Mar 04, 2012 - Portrait of Jazz Exhibit Opens


    Lovers of music or art – and, especially, lovers of both – should make plans to head to the Jazz Depot Monday, March 12, when artist Michael Reilly’s Portraits of Jazz exhibit will be unveiled to the public. The opening is held in conjunction with the 22nd monthly Musicale, which begins with food, drink, and live jazz at 6:30 and the featured performers beginning at 7 p.m.
    According to producer and pianist Amy Cottingham, this year’s Musicale artists include Y.A.V.E., the young adult vocal ensemble from All Souls Unitarian Church; members of the Tulsa Symphony; vocal performance majors from Oral Roberts University, pianist Barron Ryan; and a piano duo with Ryan and his father, Donald Ryan.
    Admission is free. Donations, says Cottingham, will go to the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.

    Reilly’s exhibit officially opens in the Jazz Hall at 6 p.m. the same evening, closing for the night at 9 p.m., the same time the Musicale performances are set to end.
The artist himself will be on hand Monday; earlier, he’ll lead a music and art education workshop for students of Sand Springs Public Schools and the Deborah Brown Community School in downtown Tulsa.
    The opening marks the first visit to Oklahoma for Reilly, who lives in Harrisville, New Hampshire.  An artist for some three decades, he first began painting jazz figures after finding inspiration in an unlikely place – the local recycling center.
    “I’d always been a jazz buff,” he says. “Then, one day, I was at the dump. They always put out books that people throw away, to be recycled, and right on top was this wonderful book of black & white photographs from 1939 – portraits of jazz people. I opened it up and thought, `Wow. I’ve got to paint those guys.’
    He chuckles. “It started there, and I guess I got kind of hooked.”
    Indeed he did. Reilly’s exhibit at the Jazz Depot, which will be open to the public through the end of May, features some 40 portraits – all painted in, he says, “a wide variety of different styles and techniques.”
    “There are lots of different styles and interpretations in jazz,” he explains, “and that’s what I try to do in the paintings.”
    Since beginning his jazz art about 10 years ago, Reilly has painted his share of contemporary artists. As a regular attendee at Canada’s Montreal Jazz Festival, he’ll sit in the audience and paint the musicians as they perform. And, in addition to going where the players are, he’ll also invite them to his studio.
    “They’ll jam and play, and I’ll paint them,” he says.
    But his subjects aren’t limited to the contemporary scene. In fact, he seems to take great joy in creating images of jazz artists from bygone days.
    “I love studying about the old jazz musicians,” he says. “I’ll buy their old LPs, listen to their music, do research, and then paint them. It’s such a great process.
    “I’ve painted a lot of people who are in the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame,” he adds. “People like Jimmy Rushing, Charlie Christian, Chet Baker. These guys are disappearing, getting out of people’s consciousness, and I want to honor them and keep them alive and moving.”
    He’s even painted an Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Famer whose lasting mark was not made as a performer, but as a teacher, with pupils that included Christian and Rushing. Zelia Breaux, longtime music teacher at Oklahoma City’s Douglass High School, is represented with her own portrait in the exhibit.
    “So often, educators get missed in favor of the performers,” he says. “But educators teach and inspire them, and Zelia did that.
    “She was a little bit of a challenge, though,” he adds, chuckling again. “I only had one picture of her to work from.”
    The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame’s Jazz Depot is located at 111 E. First Street in downtown Tulsa.     
    The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.