Michael Reese Captures The Soul Of Music In His Artwork For This Year’s Atlanta Jazz Festival

“Theories of the Lowest End” by Michael Reese

Courtesy of Atlanta Jazz Festival

Atlanta Jazz Festival, the country’s largest free jazz festival, takes place this Labor Day Weekend on Sunday and Monday in Piedmont Park. Mayor Maynard Jackson founded the event 43 years ago, to promote the art form that originated here in the South. Michael Reese’s photograph “Theories of the Lowest End” was named the Official Artwork of the 43rd festival. Reese joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom along with Camille Russell-Love, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, which sponsors the event.

Last year’s festival went virtual, and organizers focused its programming on all-local musicians, helping the community’s jazz scene stay engaged during the pandemic. But this year, the festival boasts such jazz luminaries like Grammy-winning singer Patti Austin, and the legendary studio bassist Ron Carter. Artists will perform across two stages, the Meadow Stage and the Oakhill Stage at Piedmont Park.

Sunday at the Oakhill Stage focuses on international performing artists, like Italian jazz guitarist Pasquale Grasso, and pianist Yuko Mabuchi from Japan. The Meadow Stage hosts the master jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp on Monday along with the eclectic trumpeter with funk and electronic fusion, Theo Croker.

“We’re adding a component of education, called Jazz 101, where some of these performers will be in conversation, or in demonstration, of their art form with an audience,” said Russell-Love. Jazz 101 will host free workshops and talks with artists including Ron Carter and Miguel Zénon, in Piedmont Park’s Greystone, open to registered special event attendees.

Visual art has always contributed to the festival experience, and Reese’s poster design, depicting a jazz bass player, brings a fresh aesthetic. “I’ve been shooting jazz images for quite awhile, for decades now. It is a photo-based image that I then manipulated with painting, digital painting and line drawing overlay. It’s photographic at its base, but it’s more painterly in the finished piece.” He added, “I’m trying to just capture the soul of the music, and sometimes that’s not as visible when we’re looking at a straight photograph.”

Reese’s photograph borrows its title from an album by the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest called “The Low End Theory.” His love for jazz and hip-hop music’s “low end” comes through in depictions of rhythm section players like bassists, who serve the deepest tones in an arrangement. “It is kind of like the gravity or the glue that holds jazz together,” said Reese. The photographer’s camera has captured the likes of such greats as Nina Simone, Dizzy Gillespie, and Pharaoh Sanders throughout his career.

Atlanta Jazz Festival will host performances outdoors with COVID-19 safety protocols in place, requiring masks for all VIP indoor activities and in food vendor areas, and the festival asks patrons to consider wearing masks throughout the outdoor spaces as well.

Tickets and information are available at https://atlantafestivals.com/.