Sam Nhlengethwa Jazz Lithographs

Artist Sam Nhlengethwa signing his jazz lithographs printed by The Artists' Press at a table.

Photo credit: Solomon Moremong

Sam Nhlengethwa's first lithographs at The Artists' Press were a series of five prints around the Jazz theme and were published to coincide with his exhibition at the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year in 1994. Nhlengethwa has continued to return to the jazz theme over the years. In his latest suite of five prints, inspired by Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, Nhlengethwa has played with the intensity of the blue that he associates with this classic album.

INSPIRED BY "KIND OF BLUE"

"I'm still celebrating 6 glorious decades of good quality jazz as portrayed in Kind of Blue!


I was brought up by my maternal grandmother, Sophia Mokoena, from when I was only 9 months old. I lived full-time with her in Ratanda, a township in Heidelberg, east of Johannesburg. During school holidays, I used to visit my parents and siblings in Kwa-Thema, Springs. Occasionally, I would visit my eldest brother, Ranky, who was then living in Katlehong, Germiston with my mother's uncle. What drew me to Ranky was that he was a strong jazz fanatic and a player too.

In 1970 when I was only 15 years old, my 2nd eldest brother, Mxolisi was getting married. He and his best men were nervously listening to some jazz vinyls. It got so tense that they even forgot to turn the other side of the vinyl. I immediately took over and I remember the vinyl on the turntable was Time Out by Dave Brubeck. It was a hit in the townships because of the track Take 5.

I continued playing for my brother and his best men until I landed my hands on the album Kind of Blue that was made on 2nd March and 22nd April 1959. What was striking was that unlike with the other vinyls where we picked tracks, Kind of Blue was played repeatedly from the 1st track, So What? to its last track Flamenco Sketches. I can proudly say since that day, I was introduced to the "jazz bible."

In my studio downtown Johannesburg, a week never passes without me listening to Kind of Blue. I actually have three copies, two CDs - one for my car, the other for my studio and a vinyl for my collection.

I fully agree with the author, Ashley Khan when he says, " jazz musos call it the bible and critics call it the one jazz album every fan must own." Who can argue with that - a jazz classic album of its own?

Jimmy Cobb, the drummer in Miles Davis' Kind of Blue sextet said of its members, they were respected leaders from their individual jazz groups who were brought together for the first time during the recording of Kind of Blue. It is this high level of expertise and talent that made the very first recording of Kind of Blue " beautiful and smooth sounding...no effort.... no tension.... just relaxed.The band always sounded good. How could it sound bad?" Cobb, asked.

In Ashley Kahn's book "Kind of Blue - The making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece", Bill Evans, one of the pianists, is quoted as saying when they did the album, they had no idea it would become so important. As a painter, I drew a parallel to that - when I do a new painting I never know how important it will be! Quincy Jones says he "plays Kind of Blue every day. It sounds like it was made yesterday. It is my orange juice." To that I can I can add it is my glass of water. Indeed, it sounds like it was made yesterday.

Miles Davis and his entire sextet, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, John Coltrane, Julian Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb, left a legacy that is still inspiring the jazz musicians and jazz lovers. Columbia Records and its entire staff should be proud of this classic album." Sam Nhlengethwa.

For links to other prints done by Nhlengethwa, please scroll to the bottom of this page where you will also find more text from Nhlengethwa regarding his love for jazz.

Please note that the sold out prints from the jazz series are in Nhlengethwa's archive.


Lithograph of John Coltrane seen from the front blowing into his saxophone

Title: John Coltrane
Medium: Three colour lithograph
Paper size: 76 x 57 cm
Image size: 68.5 x 49.5 cm
Edition size: 40
Price: R 13 375 (excl.VAT)


Hand-drawn print of Cannonball Adderley playing a saxophone focussing on the upper body and his left hand.

Title: Cannonball Adderley
Medium: Three colour lithograph
Paper size: 76 x 57 cm
Image size: 68.5 x 49.5 cm
Edition size: 40
Price: R 13 375 (excl.VAT)


Miles Davis head and shoulders from the side playing the trumpet beneath a single spot light.

Title: Miles Davis
Medium: Three colour lithograph
Paper size: 76 x 57 cm
Image size: 68.5 x 49.5 cm
Edition size: 40
Price: R 13 375 (excl.VAT)


Head and shoulder print of Gill Evans behind piano smoking a cigarette.

Title: Bill Evans
Medium: Three colour lithograph
Paper size: 76 x 57 cm
Image size: 68.5 x 49.5 cm
Edition size: 40
Price: R 13 375 (excl.VAT)


Jazz band on stage playing instruments

Title: Sextet
Medium: Five colour lithograph
Paper size: 57 x 76 cm
Image size: 68.5 x 49.5 cm
Edition size: 40
Price: R 13 375 (excl.VAT)


Two men's heads and shoulders facing into the frame, one playing the saxophone

Title: Take I
Medium: Two colour chine collé lithograph
Paper size: 38 x 45 cm
Image size: 25 x 31 cm
Edition size: 25
Price: R 8 025 (excl.VAT)


Profile drawing of two jazz musicians playing instruments on stage

Title: Take II
Medium: Single colour chine collé lithograph
Paper size: 38 x 45 cm
Image size: 25 x 31 cm
Edition size: 25
SOLD OUT


Lithograph of two men's heads behind music score.

Title: Score Reading
Medium: Two colour chine collé lithograph
Paper size: 38 x 45 cm
Image size: 25 x 31 cm
Edition size: 25
Price: R 8 025 (excl.VAT)


Head and shoulders litho of John Coltrane playing saxophone

Title: John Coltrane Solo
Medium: Two colour chine collé lithograph
Paper size: 45 x 38 cm
Image size: 31 x 25 cm
Edition size: 25
SOLD OUT


John Coltrane standing with instrument seen from above waist

Title: John Coltrane on Break
Medium: Two colour chine collé lithograph
Paper size: 45 x 38 cm
Image size: 31 x 25 cm
Edition size: 25
Price: R 8 025 (excl.VAT)


Four musicians on stage in tuxedos with hands raised in thanks

Title: Modern Jazz Quartet's Last Concert
Medium: Four colour lithograph
Paper size: 75 x 106 cm
Image size: 65 x 95 cm
Edition size: 50
Price: R 18 760 (excl.VAT)

Title: Tacet
Medium: Seven colour lithograph
Paper size: 75 x 106 cm
Image size: 65 x 95 cm
Edition size: 50
SOLD OUT

"Jazz simply inspires me. Of all the subjects that I have dealt with, none has been re-visited like jazz. Jazz is second nature to me. I come from a family of jazz lovers. My eldest brother, Ranky, was a jazz musician. I used to hang around with him and his friends a lot. I still play the flute that he gave me. I think at heart, I am a non-practising jazz musician!

Painting jazz pieces is an avenue or outlet for expressing my love for the music. As I paint, I listen to jazz and visualise the performance. Jazz performers improvise within the conventions of their chosen styles. In an ensemble, for example, there are vocal styles that include freedom of vocal colour, call-and-response patterns and rhythmic complexities played by different members. Painting jazz allows me to literally put colour onto these vocal colours.

Jazz is rhythmic and it emphasises interpretation rather than composition. There are deliberate tonal distortions that contribute to its uniqueness. My jazz collages, with their distorted patterns, attempt to communicate all of this. As a collagist and painter, fortunately, the technique allows me this freedom of expression. Like a jazz musician who can depart from the original melody altogether and improvise on its harmonic base, I create a well-balanced final product with interesting textures, perspective and dimensions from juxtaposing pieces from different original backgrounds. What I am doing is not new though, as there are other artists before me, who painted jazz pieces e.g. Gerard Sekoto, Romare Bearden, Henri Matisse.

The jazz musicians I chose inspire me. Their music is educational. Nina Simone, for instance, sings about the suffering of African Americans. I enjoy her music and message. Modern Jazz quartets music is instrumental but meaningful.

I buy jazz CDs and dvds as part of my career. Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, John Coltrane feature highly in my collection and I also have their autobiographies. Ron Carter made me love acoustic bass especially in his album with Roberta Flack "The first time I ever saw your face" - I was 17 when I first listened to it and knew pretty little about love but I enjoyed the instruments played.

In addition to the international jazz musicians in my collection, I have a number of locals like Miriam Makeba (or Mama Africa as she is affectionately known), Lemmy "Special" Mabaso, Abdullah Ibrahim etc. Their early music reminds me of Keith Jarrett's words: "Jazz is like a vehicle that transports various traditions..." Lemmy Maseko played the penny whistle with skill; Miriam Makeba's "Malaika" backed by overseas musicians became a hit. Abdullah Ibrahim is a well-respected pianist. You can bring together jazz musicians from different backgrounds to perform and they will produce a stunning piece of music! Thank you." Sam Nhlengethwa

Click on the links below to see other prints that Sam Nhlengethwa has done, listed by series title

Joburg Selected

Waiting

Goats

The Beat of Drum

Recyclers

Township Series

Restaurant Series

Conversations

Glimpses of the 50s and the 60s

Tribute Interiors

Mine Series

Sam Nhlengethwa Print Archive

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