Yoshitomo Saito's Bemsha Swing in Denver: A Monk dance in bronze at Ironton Gallery

Yoshi Saito's sculpture is a little bit wacky, but in the most delightful and natural way. His new show at Ironton Gallery -- currently on view through May 18, with a reception on Friday, May 3, from 6 to 9 p.m. -- offers new insight into what's in Saito's mind as he creates his bronze pieces, all while making you smile. Titled Bemsha Swing in Denver, insinuating a connection to the composition by Thelonius Monk, it got us wondering how Monk's music came to translate into sculpture, what Saito hopes viewers take away from it, and whether he's somehow correlating jazz and art. So we asked him, and here's what he said.

See also: - Yoshitomo Saito's Bemsha Swing in Denver - Two new exhibits combine cultures with beauty and intelligence - Best Artist Debut, 2007: Yoshitomo Saito

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I'm introducing the name of this jazz standard into the context of my new sculpture show as a suggestive symbolic term. The show is not about "Bemsha Swing," nor for the promotion of jazz music, but I'm finding the similar eccentric spiritual ground between that tune and my new strangely surrealistic sculpture. 

I have no interest speaking for the sake of art or jazz, because I'm not in the position of authority to oversee the world of such and such. However, I've been listening to jazz since I was late teen and doing art together ever since. So, naturally they have merged or mingled together in a variety of ways. Wind and ocean wave influence each other. But there is a force from the movement of planet Earth establishing the pattern of current for both elements, you know?  If visual art and jazz performance were surface phenomena like wind and wave, there should be something bigger exist underneath or behind that is pushing. What is it? I don't know. I can call it "inspiration" But what originates it? I don't have any answers yet.

Well, let me go back to the smaller issue. There were variety of reasons I was inspired by "Bemsha Swing." I can tell you one of them today, because it brought the word 'serendipity' back in my mind to entertain me.

Thelonious Monk recorded this song in 1956 at the New York recording studio with Sonny Rollins and Ernie Henry on saxophone, Oscar Pettiford on bass and Max Roach on drums. Not a bad line up of musician. Not at all. And Max Roach! Yea! Since I am a percussionist myself, I naturally pay extra attention to drumming. And for this song "Bemsha Swing," an interesting serendipitous thing happened because of Mr. Max Roach. 

When Max got into the studio ready to start the gig with Mr. Monk, he found the set of timpani in the corner of the room. With an unknown force of inspiration, Max asked the producer if he could play with it. They said yes. So he did. That turned out to be a creation of a very evocative sound-vision for the music of "Bemsha Swing."

Anyway, when Max Roach plays this old classical music instrument along with jazz drum set, no image of dynamic or snobbish classical orchestration flavor comes in. Instead, you hear and see the image of bunch of African American boys joyously kicking and rolling the empty drum-can in the back alley of Harlem, New York or something. I love it.

I've been doing sculpture for about thirty years. You could say that I know how. In fact I've known how. But recently I'm reviving my earlier spirit of object making with a sense of unknown forces behind. (During my graduate student period at CCA in the mid-'80s, I was making these strange functional objects looking bronze sculpture without knowing what I was doing.) 

Well, I said I was reviving it as if it's intentional, but it's more like I became inspired to do so. I don't know what I'm doing now. What I know is the fact that the music of Thelonious Monk such as "Bemsha Swing" has clicked in my mind. 

I have to confess another fact that I've been doing art for so long, misunderstood all the time, and running into so many weird incidents in my life, I'm becoming an eccentric individual.... But I'm holding onto my secret place for the spiritual survival. This show at Ironton is an example of such effort. People may not know what to do with it, probably...

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