Jazz and the visual arts have always enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. Last year the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis put that bond front and center with an ambitious original program called Portraits of America: A Jazz Story.
The concert featured new compositions by members of the orchestra, directly inspired by works in the collection of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. So in this special episode of Jazz Night in America, we'll not only hear the resulting music but also get inside the inspiration — learning how Grace Hartigan's abstract painting Rough, Ain't It motivated alto saxophonist Sherman Irby, and which qualities in the Romare Bearden collage Sacrifice spoke to tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding.
At a moment when it's not possible to visit an art museum in person, Portraits of America invites us to experience color and shape in a new way. "I love the fact that you can take a painting, a piece of art that isn't changing, and then create something that's constantly changing to represent it," reflects multi-reedist Ted Nash. "It almost seems like it wouldn't work, but the music can actually make the painting move."