Jazz music captured my interest at an early age. The sound intrigued me. I would turn the dial on the radio and listen, or maybe someone was on the TV, especially the Ed Sullivan Show—Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington. I was eleven years old when I went with my mom to a concert featuring Joe Williams and Lorez Alexander with the Count Basie Band. I was thrilled.
In school they always gave us classical music. I didn’t know it was a good foundation for learning how to play music. It was Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. It got to the point where I lost interest in learning how to play music. They gave a test to find out whether we would be in music classes or art. I went down the test marking “A, B, A, B, A, B,” and found myself in a music class, studying classical. The next year I transferred to art. Art came easy. It was a God-given talent. I didn’t know it until years later when I lost my eyesight.
I continued to listen to jazz, reading the back of album covers, Downbeat magazine and Blues People by Leroi Jones. I would watch performers, and the images of their performances stuck in my mind.
The role of art in my life is useful in helping me cope, exist and flourish in the society in which I live. It also helps me to use my blindness as an asset as opposed to being a defect.
After adjusting to losing my sight, music became much appreciated. It would be years later that I incorporated the jazz aesthetic into my art. The mood, the movement of the musician, the colorful music—trying to capture it in my mind and putting it on paper or canvas.
I have to use my blindness as an asset in my painting. I’ll strain my eyes to see, until the reality of now being partially blind registers, and I know I must use a different approach. I use my fingers to paint with, or the bottom of a brush, or even three color pencils at one time. That, along with the jagged lines, brutal strokes, sloshing colors and serendipity point me in the path of moving towards originality.