The Mason Spirit

All That Jazz:

Music Inspires Mixed Media Collaboration

By Michelle Nery, B.A. ’97

An inspiring event, sound, or image can be the spark that lights the creative fire. For renowned expressionistic painter Frederick James Brown, whose paintings are displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Museum of American Art, that inspiration often comes through the strains of the great jazz and blues musicians. Last December, though, his inspiration was the light rumble of 12 George Mason dancers’ bare feet as they moved across the floor with a series of pliés, jumps, and leaps.

Brown observed the students’ grueling eight-hour-a-day sessions with George Mason guest artist, the country’s leading jazz choreographer, Danny Buraczeski, as he developed an original 13-minute piece to be performed in the Dance Department’s March Gala Concert. The painting Brown crafts as a result of his weekend in the Performing Arts Building dance studio is a gift that will be used to fund several dance scholarships. “[Brown] is more than generous,” says Dance Professor Buffy Price of his donation.

Price says the idea for such a collaboration came to her when the College of Visual and Performing Arts was founded. “I thought it would be wonderful to incorporate all of the art forms, working with a choreographer, painter, dancers, and musicians,” says Price. “Dance tends to incorporate the arts naturally.” When Brown, Price’s longtime friend, completed his portrait series of great jazz musicians, she thought it would be a good opportunity to somehow merge the bold, fluid brushstrokes of his portraits with dance. She approached James Carroll, visiting assistant music professor, for advice about a score, and he suggested a train theme found in several of Duke Ellington’s works. When jazz choreographer Buraczeski signed on as a guest artist for the spring semester, her plans began to fall into place.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the students to watch two professional artists work through the creative process,” says Price. The cast of 12 students ranges from freshmen to graduate students. Buraczeski selected the students based on their ability to perform the movement because his pieces are “highly athletic and very musical,” Price says. “Buraczeski incorporated the underlying pulse of the train’s rhythm that is woven through Ellington’s music into the piece.”

Buraczeski will return to the university in February to work with the students again. It falls on Price’s shoulders as rehearsal director to make sure the students remember their movements over winter break and keep them honed for his return. They will perform the piece at the March Gala Concert on March 21 and 22 at 8 p.m., while the George Mason Jazz Ensemble performs under Carroll’s direction. Brown will also return to the university to attend the concert where his painting inspired by the students and Buraczeski’s creative process will be displayed.