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  • Danielle Bennignus

For the Love of Traditional Jazz

Updated: May 27, 2018


I've mentioned the role that music plays in my creative process, and I thought it a good idea to elaborate with a handful of illustrations not mentioned in the last post. And though I enjoy a range of genres, traditional jazz has lent a push to my work (and life) in unprecedented ways. Shown above is "Carbon Mike", a tribute piece created for Vince Giordano, a great jazz preservationist and bandleader of the Nighthawks, based in my old stomping grounds of New York City. Though it's admittedly a self-portrait, he and his orchestra are represented by the carbon microphone wallpaper elements, the nighthawk mascot, and the cabinet Victrola phonograph. As I listen to the machine, drawings come out one by one - a pretty accurate statement, to be honest.

As long as I've brought up Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, it's an opportune moment to mention the fantastic reedman, Dan Levinson. Dan has been a member of Vince's band for many years, and has a phenomenal gift for the clarinet and saxophone style of the traditional jazz repertoire. His quicksilver, sinuous sound is represented here by two serpents alongside the title, and his greatest influence, Rosy McHargue, is subtly captured by the rose-colored window panels behind him.

One of my favorite musicians and bon vivants of the old world variety is the incomparable George Schmidt, banjo player and vocalist of New Orleans' New Leviathan Oriental Foxtrot Orchestra. George co-founded the group over four decades ago, and keeps the tradition alive to this day as both a musician and archivist. A visit to his gallery (by the way, he's also a phenomenal artist) is a rare treat, with anecdotes, beautiful imagery and ribald stories - and, if you're lucky, memories of George's late father, Henry Schmidt. Talk about a life lived! When he passed on at the age of 100, I created this piece as a way of bringing some cheer to George - just a pretty lady, a couple of toads, a banjo,and voodoo lilies.

Finally, a fun little piece for one of my favorite people (and dearest role models), Richard Eagan - co-founder of the Coney Island Yacht Club band, as well as the Coney Island Hysterical Society, the pioneering preservation group that helped to establish the amusement district's artistic renaissance of the 1980s. Richard's place in my life is nearly unequaled, somewhere between adopted uncle, twin soul, sand-in-the-shoes sibling and jazz junkie blood brother. In short, it's a great bond, shared along with his lovely wife Liz, and my husband Matt. We always visit with these two beautiful people for our annual pilgrimage to New York City, and I gave them this kinetic derby racer horse illustration on our first trip. It isn't strictly a musical piece per se, but if you've ever been lucky enough to ride a vintage derby racer, you'll know just how rhythmic they are!

One last little image, taken years ago as I was working on the tribute piece I created for my husband, Matt Tolentino. Our courtship story is a really, really good one, and this illustration played a role in the process. But we'll get to that drawing, and the stroy behind it, eventually.


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