In 1978 I was 8 and showed my grandfather a painting I made of the solar system. He was a great painter and sculptor, though to me he was just my grandfather who taught me to play chess (losing on purpose once to build my confidence) and who taught me to count how far away thunderstorms were by counting the seconds(miles) between the lightning and the thunder. He stopped what he was doing and looked at my solar system and said “good” but offered no more analysis or critique. 2 years later, on his deathbed from liver cancer, he called me to his side and said “You’re the man of the house now.” Then he was gone.
His artwork however, was everywhere. Busts of Martin Luther King Jr, Beethoven, John F Kennedy, and Jesus. Large incredible portraits of my mom, my grandmother and again, Martin Luther King Jr. Paintings of clowns, silkscreens, a ceramic cross, even art on hotplates. I studied art myself and went to college in 1988 to get a degree in fine art at Suny New Paltz. There I met a teacher who told me to quit, as I didn’t have the talent or any kind of gift. Miles and Louis were bending my ear, so I decided maybe this art teacher was right, I have nothing to say as an artist. I gave up art and started studying jazz trumpet. If only a few years later at Smalls Jimmy Lovelace didn’t sit me down and tell me to quit music, as I was just not happening. Spiritual whiplash. Maybe I’ll quit music and go back to acting, I thought, as I had played the lead in the play Witness for the Prosecution as Sir Wilfred Roberts. No, I thought, I’m sure there is someone else there waiting to tell me to quit.
I’ve pursued jazz in the extreme since then, and have never given up for 31 years. I have thought about quitting music many times, but can’t seem to walk away. Even during Covid and now in Philadelphia. What’s changed everything for me is a return to art that I gave up way back in 1990, since that teacher told me to quit. I truly wish my grandfather were alive back then, as I could have asked him-if I should quit or not. I never got to know him as a man or even as a teenager. His spiritual and life lessons remain.
The greatest and most important lesson I have received in life was while my grandfather was dying. My Grandmother, suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease, needed help walking to the bathroom, and watching TV at 9 years old, I was ignoring her. That’s when my grandfather rose from his deathbed and helped her from the chair to the bathroom. This memory is imprinted on my soul.
Now married myself, my grandfather’s lessons continue in more ways than one. The more I paint, the more I can’t stop. I was obsessed with my latest one. The truth is I don’t have many gigs to play, and the canvas is there for me as a new adventure every time, an adventure free from judgement. I’m still spiritually devoted to the music, and I think I’m playing better than I ever have, but until the next gig comes through, it’s paint or die.
In the end, I don’t think I’ll ever quit painting again, or ever quit music. I would NEVER tell anyone to quit anything creative myself, especially not a young person. In the end, I’m about 30 years behind on my painting, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Like so many of us, I need to take a knee, my replaced one perhaps, for Miles. Miles showed us all how to paint with sound, and then he started painting later in his life-the biggest signpost I have ever seen.
In 2005 after Tower Records went bankrupt, I was on unemployment as I am now, and I made this:
I don’t know where it came from or where it went. I sent the original to a record label who never returned it (KMB)
Years later in 2021, I wanted to revisit my tangled wire cables, and attempt the biggest painting I ever tried (24″ by 36″), which led to this:
It started with an improvisation, similar to the one from 2005, but I quickly discovered that each cable/vine had their own feeling, identity, agenda, desire, energy, and flow. Then I discovered they all knew each other on different levels and have their own relationships. Then, I discovered a battle/struggle for territory, group identity, and beyond. 31 years of playing jazz has certainly freed me up. My grandfather never improvised like this that I know of. What if he did?
All I know now, is that I’m painting and playing for us both. I think I’m on to something. I hope so.
Faith is the process of life, trust that it’s going the right way, belief in yourself, are all simple but deep aspects of humanity to hold on to, even while other human beings might try to “tough love” you right out of existence.
They tried to stop me then
I’m still standing though
For Fritz Kluber