The Art of Romare Bearden

February 10th, 2013

Estate of Romare Bearden, courtesy of the Romare Bearden Foundation, New York.


Romare Bearden (1911 – 1988) was one of America’s great artistic innovators, blazing his own trail in a time of turbulent cultural change.  While his work offers an invaluable view of mid-twentieth-century African-American experience, it has also come to occupy a significant place in the wider history of American art and speaks to the universal concerns of artists everywhere.

Born in North Carolina and coming of age in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance, Bearden was surrounded from an early age by writers, musicians, artists, and intellectuals who presided over an extraordinary period of creative ferment.  With keen artistic sensitivity, the insight of a philosopher, and the courage of a pioneer, Bearden absorbed images and ideas that he later wove into his colorful, complex, and imaginative art.  His work is infused with the sounds, intervals, and rhythms of jazz and the blues; the majesty and mystery of popular religion and obscure ritual; echoes of European old master painting and African art; and the atmosphere of the places he loved.  The Art of Romare Bearden curator Ruth Fine writes of the artist’s achievement:  “One great legacy of Bearden’s art is its insight that what we share as a global community is equal in both interest and importance to what makes each of us unique.  He did this by embracing themes and practices from diverse times and places and imbuing them with a character and physical presence that is distinctively his own.  In the materiality of his expansive expression, method and message become one.”

The thirty works presented on the Jerry Jazz Musician on line exhibit — published with the cooperation of the National Gallery of Art — include many selections from his half-century of work that reveal the experimental evolution of his collages, but also examples of his paintings in oil and gouache; watercolors and drawings; photographs, monotypes, and edition prints; designs for record album covers, book illustrations, and the ballet; and the artist’s only known sculpture.

Bearden’s probing curiosity and the depth of his humanistic concerns are reflected in the subjects of his art, from quotidian experiences in the northern and southern United States and the Caribbean, to classic biblical and literary
motifs. While reflecting the African-American community into which he was born, the universality of Bearden’s visual concerns offers a complex world-overview, fraught with contradictions and problems yet filled with hope and beauty.

– Earl A. Powell III, Director, National Gallery of Art


To Romare Bearden

Derek Walcott

How you have gotten it! It’s all here, all right.

The lean, long black hand of the night

has swirled the cut throat of the cockerel

of daybreak, and the flecks of its blood splatter

the hills and the sacred ground

where the chalk-circles and the spiked diagrams

are drawin on the Loa’s ground.

Dawn bleeds without a sound.

In all religions sacrifices matter,

but to these rituals we ascribe malign reasons,

and primitive dreams, but as was the lamb

to Isaac, the ram to Abraham, all tribes have laid

on the threshold of heaven, cocks, ewes, horned rams

to the force that has made the fountain of the blood

in which we are born, and the harvest of our mortal seasons,

for a shadow comes towards us all, with its clean blade.


Excerpted from the exhibition catalogue The Art of Romare Bearden, © National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2003

The Family, c. 1941

gouache with ink and graphite on brown paper, 74 x 104.8 cm (29 1/8
x 41 1/4)

Collection of Earle Hyman

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

Untitled (He Is Arisen), 1945

watercolor and ink on paper, 30.5 x 22.9 cm (12 x 9); 45.7 x 40.6
cm (18 x 16)

Mr. Keith Lee and Dr. Lori Andochick

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

Now the Dove and the Leopard Wrestle, 1946

oil on canvas, 59.7 x 74.3 cm (23 1/2 x 29 1/4)

Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

Evening, 9:10, 461 Lenox Avenue, 1964

collage of various papers with paint, ink, and graphite on cardboard,
21.3 x 27.9 cm (8 3/8 x 11)

Van Every/Smith Galleries, Davidson College, Davidson, North

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

Train Whistle Blues: I, 1964

collage of various papers on cardboard, 35.6 x 27 cm (14 x 10

Laura Grosch and Herb Jackson

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

Pittsburgh Memory, 1964

collage of printed papers with graphite on cardboard, 21.6 x 29.9
cm (8 1/2 x 11 3/4)

Collection of halley k harrisburg and Michael Rosenfeld, New

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

City of Brass, c. 1965

photostat with paper collage and gouache on wood, 73 x 101.6 cm (28
3/4 x 40)

Collection Fanny Ellison

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

Farm Couple, c. 1965

collage of various papers with paint, ink, and graphite on cardboard,
23.2 x 29.9 cm (9 1/8 x 11 3/4)

Anonymous lender

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

Three Folk Musicians, 1967

collage of various papers with paint and graphite on canvas, 127.3
x 152.4 cm (50 1/8 x 60)

Anonymous lender

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

Sunday Morning Breakfast, 1967

collage of various papers with paint, ink, and graphite on fiberboard,
111.8 x 142.2 cm (44 x 56)

Collection of halley k harrisburg and Michael Rosenfeld, New

©Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New

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In This Issue

painting of Clifford Brown by Paul Lovering
A Collection of Jazz Poetry — Spring/Summer, 2024 Edition...In this, the 17th major collection of jazz poetry published on Jerry Jazz Musician, 50 poets from all over the world again demonstrate the ongoing influence the music and its associated culture has on their creative lives.

(featuring the art of Paul Lovering)

Publisher’s Notes

photo by Rhonda Dorsett
On turning 70, and contemplating the future of Jerry Jazz Musician...

The Sunday Poem

Painting of Thelonious Monk by Martel Chapman
“Ten-Suite Epistrophies and Improvisations: for T. Monk” by Bill Siegel...

Click here to read previous editions of The Sunday Poem


“Revival” © Kent Ambler.
If You Want to Go to Heaven, Follow a Songbird – Mary K O’Melveny’s album of poetry and music...While consuming Mary K O’Melveny’s remarkable work in this digital album of poetry, readings and music, readers will discover that she is moved by the mastery of legendary musicians, the wings of a monarch butterfly, the climate and political crisis, the mysteries of space exploration, and by the freedom of jazz music that can lead to what she calls “the magic of the unknown.” (with art by Kent Ambler)


The Marvelettes/via Wikimedia Commons
Interview with Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz, authors of But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?: An Oral History of the 60’s Girl Groups...Little is known of the lives and challenges many of the young Black women who made up the Girl Groups of the ‘60’s faced while performing during an era rife with racism, sexism, and music industry corruption. The authors discuss their book’s mission to provide the artists an opportunity to voice their experiences so crucial to the evolution of popular music.

Book Excerpt

An excerpt from Emily Jon Tobias’ MONARCH: Stories, and a reflection on our friendship

In Memoriam

photo via Wikimedia Commons
A few words about Willie Mays...Thoughts about the impact Willie Mays had on baseball, and on my life.


photo of Earl Hines by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Pianists and Poets – 13 poems devoted to the keys...From “Fatha” Hines to Brad Mehldau, poets open themselves up to their experiences with and reverence for great jazz pianists


photo of Archie Shepp by Giovanni Piesco
The Photographs of Giovanni Piesco: Archie of the legendary saxophonist (and his rhythm section for the evening), taken at Amsterdam's Bimhuis on May 13, 2001.


CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
“On Coltrane: 4th of July Reflections” – a poem by Connie Johnson

Click here to read more poetry published in Jerry Jazz Musician

Calling All Poets!

News about a Jerry Jazz Musician printed jazz poetry anthology, and information about submitting your poetry for consideration

Short Fiction
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #65 — “Ballad” by Lúcia Leão...The author’s award-winning story is about the power of connections – between father and child, music and art, and the past, present and future.

Click here to read more short fiction published on Jerry Jazz Musician


photo of Louis Jordan by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Interview with Tad Richards, author of Jazz With a Beat: Small Group Swing, 1940 – 1960...Richards makes the case that small group swing players like Illinois Jacquet, Louis Jordan (pictured) and Big Jay McNeely played a legitimate jazz that was a more pleasing listening experience to the Black community than the bebop of Parker, Dizzy, and Monk. It is a fascinating era, filled with major figures and events, and centered on a rigorous debate that continues to this day – is small group swing “real jazz?”


photo of Coleman Hawkins by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
“The Naked Jazz Musician” – A playlist by Bob Hecht...As Sonny Rollins has said, “Jazz is about taking risks, pushing boundaries, and challenging the status quo.” Could there be anything riskier—or more boundary-pushing—than to stand naked and perform with nowhere to hide? Bob’s extensive playlist is comprised of such perilous undertakings by an array of notable woodwind and brass masters who have had the confidence and courage (some might say even the exhibitionism) to expose themselves so completely by playing….alone.


Excerpts from David Rife’s Jazz Fiction: Take Two – Vol. 3: “Louis Armstrong”...A substantial number of novels and stories with jazz music as a component of the story have been published over the years, and the scholar David J. Rife has written short essay/reviews of them. In this third edition featuring excerpts from his book, Rife writes about four novels/short fiction that include stories involving Louis Armstrong.

Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

The cover of Wayne Shorter's 2018 Blue Note album "Emanon"
Trading Fours, with Douglas Cole, No. 20: “Notes on Genius...This edition of the writer’s poetic interpretations of jazz recordings and film is written in response to the music of Wayne Shorter.

Click here to read previous editions of Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

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Hans Bernhard (Schnobby), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
“Remembering Joe Pass: Versatile Jazz Guitar Virtuoso” – by Kenneth Parsons...On the 30th anniversary of the guitarist Joe Pass’ death, Kenneth Parsons reminds readers of his brilliant career

Book Excerpt

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Jazz History Quiz #172

photo of Teddy Wilson by William Gottlieb
Teddy Wilson once said this about a fellow jazz pianist:

“That man had the most phenomenal musical gifts I’ve ever heard. He was miraculous. It’s like someone hitting a home run every time he picks up a bat. We became such fast friends that I was allowed to interrupt him anytime he was playing at the house parties in Toledo we used to make every night. When I asked him, he would stop and replay a passage very slowly, showing me the fingering on some of those runs of his. You just couldn’t figure them out by ear at the tempo he played them.”

Who is the pianist he is describing?


photo via
.“Community Bookshelf, #2"...a twice-yearly space where writers who have been published on Jerry Jazz Musician can share news about their recently authored books. This edition includes information about books published within the last six months or so…

Contributing Writers

Click the image to view the writers, poets and artists whose work has been published on Jerry Jazz Musician, and find links to their work

Coming Soon

An interview with Larry Tye, author of The Jazzmen: How Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie Transformed America; an interview with James Kaplan, author of 3 Shades of Blue: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and the Lost Empire of Cool; A new collection of jazz poetry; a collection of jazz haiku; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction; poetry; photography; interviews; playlists; and lots more in the works...

Interview Archive

Ella Fitzgerald/IISG, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Click to view the complete 25-year archive of Jerry Jazz Musician interviews, including those recently published with Judith Tick on Ella Fitzgerald (pictured),; Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz on the Girl Groups of the 60's; Tad Richards on Small Group Swing; Stephanie Stein Crease on Chick Webb; Brent Hayes Edwards on Henry Threadgill; Richard Koloda on Albert Ayler; Glenn Mott on Stanley Crouch; Richard Carlin and Ken Bloom on Eubie Blake; Richard Brent Turner on jazz and Islam; Alyn Shipton on the art of jazz; Shawn Levy on the original queens of standup comedy; Travis Atria on the expatriate trumpeter Arthur Briggs; Kitt Shapiro on her life with her mother, Eartha Kitt; Will Friedwald on Nat King Cole; Wayne Enstice on the drummer Dottie Dodgion; the drummer Joe La Barbera on Bill Evans; Philip Clark on Dave Brubeck; Nicholas Buccola on James Baldwin and William F. Buckley; Ricky Riccardi on Louis Armstrong; Dan Morgenstern and Christian Sands on Erroll Garner; Maria Golia on Ornette Coleman.

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