Dr. Dina Bennett on the work of Frederick James Brown
“I chose Frederick James Brown’s They Have the Right to Sing the Blues, because the blues is a significant musical source in the Kansas City jazz style. A genre of secular music that arose after the Civil War out of the Black experience in America, the blues describes black life and joys as well as its sorrows and the will to survive in the midst of economic, social, physical, sexual, and racist oppression. As the conveyor of blues emotion and feeling, the blues singer imparts a message of unrequited love, lost love, survival, freedom, traveling (looking for a better life), imprisonment, and other hardships stemming from the social, political, and economic realities of life. The blues message is expressed in highly personalized terms, yet it represents the collective sensibility and identity of a people. The blues is about oral expression and storytelling. Emotion. Realism. Joy. Despair. So, yes! These folks had the right to sing the blues! As John Lee Hooker proclaims, ‘you’ll never get out of these blues alive.’”
– Dr. Dina Bennett
Frederick James Brown, (American, 1945–2012), They Had the Right to Sing the Blues, 1995, acrylic on canvas, 92 x 148½ inches. Collection of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Anonymous Gift, 2002.20.01. © Frederick J. Brown Trust / Artist's Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Frederick James Brown (American, 1945–2012)
Kemper Museum has several works by Frederick James Brown (American, 1945–2012), many of which depict influential jazz musicians and vocalists he met after he moved to New York in 1970. They Have the Right to Sing the Blues (1995) is an expressive ode to female vocal legends, and Brown’s individual portrait of musician Count Basie (2003) exemplify his expressionistic portrait style capturing the energy, and flow of jazz music in gestural brushstrokes. Basie had a strong connection to Kansas City. He is from New Jersey, but was stranded in Kansas City while playing with the territory bands, and it was here where Basie created the famous KC swing style.
Frederick James Brown, (American, 1945–2012), Count Basie, 2003, oil on canvas over wood panel, 80 x 42 inches. Collection of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection, Gift of the Enid and Crosby Kemper Foundation, 2005.10.01. © Frederick J. Brown Trust / Artist's Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Dan Wayne.
"Free Style Jazz"
This gallery also includes the abstract works Kinetic Abstraction No. 25 (2018) by Terry Dixon (American, born 1969) and Untitled (1983) by Sam Francis (American, 1923–1994). Dixon’s mixed-media geometric forms are inspired by the “Free Jazz Style” of the 1950s to 1970s; the intuitive sounds of the music influence his compositions and mark making. Also working in an abstract and expressionistic style, Sam Francis’s colorful drips evoke the energy of sound and movement.
Terry Dixon, (American, born 1969), Kinetic Abstraction No. 25, 2018, mixed media on wood, 36 x 62 inches. Collection of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Gift of the artist, 2018.07.01. © Terry Dixon. Photo: E. G. Schempf, 2019.
Sam Francis, (American, 1923–1994), Untitled, 1983, acrylic on paper, 71¾ x 37¼ inches. Collection of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection, Museum purchase, Enid and Crosby Kemper and William T. Kemper Acquisition Fund, 2004.03.01. © 2015 Sam Francis Foundation, California / Artist Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: E. G. Schempf, 2019.