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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Jazz Concert in the Old New York Synagogue

Beauford loved jazz! He considered it to be "warm, vibrant, and conducive to dreaming and romantic musing."*

During his "New York years" (1929-1953), he painted two works depicting jazz musicians performing in a synagogue.

Jazz Quartet
(1946) Oil on canvas
Image courtesy of Burt and Patricia Reinfrank
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Jazz concert in the old synagogue, Lower East Side, New York
(ca. 1946) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

I was curious about the setting for these two paintings and decided to do a little research. I learned that there is a black Jewish population in New York City and that the first African-American synagogue in the city was founded in 1919. I also learned that jazz pianist Willie "The Lion" Smith was Jewish and worked as a Hebrew cantor for a black Jewish congregation in Harlem. However, I was unable to find information about the location of the synagogue in the paintings.

Jazz Quartet hung in the Artsmia exposition Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris, which originated at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (November 21, 2004 – February 20, 2005) and was subsequently presented by the Knoxville Museum of Art (April 8 – June 25, 2005), the Greenville County Museum of Art (August 3 – October 2, 2005), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (November 12, 2005 – January 28, 2006).

As a tribute to Beauford's love of jazz, the Philadelphia Museum of Art organized a special event starring Philadelphia jazz pianist Orrin Evans and including a screening of the Oscar-nominated documentary film A Great Day in Harlem.

*Quote from Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney

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