Updated: Mar 8, 2021
The Jazz Centre UK has a reproduction poster of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ‘Horn Players 1983’, a ‘jazz triptych’ depicting be-bop pioneers Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. There are scribbled Parker references scattered around the composition. Many to his famous composition ‘Ornithology’. Also to his daughter Pree and wife Chan. In the right panel, holding a trumpet, Dizzy Gillespie scats . . . DOH SHOO DE OBEE.
Basquiat’s early career was as graffiti artist SAMO with friend Al Diaz. His graffiti style carried over into his more formal gallery paintings in the early 1980s. Jazz music was a common subject for Basquiat, references to musicians, recordings or jazz labels appearing in around 50 of his compositions. Charlie Parker in particular, but also Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.
After viewing the Basquiat ‘Boom for Real’ retrospective at the Barbican Gallery last year, music critic Richard Williams perceptively noted, “there’s a real feeling for jazz here. . . Basquiat’s blend of the heroic and the grotesque seems to me a fair representation of an art form that had to fight its way first into existence and then towards acknowledgement. The harshness and challenges of a jazz musician’s life are as present in the paintings as the aesthetic value of what they produce. There’s a title of a Monk tune that sums it up: ‘Ugly Beauty’”. Basquiat owned thousands of jazz albums which played constantly whilst painting, or deejaying. His aesthetic as a painter closely related to his love of jazz. He died aged 27 in 1988, his career as meteoric and influential as that of early jazz fatalities Bix and Bird. Last year a Basquiat sold at auction for $110 million. Our modest poster cost a bit less than that, but is still well worth your attention.