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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Beauford and Charlie Parker

Beauford was passionate about jazz and considered the music to be an important art form. He taught his famous mentee, James Baldwin, that jazz was as "sacred" as gospel music.

When both men lived in Paris and the mentor-mentee relationship was reversed, Baldwin and Beauford frequented - and sometimes sang at - jazz clubs such as Inez Cavanaugh's Chez Inez.

During his New York years, Beauford made the acquaintance of many jazz musicians who became subjects for his pastel and charcoal portraiture. Much later, during his Paris years, he captured the essence of iconic jazz musicians in his inimitable, increasingly abstract style.

One of these musicians was Charlie Parker.

In his masterful portrait of Parker, Beauford portrays the saxophonist in regal attire. "Bird" holds a scepter adorned with a musical note as a feathered namesake observes from above. The brilliance of the painting lies in the way Beauford rendered Parker's skin, using colors ranging from black to white.

Charlie Parker
(1968) Oil on canvas
Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester
Photograph by Joshua Nefsky; Courtesy of
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

This painting is a splendid example of Beauford's use of the color "yellow." The Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Rochester acquired it from the collection of Billy Dee Williams in 2015.

In an earlier homage to Parker, Beauford endeavored to capture the essence of the musician's melodies on canvas.

Charlie Parker Yardbird
(1958) Oil on canvas
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the James F. Dicke Family
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Beauford was always concerned with how he could best portray jazz through light and color. The rose and blue tones of Charlie Parker Yardbird seem to radiate from the center of the canvas, just as Parker's music emerged from the bell of his saxophone during his 1946 recording of Yardbird Suite.

Charlie Parker Yardbird is currently displayed at the Luce Foundation Center of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (4th Floor 44A).

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