What if I told you that Grandma Moses (the early 20th century, self-taught, primitive painter) played a hot upright bass in Buddy Bolden’s and Fletcher Henderson’s bands and that paintings of hers were recently discovered showing her playing gigs in both those bands?
I can’t… ain’t going to happen…(it wasn’t even on the internet). But at New York’s newest jazz parlor, Mezzrow, an exhibit of paintings by and of vocalist, Barbara Rosene performing at many of New York’s most revered venues is as close to that “news” as it gets.
Barbara is a native of Cleveland, Ohio and grew up hearing big band and jazz records from her father’s collection. Early on she listened to Jazz Age divas Annette Hanshaw and Mildred Bailey, whose singing influenced her own vocal interpretation of the Great American Songbook. She sang with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks for a few years after arriving in New York and still appears with the band frequently. Most recently she has been vocalist with the Harry James Orchestra, now under the direction of Fred Radke.
Barbara has released a number of CDs, including Deep Night, Moon Song, Ev’rything’s Made For Love, It Was Only a Sun Shower, and Nice and Naughty all on the Stomp Off label. She also recorded All My Life (Azica) and On the Brink (BluesBack). Her CDs are available through barbararosene.com.
The creative impulse to paint is not foreign to singers; take Tony Bennett, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, or Sinatra, for example; they painted. But Rosene’s spirited, fanciful, impressionistic paintings are distinguished by (among other things) her documentation (with playful liberties) of the many seminal musicians, bands, patrons and venues she’s been associated with, as a singer, over her last 15 years in New York City and as a member of the current senior class of professional popular song/early jazz artists.
Her work is further distinguished in that it idiosyncratically captures an ebullient love, good cheer and verve she feels for the music, the places and the people with whom she is associated.
About her work Barbara confesses, “Maybe it’s too daunting an idea, but I would so much like to represent joy and fun with my paintings and my music. I guess I try to create scenes when I perform —and in my paintings—places where people can just feel happy for a bit.”
A June 2nd showing of her “Jazz Series” at Mezzrow (163 W. 10th St.), where music was casually provided by Conal Fowkes (p), Danny Tobias (tmpt) and Barbara, was attended by other notable guests, among whom were: Maggie Condon, Hank O’Neal, and Woody Allen Band members: Simon Wettenhall and Debbie Kennedy. But the spotlights were on her twelve paintings.
Each of her twelve, 16” x 20’” acrylics (on canvas and fiber panel) depict, among other gems of NY’s Jazz landscape: Birdland, The Village Vanguard, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, The Cajun, The Ear Inn, Arthur’s Tavern and Smalls and each is amusingly peopled with an A to Z roster of Who’s Who in New York’s current traditional jazz and entertainment intelligentsia with whom she’s been associated including: Howard Alden, Eddy Davis, Conal Fowkes, Vince Giordano, Wycliffe Gordon, Michael Hashim, Dan Levinson, Scott Robinson, and Terry Waldo (to name a few alphabetically).
Her artworks (all of which are owned by art and music devotees) have been further reproduced and collected into a gallery quality miniature catalog (available for sale). Each reproduction is accompanied by a narrative from its commissioning owner. Rosene’s paintings have been commissioned by artists, musicians, an impresario, writers, and producers such as Rob Bamberger, Dan Morgenstern, and Hank O’Neal.
To see her paintings and to learn more about buying high-quality reproductions, please visit www.barbararosenepaintings.com.
Author Neal Siegal is a Manhattan Bon Vivant and a Barber Shop Quartet Singer.