TRUE HARVEST 2020: Each in October and November 2020, we are connecting the mission of a chosen charity with a curated group of artworks. We really enjoy making the connections between these incredible organizations and these particular pieces of art we are offering.
Nat King Cole became the first African American entertainer to host a television variety show, in 1956. As such, he was the first Black man many White families “invited” into their living rooms. He was, in many ways, the Jackie Robinson of television and music.
A virtuoso jazz pianist, he is now best remembered for his soft baritone voice, which he used to great effect in both big band and jazz genres. His popularity as a musical artist has never waned in the nearly sixty years since his death in 1964.
If you were to pass me in my car on many afternoons, you might catch me loudly singing any number of his tunes. Or perhaps you’ve been in my office when the Nat King Cole Pandora channel is crooning in the background.
Seven years older than Cole, Romare Bearden was an American artist, author, and songwriter. Much of his early work focused on memories of his life in the South, but also of unity and cooperation within the African American community . By his death, he was regarded, by the New York Times, as “the nation’s foremost collagist” in his 1988 obituary. In 1987, he was awarded the National Medal of the Arts.
Less known is Bearden’s career as a songwriter. He co-wrote the jazz classic “Sea Breeze”, which was recorded by Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie — in whose band Nat’s wife Maria also sang! Out Chorus is one of the many jazz-themed prints Bearden produced. He was friendly with many musicians and this work reflects the intimacy he shared with them.
Richard Yarde dedicated much of his earlier work to the personalities and themes of the African American experience, including large vibrant paintings depicting the jazz world of the Harlem Renaissance. His most famous series was a tribute to the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. The watercolor we are offering captures the image of one of the greats — Billie Holiday — a peer in musical genius to Nat King Cole. As Yarde wrote, “Jazz is an important source of energy and inspiration when I paint. I see the visual structure of my paintings as being very musical. The grid is like the backbeat, it keeps time in the work. The images that break through the grid are similar to improvisation.”
This first two works seem like pretty clear connections to Cole through their emphasis on jazz music. But what does a mezcal cup with a picture of the baseball player Bill Buckner have to do with Nat King Cole? A lot, as it all turns out. Nat King Cole was such an avid baseball fanatic and Dodgers fan that when Dodger Stadium at Chavez Ravine was being built, he had his choice of box seats. He purposely chose one on the first base side so he could look right into the Dodgers dugout and see what the players and coaches were doing.
Bill Buckner was a beloved player with the Los Angeles Dodgers, helping the team to the 1974 pennant. But a serious ankle injury led to a trade. He eventually ended up with the Boston Red Sox, where he became one of the most famous first basemen in Boston history. However, it would be Buckner’s iconic error in Game Six of the 1986 World Series for which he would always be remembered — and long scorned. He bore all this graciously — becoming part of the lore of the famous Red Sox curse.
Nat King Cole’s wife Maria, herself a musician and avid baseball fan, would later move to Boston, loving the Dodgers and Red Sox in equal measure.
And so we come full circle with iconic artist Ken Price, who made the cup. Although he worked primarily in clay, Price saw himself as a sculptor, using the medium that he loved to invent in form and color. Now viewed as one of the most iconic West Coast/New Mexican artists of his generation, Price loved to listen to jazz and baseball games while working in his Taos studio.
Jazz, art, baseball — it all circles back to Nat King Cole Generation Hope, a charity bringing music to children in inner-city schools — founded and led by Nat and Maria’s youngest daughters, twins Timolin and Casey.