One of the most charmingly awkward moments in American cultural history came when Jack Kerouac and Steve Allen jammed on the Steve Allen Show in 1959, intending to demonstrate to uptight America, once and for all, the sympathetic connection between the rhythms of beatnik prose and jazz music. An obviously uncomfortable Kerouac lays down a stock Beat riff that Allen matches with supposedly responsive bluesy piano. It is some pretty square and ineffectual jazz, unfortunately, and Kerouac’s declamations don’t gain much in the bargain. It really makes you wish that you could either just read some Kerouac or listen to some good jazz piano: maybe Bill Evans or Wynton Kelly or Teddy Wilson. But it is Kerouac, so it is legendary and it is cool.
We speak of the music of poetry, the color of music and the narrative quality of sculpture. We perceive spatial and temporal arts as made of the same stuff, on some elemental level. Is it metaphor, or do we believe that there are underlying affinities that unify the arts, common languages and expressive equivalencies? For instance, both pitch and color are frequency-based phenomena. Are there deep harmonic interactions between them, and is that why people with synesthesia perceive things the way that they do? I tend toward metaphor myself, but the issue isn’t going to be resolved here.
And there is certainly no harm in trying to yoke multiple artforms together in a spontaneous performance. When John Cage composed a piece for a pile of transistor radios tuned to different stations, I think that he understood that he was throwing a frame around the phenomena of a moment; and the frame is what made it art, because it invited the audience to experience it as art. Similarly, when painters and musicians collide, the painters don’t have to try to draw triplets and diminished chords, and the musicians don’t have to try to blow orange geometries. Just throw a frame around the moment, as it were, and the connections will be what an audience perceives them to be. In other words, following Cage, there need be no connection or justification beyond “This is all happening right now, right here.”
The quality of the experience will have more to do with who’s playing and drawing than with the legitimacy of inter-art synergies. And that is why “Sketches of Sound from the Gallery,” an event happening at Photosensualis in Woodstock this Friday, March 16, is so easy to recommend. On the music side, it is a meeting of heavy cats, headed by the legendary experimental jazz vibraphonist and composer Karl Berger. Also in the band are three well-known musicians with local ties: bassist Steve Rust, guitarist Omar Tamez and drummer Harvey Sorgen.
And on the art side is…you. The audience is invited to interpret the performance of these world-class improvisers in sketches. The artists also have the option to submit their sketches for possible inclusion in an upcoming show, the details of which are to be announced. Come test the theory. Perhaps you will discover the secret shape of jazz; but at the very least, you get to hear Karl Berger, and that is nothing to scoff at.
“Sketches of Sound from the Gallery” happens at Photosensualis, located at 15 Rock City Road in Woodstock, at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 16. There is a suggested donation of $10. For more information, please call (845) 679-5695.