Like books about books, music about music and musicians holds a special place in my list of most favorite things. Perhaps my overly meta-cognitive mind likes that hugely big picture perspective. Perhaps my need for exquisite and mesmerizing detail in service of that big picture relishes in the many rabbit holes of ponderance such creations offer. Perhaps that’s why half my writing involves mapping out the detailed meanderings of my own creative journey. Whatever it is, books like The Name of the Rose by Umberto Ecco and Gospel (a novel) by Wilton Barnhardt and songs like Deacon Blues by Steely Dan hold a very special place in my heart.
Back in 2020, together with my husband, I had the honor to be part of our local jazz NPR affiliate WCLK’s pledge drive. Since then a few of our playlist picks have made it into the station’s regular rotation. One of these songs I’m delighted to now here more often, Soul Shadows by Joe Sample reigns supreme as a jazz song about jazz musicians.
Here’s a snippet of the lyrics so you get the gist:
…Standing by the window as the fog rolls in
I swear I can hear a far off music
Jelly Roll is playing down in Storyville
And Satchmo is wailing in Chicago
You ought to heard “em play
Feelings that won”t go away
Left the sound of their souls in the air
I can hear it out there and I know
They left those soul shadows
On my mind, on my mind, on my mind…
Soul Shadows speaks to that profound and possibly woo-woo feeling that sweeps over me whenever I get to experience a cherished work of art in person. I always get a sense of the hands and minds that created it, the skill, the thousands of micro decisions, the moments of satisfaction, and the moments of frustration that lead to changes, all of which go into any creative endeavor. I’ve been privy to this deep awareness standing in front of my favorite Leonardo da Vinci painting or standing practically on my ear and making the museum guards nervous trying to see up inside Tutankhamun’s gold mask. I’m even lucky enough to experience in my own studio the works I’ve collected by other artists. Be it a connection to a metalsmith from 3000 years ago or a painting by a friend, these moments leave me with awe and wonder and just a little bit more ability to press on with my own endeavors.
Back in the 90s I created an Eastern repousse amulet inspired by this concept and gave it the title “Soul Shadows” in homage to Joe Sample with a nod to the Bird Lady sculpture of pre-dynastic Egypt. (In my world jazz and ancient Egyptian art totally go hand in hand.) I’d planned to pop an image of the necklace into this post, thinking I could put my hands on it immediately, but, organized as I usually am, all my photos of this piece that sold to a collector long ago are missing. Sorry I have to leave you guessing what my necklace looked like…at least for now…That photo has to be on a disc in my studio somewhere!
This theme of artist ghosts, the whispers that come from the giants on whose shoulders we all stand has made its way into much of my metalwork with hints here and there in their titles or bits of their individual artists statements. Art can act like a way-back machine, a conduit full of information, feelings, and inspiration that “speak” to each of us differently. The objects and performances couple with our imaginations to collaborate with anyone who feels compelled by them to create a unique experience moment to moment across time and culture.
What works “speak” to you?