I had so much fun creating this painting. I purposely used Black and White photo references so that I could employ an invented color scheme. I picked a complimentary scheme of Magenta and lime green. I used these unnatural colors in the skin-tone to create mood and atmosphere. I over emphasized wrinkles in the forehead and cheeks to create an arrow pointing to the left. Coltrane was a musician who always had this forward moving momentum, I used the wrinkles to pronounce this here.
In the execution of this piece, I painted directly onto the canvas without a preliminary sketch, which is like walking the high wire without a net. I had profound spiritual encounter while doing this. I pre-saw the entire painting on the blank white canvas. I would push in a brushstroke at the folds of the ear and without measuring would lay-in the lash of the far receeding right eye. I saw the complete painting beforehand, so all it was a matter of doing was connecting all the dots, as I saw them.
As I said this was my first painting in six years. When I was painting before, I was studying out the principles of the Fibonacci or Golden Means. As I painted this I noticed the painting was falling into these compositional guidelines quite naturally.
In the Photo is a Golden Means caliper that I use to measure highpoints. I built it from wood scraps. When I painted this, I didn’t use any measuring I just laid the painting in. The width of this painting is 36’’ wide. The calipers can stretch to well beyond 4 feet.
I painted this back in 1980. It marked a return to painting. I had left painting at age 14, when I discovered the trumpet. I had already been painting professionally for three or four years. The trumpet kabonged me on the head. I chased after it, with wreckless abandon for six years. Two years before, I had a brief period of time when I played 20 hours a day. I stopped going to my classes at NIU and fell asleep with horn near my lips. I woke up and started playing for the rest of the day. This wacky schedule continued for a little over a month. Needless to say, the skill level shot through the roof. My hand, fingers, and song where completely unified without the second thought, the flinch that used to accompany. I learned things on the trumpet that would have taken years to grasp.
I find it extremely difficult to be a cross-disciplinary artist. Music and Art are two hot potatoes, that I had to juggle. I couldn’t hold one for very long without the other becoming extremely jealous. They are like two love interests, high-demand loves that require high maintenance. This has worked at times, to deleterious effect with a negative spin for my career. It’s hard to focus when you are spread thin, I cannot do things with half passion, I have to jump all the way in, sink or swim.
A good portion of this was painted during an extended hospital stay at Beth Israel Hospital. I had two major surgeries during a six month period. I stayed for 5 of those 6 months, derailed from the trumpet. I turned back to my other love, the paint brush and canvas.
My surgeon at the hospital happened to be Billy Strayhorn’s nephew. Billy was Duke Ellington’s writing partner. He wrote much of Ellington’s library. Earl, the surgeon-nephew a former alto saxophonist who gave up playing for medical studies, met Coltrane in his youth. When I first had the painting delivered to my hospital room, Earl decided to check in on me, not aware of the painting in my room. He peaked his head in and shouted,”Coltrane!” He woke me up.
Over the years, various people that knew Trane (who died in 1967), people that I was now playing with, would see the painting and be brought to tears. Something in common to a few – they told me that the color choice for the shirt’s stripes was spot on. I had many opportunities to play with Raphael Garrett, who was on several of Trane’s later recordings. The painting acted as a link to legendary Jazz past through Raphael and another dear friend, bassist Carrol Crouch, who lived with me when times were rough. Garrett and Crouch both taught me much beyond conversation about being a person of fullness, with a passion and zest for life.
Carroll had a rough life. He did time in prison. He told me about his extended stays in solitary confinement. He resorted to nonviolent protest as a means of breaking that racism spirit around him. He wouldn’t talk or eat. For that the guards beat him, threw him into the box to break him. I’m now leaking saline as I remember these good friends.
I also remember others that have passed on, and some that are still alive. It seems I always had bassists and drummers that I really connected with. It was more than just music, they were good friends. Bassist Fred Thompson (deceased), Bassist Harrison Bankhead (alive), Robert Shy (alive), Drummer Wilbur Campbell (deceased), not to forget the pianists and other instrumentalists: Jody Christian (recently deceased), Willie Pickens (very much alive), Saxophonists Fred Anderson and Wardell Reece, (trumpeters Billy BrimField and Ameen Muhammed (who was a student of mine, but was also a close friend through hard times in my own life) and then there’s my very close friend and mentor Andy Goodrich.
I have one funny story about Andy Goodrich. I was in his band as a sideman. I occasionally employed him on my sextet gigs at places like the South Shore Jazz Festival. Andy was about 35 years my senior.
One time we played in Columbus, Ohio. Andy informed me that he had to make some trims for his budget. He told me: “ Muheeks, I’m forced to make adjustments so I can pay you decently (Whew, I’m not the trim, I still got the gig!) I will have to say that you’re a senior citizen to the airline people, so that I can get a discount. I thought about and I began to worry. I did have a bunch of premature grey, but I thought I would get into trouble with the airlines. I had to maintain all coolness and act as if they wasn’t a problem. I was a jazz musician, after all.
I stayed calm and collected until we got to the check-in line, which was very long. As we waited, I started to get noticeably worried. We made it to the baggage counter. Andy hands over the ticket paper work. I’m thinking I’ll be arrested, and thrown in jail. Say goodbye to freedom. I thought they would grill me under a spotlight with repeated questioning. For sure, I’ll have to take a lie detector test.
Nothing happens. I get my tickets and continue on to catch up to the rest of the band (They were all viejitos, a bunch of old guys). When we sat waiting at the gate, I asked Andy what happened, why there didn’t seem to be a problem. He said: “What are you talking about?” At that point, Willie Pickens starts breaking into laughter, leading the rest of the band. I walked away, red-faced, thinking of a way to get back at Andy.
Oh yeah, I’m talking about a painting. This piece is a link to history for me. I showed Ravi Coltrane (Trane’s son) a photo of the painting. He was playing in a recording studio down the hall from where I was at, in Manhattan.
I have had numerous offers to purchase this, several thousands of greenbacks, but I turn them down because I enjoy the painting so much. However, some day someone will make that ca-ching that’ll make me sing. At that point, painting and I will part company.