For the Storefront Show you made 48 drawings of different seminal jazz musicians. How did this project come about and how did you chose which musicians to portray?
Alex Becerra: This specific project, was in some way, a complete accident: it really started as an exercise in listening and exploring new music, past and present in my studio. One of my passions outside of art making is consuming anything music and exploring albums that catch my attention via cover art, specific record labels, and the rush of record digging. Last year, 2019, I found myself quite uninspired in the studio so I would pull jazz records out of my shelves and just take in the music. Music is very powerful and doesn’t need much explanation beyond pure listening and I found myself enveloped in the sounds of jazz innovators such as Horace Tapscott, Cecil Taylor, Joe McPhee, Don Cherry, Noah Howard, amongst many others. While having the albums on repeat on my turntable—once one side was over I would get up and simply start the tracks all over again—I found myself reading the liner notes for more context of the players and sounds I was listening to and being totally fascinated by its cover art and design. So I started to sketch a few of my favorite jazz musicians that are much more associated with “free music” or the “avant-garde.” To me, they asked more of the listener and, in most cases, passive listening while drinking a martini and washing the dishes is not what this music was about. Trying to relate the power and complexities of this music with composition and color in the drawings was what I found myself most interested in while making all the works you see in this exhibition. I’ve only scratched the surface of this massive ongoing project and I plan on continuing my own education and further educating the public about forgotten innovators in the realm of music.
Music is clearly a huge part of your life. In what ways does it directly influence your work?
AB: Music needs very little words if any at all to make you feel a certain way, whether it be anger, confusion, happiness or complete boredom you instantly have a response when you hear music. I hope I can elicit a similar response in my art practice. Specifically talking about the musicians I have included in this exhibition, I have found their approach to textures and methods uncanny and very much in line with the way artist approach making visual art. Theres something very beautiful for me when I look at one of my artworks and very strongly remembering what album or song I was listening to and the vibe it created in my studio. The freedom music has given me has also gathered myself and a couple friends in creating and releasing our own music under the name ATM ( Alex Tony Matt ) on the Radical Documents label based out of Los Angeles.
KI: You've mentioned before that there is a link between Switzerland and the jazz scene, could you elaborate on that?
AB: Before ever visiting Switzerland, the two things I associated the country with before the Swiss Army knife, Swiss cheese and chocolate is a record label by the name HATHUT founded by Werner X. Uehlinger and The Montreux Jazz Festival. It is clear that Uehlinger and company weren’t simply interested in jazz so much as forward-looking musicians. Joe McPhee said. “In my opinion, HatHut will be seen historically as one of the most vitally important independent labels, in the preservation of a golden period of this art form.” And of course we cannot forget some of the most infamous stories in music history stemming from performances at the Montreux jazz Festival. If you are unaware of some of these stories I suggest a quick google search for anybody interested in music. The fire at the Montreux Casino during a Frank Zappa concert inspired Deep Purple to write the hit “Smoke on the Water.” That same year, Claude Nobs convinced Aretha Franklin to perform at the festival by offering her a box of chocolates!
Check out our studio visit with Alex Becerra below!