Art exhibit to feature photography of jazz greats 

February 17, 2011

PLAINVIEW – Icons of the jazz world will loom large in the next exhibit to grace the walls of the Abraham Art Gallery at Wayland Baptist University.

The photography of Dan White will be featured in an exhibit titled “The Fine Art of Jazz,” opening Monday and running through March 25.

The show is White’s photographic tribute to the distinctive regional development of Kansas City and the many jazz musicians who have called the city home. White’s goal was to preserve the musical heritage of the city that began disappearing over the past 20 years, and he set out to capture the photos and stories of the legendary musicians and vocalists through black and white portraits.

The show includes 50 archival prints, along with some biographical information and other resources on jazz music and its storied history. Born in New Orleans around the turn of the 20th Century, jazz moved to Chicago and then came of age in New York and Kansas City, flowering from 1920 to 1940 from its roots in ragtime blues and brass band traditions into bebop. Kansas City jazz then spawned swing and an urban style of blues that inspired the development of rock and roll.

Dr. Candace Keller, who serves as curator for the gallery, noted that the show will be a delight for audiences and has a personal connection for her as well.

“Kansas City is close to my heart. My family came from there. My grandparents, Al and Josephine, grew up on the same street and were high school sweethearts there in the twenties, sharing an enthusiasm for Jazz that they passed along to us,” Keller said. “Some of Al’s favorite stories were about the year he worked with a crew of Italian stonecutters who were carving his designs for the Nelson Adkins Museum columns, listening to the great sounds of Charlie Parker and Count Basie, and other great musicians who are pictured in this beautiful exhibit. He said the music gave everyone energy, and made the work a joyful experience.”

“You can see the collective soul and character in the faces of these artists, sculpted in light by Dan White’s expressive photographs,” Keller added. “The music itself will provide a background for the exhibit, so viewers can get a sense of the sounds of the era.”

White is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer whose jazz images reflect the trademark black and white vocabulary and dramatic lighting effects synonymous with the jazz world. He often portrayed his subjects with the tools of their trade, sometimes in performance and sometimes in thoughtful poses. Each portrait follows a square format taken with a medium- or large-format camera and carefully constructed compositions, each designed to spotlight the unique character of the musician being featured. White’s work features oblique camera angles, diagonal lines of composition and lighting that bring a cinematic drama to his images.

“Though I try to bring something of my personal vision into each portraiture, I try not to have pre-conceptions,” said White. “I want to find out who each person really is. Some have a quiet way about them; some are more high energy; still others just have amazing faces.”

White’s exhibit features portraits of Diane “Mama” Ray, Daahoud Williams, Al Pearson, Dwight Foster, Oscar “Lucky” Wesley and Jay “Hootie” McShann, among many others.

The “Fine Art of Jazz” exhibit is funded in part by a generous grant from Texas Commission on the Arts, Mid-America Arts Alliance, and the National Endowment for the Arts: American Masterpieces project.

The exhibit is free and open to the public during regular hours of the Learning Resources Center, which houses the gallery in its lower level: 10-5 Monday through Thursday, 10-4 Friday and 2-5 Saturday. For more information, call the gallery at (806) 291-3710.