Matisse once wrote that "both harmonies and dissonances of color can produce very pleasurable effects." He might have referred to modern music as well as modern art. There has always been a connection between art and music. The easiest example is the relationship of impressionist painters like Monet and Pissaro and the so-called impressionist composers such as Debussy and Ravel. But this relationship hasn’t always been well documented, especially with jazz in mind. A few years ago, the Museum of Modern Art exhibited the abstract expressionist work of Jackson Pollack. To accompany the show, MOMA compiled JAZZ consisting of his favorite recordings, classic ‘30s and early ‘40s performances of Armstrong, Ellington, Holiday, Base and others. The CD liner notes were sparse connecting Pollack’s art with the jazz that inspired him. About the same time, SEEING JAZZ was published featuring artists and writers on jazz. But sadly, no music accompanied the otherwise excellent text, photos, and pictures.
In a similar vein, JAZZ LOFT draws the relationship of modern art (in this case, the work of David X. Young) with modern music (jazz) and describes the bygone era of bohemian lifestyles and cheap, urban performance spaces of the mid-fifties through the mid-sixties. Young owned a loft that was a safe haven for his musician friends including Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, Bob Brookmeyer, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan and many others. These musicians used Young’s loft to perform after hour jam sessions, sort of a latter day Minton’s Playhouse of the Bebop era.
The commercial loft was located in the flower district of Manhattan near what was once Tin Pan Alley. Bustling and aromatic by day, by night the smoke-filled loft was isolated enough to allow his jazz friends, as Young described it, "to come and let off some steam whenever they chose, and so with the music and chicks and wacko freedoms of those days." They could play as late, loud and be as wild as they wanted. They also tended to inspire each other. Brookmeyer remembers seeing the exhibits at MOMA, especially Modigliani and DeKooning, and how it opened a whole new world of sight. But when he played at Young’s artist loft with paintings strewn about, he finally "could see as well as hear." Loft art and music, and, in some ways, lifestyles was based on spontaneity and improvisation. Some thirty of Young’s colorful paintings are captured in the catalog. There are off-kilter bright portraits of Monk, Sims, and Brookmeyer. Some of the others are wistfully erotic, some sensually abstract. Juan Osaka McFelsnir describes Young’s paintings as "jazzlike ideas stemming from the automatism of the surrealists, but in many ways akin to the think-slow, act-fast of the traditional Zen watercolorist, only done on a larger scale and with heavier materials."
The music is a series of informal jam sessions, mostly recorded on Christmas Eve 1959. The two CD set mostly revolves around Sims and Brookmeyer with various musicians who happened to be at Young’s loft. On some of the cuts, you can hear players talking to each other guiding which way they wanted to go. Sometimes they are shouting words of encouragement. Sometimes they are just laughing and scatting. They are having fun. It is spontaneous. There are mistakes. The fidelity isn’t perfect. But, there is a feeling of camaraderie and passion. This is represented best on the nearly eighteen minute outing of Dizzy Gillespie’s "Groovin’ High." Amidst chatter, pianist Dave McKenna begins an extended solo of "When the Sun Comes Out" as a sweet and soulful tune. He continues in this vein until Sims cloaks the soul with a sense of dark pathos. "Dark Cloud" is a dialogue between Sims and McKenna in what appears to be a slightly bluesy, slightly boozy ballad.
JAZZ LOFT works as successful archival recording of a behind-the-scenes jam session unencumbered by commercial prodding. The accompanying catalog provides an impressionistic portrayal of the art of David X. Young and the scene that was once known as the New York loft movement.