In the 1970s, painter Frederick J. Brown's studio loft in downtown Manhattan attracted many young artists, musicians, dancers and writers who gathered there to collaborate and experiment.
The American Artistic Renaissance Symposium, Sept. 22-24 at Cornell, will reunite Brown and many major players from that scene, including jazz greats Charlie Haden, Henry Threadgill, Stanley Crouch and Sam Rivers. Three panel discussions will explore the confluence of visual and performance art, dance and experimental jazz at the time; and the Hans Bethe House lawn on West Campus will host a live jam session Sept. 23 at 9 p.m. Participants will also visit classrooms and hold master classes.
"This is an unusual and historical reunion of a large number of towering figures of American art and culture of the last quarter of the 20th century," said Bethe House Dean Porus Olpadwala, formerly dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP).
Brown, whose daughter Sebastienne graduated from AAP this year, donated his "Triptich Portrait of Harriet Tubman" to the Africana Studies and Research Center in 2006 and four paintings to Bethe House after a visit with Threadgill in October 2007. After enjoying interactions with faculty and students, the two artists discussed bringing a group of their friends and collaborators to Cornell.
Brown is well-known for the colorful, vivid portraits of musicians in his "Jazz and Blues" series, and depictions of presidents, artists, folk heroes and Native Americans. His large-scale works include "The History of Art," consisting of 110 interlocking canvases. His influences encompass abstract expressionism and African, religious and folk art.
Raised on Chicago's South Side, Brown moved to New York in 1970 after college and quickly made connections in the music and art worlds. His musical associates, including high school friend Anthony Braxton, were notable leaders of the free jazz movement, and his SoHo loft became a center for avant-garde performance and expression. Brown eventually gave up the loft in the late 1990s, after his family moved to Arizona.
The panel discussions -- Sept. 23 at noon in B20 Lincoln Hall, Sept. 24 at noon at the Africana Center, and Sept. 24 at 8:30 p.m. in Barnes Hall -- will look at the history and conditions that helped establish the loft scene from the 1960s forward, how new creative directions evolved, effects on culture and the artists who followed, and the prospects for such collaborations to thrive today.
Panelists also include dancer-choreographers Blondell Cummings and Megan Bowman Brown (Brown's wife); poet and community activist Felipe Luciano; artists Anthony Barboza and Gregoire Muller; drummer Jerome Cooper; and James Jordan, Ornette Coleman's baritone saxophonist and manager, who mentored the early SoHo scene and later worked for the New York State Council on the Arts and National Endowment for the Arts.
Cornell professor of music Steven Pond and Brent Edwards, a professor at Columbia University's Center for Jazz Studies, will moderate. Edwards is writing a cultural history of loft jazz in 1970s New York.
Also expected to attend: playwright Christina Ham, New York Times editor Carla Anne Robbins, Ogden Museum of Southern Art curator David Houston and filmmaker Mary Kemper Wolf, who profiled Brown's career in her 2002 documentary "120 Wooster Street."
"What I'm looking forward to is getting a sense of not only this critical mass of creativity happening in music at the time, but how it was interwoven with the other arts," Pond said. "SoHo became a magnet for these wildly creative people who had relocated from other cities. Henry Threadgill had been part of the AACM, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians [in Chicago]. He relocated, as many people did, to New York in the '70s to be closer to this whole scene ... the scene itself became a draw."
The panels and concert are free and open to the public. Supporting sponsors include the American Studies Program, Cornell Council for the Arts, Cornell Library, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Departments of Music and Art, the Rose Goldsen Lecture Series, Campus Life, the Society for the Humanities and several other units across campus.