'échafaud [Lift to the Scaffold] by Louis Malle and La Notte [The Night] by Michelangelo Antonioni.

Jazz-art in Barcelona

Meanwhile, in the Barcelona of the early fifties, a revived Hot Club-Club 49 was the focus for the most active artists of the time and one of the most interesting outlets for this fusion of jazz and the arts. The "Jazz Salons" of those years included works by Tàpies, Tharrats, Ponç and Guinovart, among many others.

Antoni Tapies: Spiritual Song, 1950
Photo courtesy of CCCB

8. West Coast Jazz 1953 - 1961

According to the jazz bible, bebop was New York black whereas the typical West Coast style, close by the Hollywood studios, was white, refined and so cool that many were quick to label it sugar-coated. In fact, despite a more benign meteorology and its great subtlety, West Coast jazz had a strong personality and a force of its own. Nonetheless, the typical graphic design of the record labels clearly reflected the contrast between the two coasts of America: big geometrical lettering and grainy portraits of black musicians in the east, and sunny beaches with pretty blondes frolicking beside the sea in the west. These sunny holiday images should not blind us to the fact that the California of that time was also one of the foremost venues of the union between jazz and the poetry of the Beat Generation.

9. The Free Revolution 1960 - 1980

In 1960, Ornette Coleman recorded Free Jazz. This record, with its two-fold meaning and a cover reproducing White Light by Jackson Pollock, established a new set of rules: the modern period gave way to the free avant-garde. This free revolution, contemporary with black liberation movements (Black Power, Black Muslims, Black Panthers) was reflected in the plastic arts by the works of artists both known and anonymous: Romare Bearden, in his mature period, Bob Thompson, who died before his time, and even, in Europe, Englishman Alan Davie. One of the unforgettable marks of this radical change was Appunti per un'Orestiade africana, a surprising film by Pier Paolo Pasolini in which he draws together the free improvisations of Gato Barbieri with Aeschylus and Africa.

Larry Rivers: Public and Private, 1983-84
Photo courtesy of CCCB

10. Contemporaries 1980 - 2002

It may not always be evident, but the presence of jazz in the field of the arts, which have ceased to be modern and are now contemporary, should not be underestimated. Proof of it is provided by the works pervaded by black music of Jean-Michel Basquiat and his predecessor, Robert Colescott. Though different in form, the video work by Christian Marclay and Lorna Simpson also confirms its presence, as does the marvellous photograph by Canadian artist Jeff Wall, inspired by the prologue of Invisible Man, the great novel by Ralph Ellison. Finally, the little blue train created by the mythic Afro-American artist David Hammons, running endlessly through a landscape of coal mountains and grand piano lids, marks the end of the exhibition: if the 20th century, the Jazz Century, has really ended, the train of the music that accompanied it continues to roll..

Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Zulu, 1986
Photo courtesy of CCCB

To complement the exhibition, various musical activities have been organized: an opening concert in La Pedrera on 28 July, with upcoming musicians offering a reinterpretation of the history of jazz; a cycle of jam sessions with musicians from different backgrounds and generations every Thursday in September and October at the CCCB, and a jazz marathon on 19 September, also at the CCCB, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Associació de Músics de Jazz i Música Moderna de Catalunya. The CCCB's cycle of cinema al fresco, Gandules'09, will be screening various short films and two of the most memorable films to have dealt with jazz: Let's Get Lost by Bruce Weber and Thelonius Monk: Straight No Chaser, by Charlotte Zwerin.

Title image: Thomas Hart Benton: Portrait of a Musician, 1949
Photo courtesy of CCCB

The Jazz Century
22 July - 18 October 2009
Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB)
Montalegre 5
08001 Barcelona
Tel: (34) 93 306 41 00

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