Being one of the current brand ambassadors for the Jacksonville Jazz Festival combined with my reverence for the event, has led me to carefully maintaining our archives within the Division of Sports & Entertainment. So, not only are the past posters artwork I have grown up with, but throughout this process I’ve become even more familiar with the designs and hold each one in truly high regard.
Notably, this design did not start off as a poster. In fact, it was spurned from the lapel pin I designed for this year’s festival. When I was asked to turn it into a poster, I was honestly a tiny bit stuck. I had envisioned the design, but it was purposefully made simple as lapel pens generally are because of their production process. I knew if this were to be the poster, I would really need to enhance and bring the design to life. I decided to turn straight to the source for inspiration: Jazz. As I studied what I had to work on I queued up some music, specifically, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. I had always admired this song, its chaotic energy. Because I’m a visual person, I looked up the sheet music. As I delved into different samples, I came across a very different looking handwritten chart from Coltrane himself. I dug deeper. What was this star shaped design? I grew up learning music theory so I knew the base of it was a circular chord chart, but my longtime fascination in geometric Arabic patterns drew me to the shape that been hand drawn on top, I suspected there must be something deeper; spoiler alert, there is.
For those who don’t know, “Coltrane’s Circle of Tones,” is a diagram based on the Circle of Fifths which, in musical theory, is a geometric representation of the relationships between the 12 semitones of the chromatic scale, their notations (flat or sharp), and their relative shades. Coltrane took the circle of fifths and applied his knowledge of mathematics and physics, the same geometric principle that motivated Einstein’s quantum theory, by creating lines that traverse across the circle, connecting the unexpected yet harmonious notes that form the song we know today as Giant Steps. Coltrane’s paradoxical approach is a theme that has been used in physics, rocket launches, and cosmology advancements. (For further reading I highly recommend the teachings of Professor Stephon Alexander, a cosmologist who studies the relation to Jazz and Physics, and has written very approachable book similarly entitled The Jazz of Physics.)
What I love most about jazz is the improvisation, but like any line of improvisation in a group of musicians you need experience and someone to set the tone or the structure which leaves you the room to harmonize and create something beautiful together. This is what the design process is like to me. I’m often given many ideas, assets, logos, photos, but usually with specific parameters depending on the type of collateral I am making; but everything needs to be special, in comes improvisation. As I set forth in creating this poster I drew from the inspiration I found in learning about the relationship to jazz and physics, setting structured geometric rules and intertwining it with serendipity and my love of Jacksonville. Visibly, you can find Coltrane’s handwritten drawing of his circle of fifths in the background of the corner of the poster and figuratively, the piano “steps” that cross the river. Emotively, I hope you see it everywhere.
Lastly, this design was inspired by my family. As mentioned, I grew up attending and appreciating Jazz Fest from a very young age and that is thanks to my family’s constant pulse to any fun to be had on the First Coast and our tenure as stewards of an entertainment publication that promoted Jacksonville. I chose to include piano keys because that is the instrument I grew up playing, with encouragement of my parents and grandparents. I featured a guitar as an homage to my late father Will Henley, a lifelong guitar player and lover, who always attempted to incorporate guitars in any creative direction he gave and made sure no part of a guitar was ever cropped out of a photo we ran in the newspaper; it was a sanctified object to him.
All in all, it was an honor to create and work on this art piece, depicting the lushness of Jacksonville’s landscape and the overtaking of music that descends on our city during the week of Jazz Fest. I learned more than I expected to and I hope the design will be appreciated for years to come.
Want your own copy of the poster? Order signed & numbered or unsigned posters at store.jacksonvillejazzfest.com for pick-up at the Official Jacksonville Jazz Festival Store.