It’s an honor to have designed the poster for the 2016 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. I’ve been traveling down to New Orleans for JazzFest since 1989 and it’s the best music festival in the world. So much great music has come out of The Crescent City over the years and there are so many fantastic musicians living there now, that it’s possible to hear wonderful live music every night of the year, and at JazzFest the choices are overwhelming.
The poster series is one of the most collected series in the world and many great artists have created designs for it since 1975. These are limited edition serigraphs, (this year’s is nineteen colors) and there’s an edition that is signed by the artist and also the featured performer. I did the poster in 2002 that featured Wynton Marsalis, and the 2016 poster features the legendary Ellis Marsalis Jr. and his four musician sons, Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason. Over the years I’ve become friends with the publisher, Bud Brimberg, and every year we talk about his plans for the poster, the artists he’s working with, and possible subjects. Every year I say the same thing, “When are you going to feature Ellis Marsalis?” This year when he suggested we make a portrait of the family, I jumped at the chance to make a companion piece to the 2002 poster.
There’s a reception on Wednesday, April 20th at Royal House Gallery, 813 Royal Street, New Orleans from 4:00 – 7:00 pm, for me and the Congo Square poster artist, the great George Hunt. I’ll be showing some sketches for the poster and a few ink-on-paper drawings of New Orleans musicians and nightclubs. If you’re in town, come by.
Posters by: Sharon Dinkins & Thorn Grafton, Maria Laredo, Stephen St. Germain, Richard Thomas,
Francis Pavy, George Rodrigue, James Michalopoulos, Bill Hemmerling, Doug Bourgeois, Tony Bennett (yep), and Terrance Osborne.
This year's Congo Square poster is a tribute to the late B.B. King by George Hunt.
I started off trying to pack the musicians into a pose that echoed a group shot of Louis Armstrong and King Oliver's band. I was also thinking about the mural in the Sazerac Bar at
The Roosevelt Hotel
Sazerac Bar murals by Paul Ninas
Color sketch that we eventually abandoned.
First sketches of the House of Swing idea
I got to spend some valuable time with Ellis Marsalis Jr, last week when he came in to sign the edition. He told some great stories and said he's thinking of writing a memoir.
TBT: Wynton and me signing the 2002 edition.
A picked up a book called New Orleans Jazz, A Family Album in a used bookshop and started making these drawing from the photos inside. These will be at Royal House Gallery.
With the SuperBowl returning this weekend to New Orleans, it seems like a good time to bring a project out from the archives. In Spring of 2001, my friend Brad Jansen was art director at the NFL, he called to ask if I’d be interested in designing the official poster for the 2002 Super Bowl to be played in The Crescent City. It was an intimidating assignment. There’s a long history of illustrated Super Bowl posters dating back to the first game in 1967 and a lot of great illustrators had their shot at it. Even though the formula was the same every year – The Vince Lombardy Trophy surrounded by visual elements of the host city and no football players, there were some wonderful posters produced by illustrators that I’d always admired. The art gets used on program covers, tickets, and lots of souvenir items and becomes a part of NFL history.
Gary Kelley, Dennis Ziemienski, Charlie White III
New Orleans has no shortage of visual imagery and Brad and I decided on a collage of architecture that kind shows a view from the French Quarter in the foreground up to the Superdome at the top with, of course, the Lombardi Trophy in the center. We needed an image of a jazz musician and I included my friend, the long-time Saints fan, Wynton Marsalis. The poster was approved without any big revisions and I looked forward to seeing it printed on all its applications.
Then, 9-11. All bets were off for a few weeks and football didn’t seem too important.The NFL cancelled some games, adjusted the playoff schedule and decided to scrap the official logo and poster for a patriotic theme. Brad asked me to send him some ideas for a new poster, the new brief was Red-White-and-Blue, Football Players as Heroes, Eagles, Flags, and The Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The sketches I sent all were rejected, and the new poster was a retouched photo, an image of the trophy with an American flag reflected in it.
The next year the Super Bowl was played in San Diego and Brad, being the mensch that he is, knew I was disappointed with the outcome from XXVI and asked me to design the poster for XXVII. We came up with a vintage travel poster vibe showing the Southern California coastline.
There have been a lot of changes at the NFL since 2002 and it seems to me that they have just stopped trying to design memorable posters.
HBO’s Treme is my favorite show, an hour of TV that feels like a visit to New Orleans each Sunday night. There’s not a lot of explanation, you’re just dropped off in some very authentic Crescent City settings and you have to figure stuff out as it happens. There’s language that you only hear in New Orleans, many local musicians play themselves, and the excellent cast just blends right in. Fact and fiction becomes the same thing, the way that reality and legend always blends for me during an actual visit to The City That Care Forgot.
So, when Chris Curry at The New Yorker called to see if I’d do a piece to accompany Emily Nussbaum’s review of Treme’s Season 3, I said yes right away. After one false start and a change in the final printed size we ended up with a piece that shows some of the cast outside LaDonna’s bar. There are skyscrapers in the background to refer to the idea that the recovery in New Orleans is not reaching every neighborhood.
The false start. When she got this Chris asked if I had any other ideas.
"Sure, of course, I'll send something else tomorrow."
It doesn’t happen every day that you meet one of your heroes. When that meeting turns into a friendship and then a collaboration, you know you’ve been blessed.
Wynton and I met almost twenty years ago, for a poster project that we both signed. Since then I designed a poster for The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival that depicted him in his Crescent City hometown, we’ve worked together on two books, and I spent a week out on the road with him and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra making sketchbook drawings.
Wynton has won a Pulitzer, nine Grammys and numerous other citations and honors, he has been an inspiration to many, many musicians and people who are making their way in the world as artists. Whenever we meet, he always acknowledges the accomplishment of survival with the words “So, we’re still out here.”
I’ve admired so much about him, the way he leads fifteen of the greatest jazz musicians of any era in the JALC Orchestra, the way he sits with young musicians who bring their instruments to a concert hoping for advice from the maestro, and his thoughtful writing and lectures on the important place that jazz music holds in our history and culture. I’ve seen him working on a symphony in a hotel room with no piano, and I’ve seen him stay late after a gig talking to fans until it’s just him and the guy locking the place up.
Tuesday is Wynton’s 50th birthday. There has been a week-long series of concerts at JALC’s Rose Theater featuring special guests and some serious swing. I wish I was there acknowledging the accomplishment.
Sketches for New Orleans Jazz & Hertiage Festival, 2002
Colored-pencil sketch for poster
Seventeen color silk-screen poster
Wynton at soundcheck in Atlanta
Here's a preview of our second book for Candlewick Press, our first book, Jazz ABZ is still in print, (turns out kids love books with Coleman Hawkins in them.) The new book is a picture book for young readers about sounds titled Squeak, Rumble, Whomp Whomp Whomp! We're trying to get it finished while we're still on this earth. It's scheduled for Fall 2012.
I was recently in New Orleans and I spent part of an afternoon roaming around checking out the progress of the recovering city. I was down there about ten months after Katrina and it seemed then like nothing was going well. You could feel the effects of the disaster in every part of town, and especially in the Lower 9th Ward, the neighborhood that took the hardest beating from the failed levees.
On this trip, I saw some signs of optimism in the face of adversity. There’s new homes being built in the 9th Ward by Make It Right and Common Ground and there’s some wonderful new houses sitting on the spots that I saw completely wiped out after Katrina.
Deslonde Street June 2006
Deslonde Street 2011
Common Ground 2006
Common Ground 2011
Lower 9th Ward 2011
The French Quarter is back at full strength. If you like loud Journey cover bands, this is the spot.
You pay your money, you take your chances.
I was reading a book about the jazz historian Bill Russell who took recording equipment into neighborhood clubs in the 1940s.
For me, every visit to New Orleans is too short and I always meet new people that make the city the most soulful in the country. If you want to see what’s going on, and how things are looking right now in the Crescent City, you should check out L. Kasimu Harris’ website.
The USPS held a First Day of Issue ceremony for the Jazz Commemorative Stamp in New Orleans on Saturday. It was an honor to be asked to design this historic stamp to pay tribute to jazz music and a double honor to attend the ceremony in the Crescent City.
In attendance were Guy Cottrell, chief postal inspector, Nancy Marinovic. president of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, Jeffery Taylor, manager of the Louisiana District Postal Service and Thurgood Marshall Jr.. vice-chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors. We were in the good hands of the Treme Brass Band, who played with the feeling that only bands from New Orleans posses.
Adding to the honor, the legendary New Orleans musician Deacon John, and the heart and soul of the HBO show Treme, Wendell Pierce came out and everyone involved signed posters and First Day Cancellations of the stamp.
Art Blakey said “Jazz washes away the dust of every day life” and maybe this stamp can wash away a bit of the dust in our everyday lives. They only printed 50 million stamps, so get down to your post office soon.