Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Leroy Neiman

Back the days when The Leopard worked at a certain well-known non profit jazz institution in New York, I had limited authority to hire illustrators and designers I always dreamed of working with. One was the great caricaturist Al Hirshfeld, whom I’ve written about before. The other was Leroy Neiman. Neiman is a polarizing character, straddling the line between illustrator and fine artist.
In the museum world, he was barely taken seriously because of his illustration background and his association with the iconic pub Playboy Magazine (he created the little nymphet on the Party Jokes pages) and his desire to live the Playboy lifestyle.

Also his hyper-colored painting struck some as garish and unsophisticated although his draftsmanship and the immediacy of his brushwork was loved by many - his paintings sold routinely for $100,000 and up.

I once visited him in the early 2000s to discuss the possible commission of a large jazz mural in his pristine studio on upper west side. He was incredibly gracious and friendly, happily displaying his latest work. I’ll never forget a wonderful piece of advice he gave me: I timidly showed him some of my work on some postcards I brought and asked him what he thought or if he had any suggestions. After a few seconds, he said, “No, you know what you’re doing.” Then he flipped the card over. “But don’t call yourself and illustrator. Call yourself an artist”. The extravagantly mustachioed Mr. Neiman passed away a virile 91. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sade Adu

I remember walking down the street with a friend in 1984 and seeing the cover of Diamond Life, Sade’s first album, in a record store window (remember those?). It resembled a  ‘50’S LP cover, with its blue tinted photograph a beautiful, sensuous woman. My companion remarked, “If she has a voice that matches that face, she’s got something there.”
Sure enough, weeks later we heard a lovely, burning tune on the radio - the first single off that album, “Smooth Operator”.  We could now match the face with music. And now, we had a name: Sade (pronounced, of course shar-day).

Being jazz heads, we weren’t fooling ourselves that this cool, suave pop star was an bondafide jazz singer, but she had a slick sound that suggested the sophisticated feeling of the music without the improvisational aspects that exemplify the music. She was probably one of the first truly successful smooth jazz artists.

Sade and her crack band weren’t a flash in the pan. The quietly innovative group expanded and worked with its signature sound expertly over the years until their last smash album, Soldier Of Love in 2010.

African British Helen Folasade Adu (her real name) is the very definition of diva, rarely retuning to the stage or recording studio until she sees fit, but always finds generations a eager fans who are always willing to hear more.