One soggy morning in July of 2021, I packed up the car before dawn and headed to Tower Grove Farmers’ Market to sell calendars. I wasn’t exactly happy about it. The sun wasn’t up yet. But even if it had been, no one would’ve seen it. It had been raining for most of the night, and wild storms were predicted during market hours. Not what I’d signed up for.
I grumbled as I put up my tent and arranged my calendars and cards. I rolled out my rug – a usually cheery addition to my booth – and strung up a chain of neatly packaged t-shirts. And then I waited.
After one intolerably long hour, a man came into my booth, rifled through my prints, and walked away. A while later, a woman made the first purchase of the morning: a three-dollar bookmark. That wasn’t going to pay for my booth space. Then a dog wandered into my tent and peed on the rug. I was having a no good, very bad day.
But everyone outside my booth seemed to be having a fine time. People were laughing in the rain, pushing their carts and carrying canvas totes. Just as many were carrying brightly-colored yoga mats. A little Amish girl dressed in vivid blue was walking among the customers. Big bouquets of vibrant flowers were spilling from bags, along with corn, tomatoes, and peaches. Umbrellas were popping up everywhere in florals, rainbows, and Cardinal red.
When you put all that color against the backdrop of a gray day, it isn’t a gray day anymore. Watching the customers, I began to feel the clouds lifting inside my head, and I stopped caring about my sales. And that’s when business picked up. Really picked up. People weren’t just buying calendars that day. They were buying holiday cards. Holiday cards…in July! And they were asking me, as they always do, about this site or that. Have you ever thought of doing a print of Grant’s Farm? Have you done Powell? Do you know Jazz St. Louis?
That last one gave me pause. Jazz St. Louis had been on my radar for many years and for many reasons. First, there was the role that St. Louis had played in the very creation of jazz, thanks to a certain Scott Joplin. That I knew well. Second was the talent that just seemed to grow up here or find its way here, with the likes of Tina Turner and Miles Davis. Third was the swanky Jazz STL bistro itself on Grand Avenue, which had always reminded me of the clubs of the silver screen.
Then there was the proximity of Jazz St. Louis to other important arts venues – like the symphony and the Fox, giving it a well-deserved spot on the cultural stage. And finally, from a strictly visual standpoint, there was the way that Jazz St. Louis sat on the land, spilling out onto a little urban park, just as its music did. Some things are so cool, they just can’t be contained.
But actually, I didn’t make art of Jazz St. Louis because of Scott Joplin or Tina Turner or Miles Davis or the building or the park. I did it because, on a rainy day in Tower Grove, a mother and her teenage daughter asked me to. The daughter was doing an internship with Jazz St. Louis. For the next five minutes, we talked about her music.
I don’t know how it is that music or art or dance or theater gets into the blood of young people. But I do know that the encouragement of others brings it center stage. It happened to me a long time ago. And it’s happening now to St. Louis’ young artists. It is because of arts programs in the community that St. Louis continues to be a powerhouse of creative talent, and that makes life better for all of us. Even on a gray day. Especially on a gray day.
And so it was on another gray day ten months later that a woman approached me at Laumeier Art Fair. “I met you at Tower Grove last year,” she said. “My daughter’s with Jazz St. Louis?” I handed the woman a calendar and opened it to February, the longest short month of the year, when spring feels hopelessly far away. Before the green leaves and pink flowers and blue skies roll in to distract us. When there’s just that one thing: that beat, that strain of a saxophone, taking center stage.
Jazz St. Louis is the February feature in my 2023 A YEAR IN THE CITY calendar, now on sale for just $15 at ayearinthecity.com/newproducts. This image is also available as an 11 x 14 litho print or a limited-edition 16 x 20 archival print.