Stuart Davis: In Full Swing

Solo en Inglès

Hear commentary by Curator Barbara Haskell who organized this exhibition with Harry Cooper from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and Assistant Curator Sarah Humphreville, along with the jazz pianist Ben Sidran and archival interviews with Stuart Davis himself. 

Stuart Davis (1892–1964), Owh! in San Pao, 1951. Oil on canvas, 52 3/16 x 42 in. (132.6 x 106.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase 52.2. © Estate of Stuart Davis/Licensed by VAGA, New York

Ben Sidran: When you look at something like Owh! In San Pao, first you see these incredibly bright-key colors.

Narrator: Ben Sidran is a jazz piano player and author of a two-volume oral history called Talking Jazz. 

Ben Sidran: And there’s an analogue in jazz to the advanced harmonies that jazz players used, kind of like shining, shining harmonies, bright flashy harmonies. And similarly, he loved the rhythmic thrust of barrelhouse piano players. And when you look at the planar surfaces in Owh! In San Pao, you get the sense of a rhythm of a kind of almost floating or a tumbling feeling. There’s sort of a freedom in it that kind of feels like jazz feels. And you can also look for example in the use of little cryptic phrases, “else” and “now,” I like to think of that as sort of how a jazz fans in a bar would shout out to musicians, you know, like “get it!” “do it!” 

Barrelhouse piano was this kind of free-swinging piano that was played in these saloons. You’d go into these rough bars and there’d be a piano player there, and sometimes, you know, Davis reported that the piano would be covered in barbed wire, so that people wouldn’t lean against it, or bother the piano player. Barrelhouse was a kind of dance music where the piano player’s left hand was like taking the place of the drum beating the rhythm, and the right hand was the melody and kind of the flashing entertainment part of it.