By Dan Aubrey
Graffiti jam at TerraCycle
‘Was nothing but the writers, some beer, and a boombox,” says the Facebook recollection of the 2005 spray-painted wall that led to the building of Jersey Fresh Jam — New Jersey’s premiere hip hop festival.
Marking its 10th anniversary on Saturday, August 22, the Jam will attract more than 100 street artists or writers from around the country and globe to transform the Trenton-based company TerraCycle’s parking lot, walls, courtyard, and delivery areas on New York Avenue into a giant outdoors canvas.
The jam will be just one of several cool events in a month that is sizzling with musical and cultural activities — see stories below for more of the August happenings.
The idea for the Jersey Fresh Jam was born when TerraCycle CEO and graffiti art lover Tom Szaky met Trenton-based street artist Leon Rainbow at a party and invited him to paint the space.
Rainbow says he was already building his organizational skills while working with Philadelphia graffiti artist Pose 2 on his major annual hip hop event. “It’s a similar event (to the Jam), but it’s in Philadelphia,” says Rainbow. “He showed me how he got sponsors, artists, and organized walls. We started to bring those elements to the Jersey Fresh Jam, and started slowly. When we started to do the music, it started to change the atmosphere to the Jam. It brought a lot of people who were interested in street art, but it also brought a lot of people who were interested in hip hop music.”
But the first jam was mainly for the dozen or so artists from Philadelphia, New York City, and Trenton, says Rainbow — a member of organizing group Vicious Styles Crew.
The event’s name was inspired in part by the state’s Jersey Fresh produce campaign. “We wanted to make (our event) more accessible and added music, and then we began to call it just the Jersey Fresh Jam,” says Rainbow.
The partnership between street artists who want to keep creating and a company that understands that its connection to graffiti gives it a fresh and contemporary edge is a positive and ongoing relationship.
Says Rainbow: “We really help each other. We just don’t paint during the Jam; we’re there all year round. Some of the walls may run for six months or a couple of weeks. It’s constantly changing. When you paint a mural or wall, no matter how exciting it is, after you walk around it for a while, it becomes part of the background. But if it changes, it’s more exciting. All the walls will change the day of the Jam. And if you go back three months later it will be different. They have a lot of people who come there to do (media) articles, and (the art) always makes it interesting for them.”
The artists, in turn, receive commissions from the TerraCycle and other companies that want graffiti art in their offices. One such client was Inc. Magazine in New York. “It’s really been a mutually beneficial relationship,” says Rainbow.
“Each year is a little different,” Rainbow says of the Jam’s theme and support. But one thing is consistent: the desire to create accomplished art.
“One of the main things I look for in a good graffiti piece is letter style, use of color, flow, use of the wall, and originality,” Rainbow says. “Graffiti as an art is full of contrast and contradictions. When someone is new, shaky lines and drips can be a sign of inexperience. In the hands of a master, shaky lines in some areas can be used to show motion and properly placed drips can show homage to the street. An artist needs to learn the rules before they can break them. Anyone can make a mark or go out and do a piece, but to do a piece that is accepted as great by your peers is what matters in graffiti.”
He adds, “I also think it is important for an artist to develop a personal style. If I see a (fellow street artist) Mek or Kasso piece I can tell it’s their piece even from far away, even if I can’t read it, by the way it is structured and painted. Many of the same rules in fine art play a part in graffiti like color theory, perspective, contrast, etc.”
Graffiti art uses highly developed skills in the creation of temporary art and not a market product. The impulse to create such art involves a different set of sensibilities. “I think the appeal of graffiti or painting in the street differs from one artist to another. But I think the main thing is it is a way to reach a large audience. Think of it like this, if you put a piece in a gallery maybe at most a few thousand people will see it. But if you put a piece in a prime location like a train line or major intersection in a city thousands of people will see it.”
Thinking back to 2005, Rainbow says, “The first Jam was just for us, then after a while it became more open. And we enjoy it. It’s interesting for the public to see who we are and what we do. And we get to understand their point of view.”
The Jersey Fresh Jam, Saturday, August 22, noon to 6 p.m. TerraCycle Complex, 121 New York Avenue, free. jerseyfreshjam.com.
Free outdoor concerts behind the State House
Trenton is taking the phrase “summertime blues” to a lively and new level. Thanks to the Levitt AMP weekly concerts, the city is turning the three-acre green behind the New Jersey State House into a soundstage with a series of free Saturday night concerts featuring world class musicians.
The list — ranging from jazz to classical — reads like a who’s who of national and regional talent.
On the national scene, there is the August 8 appearance of the New York City-based hard blues Tomas Doncker Band — a group that recently partnered with Trenton-based Pulitzer Prize winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa to create the CD “New York City Blues.”
High powered Jersey music comes from Capital City rockers Honah Lee (performing with rollers Low Cut Connie) on August 15 and the Chamber Ensemble of the New Jersey Capital Philharmonic Orchestra coming in early September.
One featured performer who combines a national presence with local pulse is jazz pianist Orrin Evans. Evans and his Captain Black Big Band arrive on August 22. One of Downbeat Magazine’s “rising stars,” the Trenton born, Philadelphia-based, and New York-working Evans is the real deal — a blooming talent with roots in Trenton.
In an interview with Downtowner reporter Ron Shapella, Evans shows his pedigree. His late father, Don Evans, was an acclaimed playwright who chaired the Afro-American Studies Department at Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey) and was instrumental in the creation of Crossroads Theater in New Brunswick. His late mother, Frances, was an accomplished soprano, also remembered for her work at the YWCA in Trenton.
“Basically I grew up in an artistic household, but I thought everybody grew up like that,” Evans says. “I thought everyone’s mom would have dinner parties and someone would start playing the piano and singing. I didn’t know any other thing. My folks were both heavily involved in the arts. That was all I knew and all I desired to do.”
Evans studied informally with some of Philadelphia’s contemporary jazz all-stars, including Trudy Pitts, Shirley Scott, Mickey Roker, Bobby Durham, Edgar Bateman, and Sid Simmons. He went on to Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts, cut his first album in 1994, and arrived on the New York jazz scene in 1996. Evans’ performing resume increased to include luminaries as diverse as the Mingus Big Band, Roy Hargrove, Pharoah Sanders, Nicholas Payton, Branford Marsalis, Mos Def, Common, Antonio Hart, Carmen Lundy, Gary Bartz, Eddie Henderson, Sean Jones, Tim Warfield, Ravi Coltrane, and Robin and Duane Eubanks.
Evans — and the other musicians — comes to Trenton via Levitt Pavilions, a nonprofit partnering with cities to transform neglected public spaces into thriving destinations through the power of free, live music. It is supported by the Levitt Foundation, a private family foundation, founded in 1963 by Mortimer and Mimi Levitt to support the arts, culture, and education.
Trenton won a national competition and received $25,000 to support a “performance space for the community to gather and experience the arts.” The Trenton Downtown Association is managing the project. Local sponsors are NJM Insurance Company of West Trenton, New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the County of Mercer, Capital Health, and Wells Fargo.
The free Saturday series continues through September 26. The August line-up includes the following:
August 1: Elikeh, which organizers say “draws on danceable music from Togolese, Nigerian, American, and Latin traditions.” Check them out at elikeh.net.
August 8: Tomas Doncker Band presents “Global Soul,” with the “power soul” group Blue Method opening. www.tomasdoncker.net and www.facebook.com/TheBlueMethod
August 15: Low Cut Connie Rock ‘n Roll and Trenton rock band Honah Lee opens. lowcutconnie.com and www.honahleemusic.com
August 22: Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band. orrinevansmusic.com.
August 29: Washington, DC, based singer-songwriter Justin Trawick and the Common Good, urban folk rock, and Lawrenceville-based folk-rock musician Jesse Elliott. justintrawick.com and jesseelliot.com.
Concerts take place at the Capital Green — the three acres of open space behind the New Jersey State House at the intersection of West Lafayette Street and next to the Old Barracks Museum.
Attendees are encouraged to bring blankets and chairs to the open lawn concert setting. All ages are welcome, and admission is free.
For concerts details and other information, including accessibility, volunteering, and weather-related updates, visit concerts.levittamp.org/trenton.
African American cultural festival at Cadwalader
The African American Cultural Festival — an annual Trenton celebration of the history, culture, heritage, and arts that represent the rich traditions and zestful spirit of the African and African American Diaspora — returns for its fifth year with two free events in Cadwalader Park.
First is the Youth Sports Expo on Saturday, August 8, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Parkside Avenue and West State Street section of Cadwalader Park and features basketball, football, soccer, tennis, golf, and boxing exhibitions.
Participating organizations include the West End and North End Little League, First Tee Golf, New Jersey Tennis League, Eric Judkins Boxing, Schaeffer Gym Gymnastics, Trenton Bridge Lacrosse, and a host of others.
The successful and popular Trenton African American Cultural Festival (TAACF) takes place the following Saturday, August 15, from noon to 6 p.m. in Cadwalader Park. The event boasts a day-long schedule of cultural entertainment, including music by jazz artist Jeff Bradshaw and neo-soul artist Jaguar Wright. Trombonist Bradshaw is a key player in Philadelphia’s neo-soul scene and has played with such notable acts as Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and Will Downing. Wright has been in the music business for nearly two decades and is best known for her work with the Roots and Jay-Z’s MTV Unplugged performance.
Area musicians Marciano & Friends, Oxygen Band, Love Parq, and others will also be performing throughout the day. A children’s village will feature story telling, African drum lessons, arts and crafts, and face painting. Other highlights include two Trenton City Museum programs. The first is a film festival of documentaries, narrative, and experimental short films written, directed, and starring youth from Trenton and the surrounding region.
“The arts provide an avenue for our youth to express themselves. The films showcase the range of their diversity, their spirit, and their talents” says Bentrice Jusu, founder of the coordinating arts making organization, Both Hands. The other museum attraction is the juried exhibition “… of Color: The African American Experience” (see story below). Food and craft vendors will also be on hand around the park.
“Each year we strive to bring different elements to the festival that will showcase the depth and range of the African Diaspora,” says Latarsha Burke, executive director of the TAACF. “We are excited to collaborate with the museum to further highlight the artistic talents of African American artists.”
For more information about the festival, visit taacf.com.
‘Of Color’ at Ellarslie
This year’s African American Cultural Festival has a new component — the exhibition “… of Color: The African American Experience,” on view at the Trenton City Museum, Ellarslie, in Cadwalader Park through Sunday, August 30.
The exhibit features 48 works by 27 artists of various racial backgrounds. In addition to images, the 27 participating artists also created written statements about the African American experience.
Nationally recognized artist Wendell Brooks, professor emeritus at the College of New Jersey, served as juror for the exhibit. “There are very good artists, a very good show, but what is really good are the statements that the people wrote about the work. It makes an extremely interesting show. I was surprised that there were so many black artists working,” says Brooks in a recent interview with photographer Aubrey J. Kauffman.
Brooks has a personal and experiential understanding of the theme. Growing up in the Jim Crow south, the printmaker explored the African American experience and cultivated an urging for black Americans to take charge of their own representation, notes Kauffman.
While Brooks acknowledges racism as a source for a lot of his anger, he says creating art from those — and other — experiences gave him a lifeline. As he tells Kauffman, “I was always a loner. When I was a boy I was always getting into a lot of trouble fighting with other kids. The art would calm me down. I could get involved in the art, so my parents were happy. You could say I was born an artist in a sense because I had the spirit and the energy. I didn’t have a great talent.”
The years that followed have proven that Brooks was more than talented. His successes bear that out.
A longtime resident of Ewing Township, Brooks — who holds a BA in art education and a MFA in printmaking from Indiana University — retired from TCNJ eight years ago after a teaching career that spanned nearly 40 years. The college holds some 60 works that he donated before he left. Other works can be found in the Library of Congress and the National Collection of Fine Arts at the Smithsonian Institution.
While he no longer creates any new art, Brooks is satisfied with leaving all of that behind and has no regrets about his career. However, he says, there was a price paid for the devotion to his art at the expense of marriage and family. Now, he says, he devotes more time to staying mentally and physically healthy and pursuing a more spiritual life.
The exhibition at the Trenton City Museum is part of his ongoing work.
Trenton City Museum, Cadwalader Park, Trenton, Tuesdays to Saturdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sundays 1 to 4 p.m., free. For information call (609) 989-1191 or visit ellarslie.org.
There is a lot going on in Orrin Evans’ music.
“My approach is pretty much a hodgepodge and a combination of several influences,” he says. “I try to show respect to all of the people who have come before me. Ultimately, I like everyone from different periods. There are great Shirley Scott records that I love. There are great McCoy Tyner records. Herbie Hancock. Depending on where I’m at I try to call on them all depending on who I’m with. There’s no one influence, but maybe two or three from the jazz lexicon.”
Evans usually has more than one project going on at a time. His own groups can be a trio, quartet, or quintet. His performances — including his Candlelight Lounge appearances — show an unflinching approach to modern, quite often expressionistic music. He is a master of improvisation with a seemingly endless selection of complex chords ready for use and a road map for where they should take him.
As is the style in the jazz world, he and his band will begin a song with the briefest suggestion of melody before reducing it to bare elements and embarking on extended variation. Just when a listener might wonder whether there is any blues in the lexicon he spoke of, Evans is likely to inject a phrase that makes his piano rumble like the bass section of a church choir.
He is co-leader of Tarbaby, which the New York Times last year called “a fine and provocative post-bop unit,” and with which Evans has recorded two albums. He has also recorded with the Captain Black Big Band, which Evans named after the pipe tobacco his father used, and in which the Times said “Evans drives a high-octane large ensemble with intensity and vigor.”
September 5: The Chamber Ensemble of the New Jersey Capital Philharmonic Orchestra’s presentation of familiar and new classical works, conducted by Daniel Spaulding. capitalphilharmonic.org.
September 12: Brooklyn-based techno-music group Blondes and electric-rock A Love Like Pi. blondeblondeblondes.tumblr.com and alovelikepi.com.
September 19: Hopewell-native rock singer, songwriter and guitarist Danielia Cotton with Philadelphia “soul-hop” band Chalk and the Beige Americans. danieliacotton.com and chalkandthebeigeamericans.bandcamp.com.
September 26: Indie-pop rock by twin sisters Good Graeff with Trenton-based fun-rock band Molly Rhythm. goodgraeff.com and mollyrhythm.bandcamp.com.
Brooks’ life is an American history lesson. He was the son of a high school principal and an elementary school teacher in the small town of Aliceville, Alabama, and the great-great grandson of a former slave. Two generations from slavery, Brooks’ father had graduated from Alabama State, a traditionally black college, had started the school at which he served as principal. “My dad was a hustler.” Brooks recalls in the interview. “He had farms and hired people, did some speaking, taught at our junior college. He was real go-getter,” he says in the interview.
He adds that his family’s actions provided a guide for him. “I had a lot of energy that had to be challenged somewhere, so I channeled it into exercise and art. These two things were more or less my salvation. I probably would have self-destructed had it not been for that.”