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 Saturday, 28 November 2015
The Art of Jazz – Chris Osborne and JoAnna Lombardi PDF Print
Written by Sheila Horne Mason; Photographs by Kevin R. Mason   
Sunday, 21 October 2012

JoAnna Lombardi (left) and Chris Osborne at the Litchfield Jazz Festival

At the 2012 Litchfield Jazz Festival, two special artists were showcased in the Exhibitor’s Village, Chris Osborne and JoAnna Lombardi. Although their approaches to art are very different, they share a passion for jazz.

Chris Osborne

Chris Osborne with two of her best known paintings
2012 Litchfield Jazz Festival’s Visual Artist-in-Residence Chris Osborne’s portrait of Dave Brubeck was reproduced on T-shirts sold to benefit the Litchfield Jazz Camp. Osborne’s charming painting, autographed by the celebrated pianist, depicts a young Dave Brubeck. Chris said, “I am so honored. The painting commemorates the 50th anniversary of Dave Brubeck’s album, Time Out. The ’59 Corvette in the painting is a symbol of the year the album was released.” In a very generous move to raise even more funds, Osborne donated the original painting to the festival’s live auction. The painting has a fascinating history. It was still unfinished when Chris hung it in her booth at the 2009 Litchfield Jazz Festival. Brubeck’s daughter and son-in-law, Catherine and Arne Yaghsizian were visiting the festival to promote their non-profit organization, Jazz’d 4 Life. They stopped to chat, and Osborne recalled, “Arne suggested I show Dave the unfinished painting. So I visited Dave, and he signed the canvas.” Chris later completed the painting, painstakingly adding details from the Litchfield Jazz Festival, taking care not to disturb Brubeck’s signature.

Osborne’s art is inspired by numerous interests.  She said, “There are key things in American culture that absorb my attention: the fabulous cars of decades past, the colorful people who drove them, Hollywood’s Golden Age, and the true American musical genres, jazz and blues.  Any combination of these elements may appear in my work. After exhaustive factual research and the use of figurative models, I like to apply an imaginative view of history.”

Raised in New Milford, Connecticut, Chris Osborne received a BA in Art from Bard College and an MFA in Printmaking from the University of Wisconsin.  After an extended stay on Martha’s Vineyard, she moved to Manhattan to work with renowned artists’ agent Jane Lander.  This guided Chris toward figurative drawing and painting, and in the mid-1980s she decided to leave the agent profession to pursue her own artistic impulses.

To supplement her art, from 1988 to 2000, Osborne worked as the Jazz and Blues Retail Manager for Tower Records at Lincoln Center. That job immersed her into the jazz world and proved to be a priceless source of inspiration for her art.  Osborne recalled, “Tower was the hub of so much activity. Between the musicians, the sales reps, and the customers, it was a great place to interact with people.” Chris became quite knowledgeable about the genre, and built up Tower’s jazz section into something so substantial that Billboard Magazine often called her for articles and quotes.

Osborne elaborated on the value of her time at Tower. “Music retail, or any retail job, is not what you do for a good paycheck; you’re not going to get wealthy. The riches came from the people I met.” Newsman Peter Jennings came by often, and Chris said “In some ways, I taught him a lot about jazz. He really wanted to learn, so I compiled packages for him about the legends of jazz. He loved that, and he invited me to a couple of his jazz benefit concerts at his house in Bridgehampton, NY. Those were great summer events, and the people he had play there were phenomenal, like Max Roach, Wynton Marsalis, Clark Terry, and Harry “Sweets” Edison. They were fantastic evenings, and I felt so lucky to be there.” Chris got to know many jazz greats who frequented Tower, including Ron Carter, Benny Golson, Abbey Lincoln, Tommy Flanagan, Dave Brubeck, Jon Hendricks, Joe Henderson, Benny Green, Joe Lovano, Paquito D’Rivera, Paul Motian, McCoy Tyner, Cyrus Chestnut, Dr. Billy Taylor, Pat Metheny, Mike Stern, and Jon Faddis.

Through Tower, Osborne was placed on guest lists of many recording artists at jazz clubs throughout the city. “I particularly like The Village Vanguard,” she said, “because of the intimacy…Anybody you get to see, you just feel that you’re right there. It’s the truest jazz experience, I think.”

Osborne met Rosemary Clooney at Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow and Stars. They made an instant connection when Clooney noticed Osborne’s striking resemblance to Sondra Locke, the actress who played Rosemary in a TV biopic, Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Story. After their first meeting, Chris often visited Rosemary when she was appearing in New York, and she also helped Ms. Clooney obtain some of her recordings that had been re-released in Japan.

Osborne became the go-to person for finding rare and re-issued records, something she did for many artists, including some who lived in other cities. Celebrated drummer Tony Williams visited Tower when in Manhattan, and they really hit it off. Williams was living in San Francisco, doing a lot of composing. He liked to listen to different things for inspiration, so he would request that she send him recordings. George Benson would also call upon Chris when seeking a particular recording. Benson owned a restored 1959 Cadillac, and he’d drive it in from New Jersey. On one visit, he was looking for a soundtrack that hadn’t been released on CD. Osborne located the vinyl album at a store in lower Manhattan, and Benson asked her to ride with him to the store. Chris recalled, “So I rode all the way down from 66th Street to 14th Street in this ’59 Cadillac with the top down. He was wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap. At stop lights, people would yell, ‘What kind of car is that?’ But they never knew they were asking George Benson!” 

Such Sweet Thunder by Chris Osborne
Osborne made a special connection with Tony Bennett.  He’d shop at Tower, and he loved people like Lester Young, Art Tatum, and Count Basie. Bennett liked to chat, and Osborne said, “He’s a painter, so we really hit it off in two ways: our art and our love of jazz.” After reading Bennett’s autobiography, Chris was inspired to create the extraordinary painting, Tony Bennett’s Dream Concert. It depicts Bennett with Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Louis Armstrong with Bennett’s green 1956 Thunderbird, in front of the Sands Hotel. Though she couldn’t include all Bennett’s favorite musicians, she added Duke Ellington and Count Basie to the Sands marquee sign. When Tony Bennett saw the painting, he said it was deeply spiritual, because he had arranged a concert like that, but it never happened because Nat King Cole passed away.

Another exceptional Osborne painting, Such Sweet Thunder, was commissioned by trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis. It shows Marsalis flanked by two legendary artists who influenced him, Duke Ellington and William Shakespeare. In 1957, Ellington and Billy Strayhorn created a suite, “Such Sweet Thunder” for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada. When Delfeayo Marsalis recorded his version of the suite in 2009, he asked Chris to create a painting based on this multi-century collaboration. In the imaginative scene, Osborne shows the Shakespearian troupe and the Ellington Band arriving at London’s Globe Theater. In addition to the remarkable likenesses of the three main subjects, the details make the painting both whimsical and infused with deep meaning. At close inspection, you can see the faces of Louis Armstrong and Thelonious Monk painted as carvings in the ornate Elizabethan chair Delfeayo is sitting in, and Osborne said, “I would have added a lot more jazz greats, but there wasn’t enough room!”

Chris left Tower Records in 2000 to focus on her art. She said, “Fortunately, I left before the end of record stores; that would have been pretty miserable. I still dream about being there. It was such a fantastic, wonderful place at that time in my life. I never, ever was reluctant to get up and go to work. It was fun.”

The Connecticut Society of Portrait Artists honored her with an Award of Merit in 2010, and Osborne is currently working on a history of jazz and blues in visual form, decade by decade, city by city, with the American automobile as a natural focal point.  The Connecticut Office of the Arts has awarded this ambitious project a 2012 Artist Fellowship Grant.  Chris said, “I started this project with a painting in tribute to Buddy Bolden, considered by many to be the founder of jazz in early 20th century New Orleans.” Chris was quoted in the Litchfield Times as saying, “I always loved jazz, so having this opportunity to bridge my love of music and painting is wonderful…For me, it is an opportunity to bring [jazz artists] to a wider cultural awareness, and capture their hearts and souls for the audience.”

Chris also wants to paint more blues women of the twenties. “We know Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, but there are others, like Victoria Spivey, Mamie Smith, Lucille Bogan, and Clara Smith. I’ve envisioned painting all of them at some juke joint where a piano is being unloaded off the back of an old truck. I think it would be great to pay tribute to those women, because they’re not remembered now, and they need to be. They’re the beginning. Then you go from Bessie to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, all the way up to Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, Diana Krall, and Dee Dee Bridgewater.”

The worlds of art and jazz are infinitely richer for her dedication and unique vision. For more information, go

JoAnna Lombardi

JoAnna Lombardi in her studio
JoAnna Lombardi’s art is compelled by the gamut of human emotions. She has painted everything from jazz, soul, rock, and reggae musicians to human suffering and poverty. Raw feelings inspire her, whether joy or pain, and those emotions are very evident in her paintings. Her intense use of color and the surreal, dreamlike quality of her work make for arresting and striking images. In addition to music, some of JoAnna’s biggest inspirations are the works of world-renowned photographers. However, she stresses that these photos are just a starting point, that she’s not trying to copy or rival the originals. Because some of her subjects are in remote corners of the world, or are artists who have unfortunately passed away, she can’t take photos of them herself. Once you see her artwork, you realize that she definitely adds her own special touch to any photographs that she uses for motivation.

JoAnna Lombardi and Chris Osborne are close friends, and when asked about JoAnna’s art, Chris said, “I love her art. It’s spontaneous, loose, animated, fun, and musical.” JoAnna and Chris met around 2002 when JoAnna took a class that Chris was teaching. Chris had asked all the students to bring a sample of their art to class. JoAnna recalls, “When she saw my work, she said to me, ‘Oh, you should never take a class or change what you do. You’ve already got what you do. It’s beautiful. Don’t let anyone change it.’ And that’s how we became friends, and we’ve been friends ever since.” Lombardi had a recent exhibition called Emotional Expressions, at WBGO Jazz Radio’s gallery in Newark, New Jersey.

JoAnna thinks that the reason many musicians are so talented is that they are here for a special reason. “How do people like Stevie Wonder happen? It’s a gift.” She feels that for some musicians, that gift causes them to burn brightly and quickly, and said, “I think that’s why sometimes their lives are so short and so intense.” She has painted Billie Holiday at least four times, and in fact, Lombardi sold paintings of Billie Holiday and Coleman Hawkins at the recent Litchfield Jazz Festival. She has also painted Sonny Rollins (one of her most striking pieces), Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Dinah Washington, and Dexter Gordon. She has many more on the list of those she wants to paint, including Quincy Jones.

JoAnna Lombardi’s painting of Art Blakey
Art started as a mere interest for JoAnna, but soon became a consuming passion. She says, “I don’t only want to paint, I have to paint.” When she first got into painting, she was feeling overworked and depleted. Through her art, JoAnna found a creative way to tap into her emotions to rejuvenate and express herself. She said, “I painted what I love, which is music. I think music is spiritual. I don’t have to go into a church. I just love music, and I think it brings everybody together. What would life be if we didn’t have music? I mean, it’s everything! To document music is a wonderful thing.” 

Elaborating on what else motivates her art, Lombardi said, “When I go, I want to leave things that affected me one way or the other, anything that makes me really happy or makes me really upset. I do a lot of political issues, which are very sad. I picture Sierra Leone. If I paint it, it’s documented, it’s important. I think it’s important to paint people who deserve to be done, like Bob Marley – what a political man! I don’t do decorative art; I don’t care about realism. I paint emotion. Before I go, I want to paint everything that I feel was important in my life.”

Lombardi’s style is distinctive and easily recognizable. She said, “One of my biggest compliments came at the Washington Square Park Show, when a man said to me, ‘I’ve been up and down this row, and I can tell your work anywhere.’ I want you to feel it. Why would I paint, if it weren’t for people? I want them to see it, whether it hits them in a good way or a sad way. That’s the reason I paint.” JoAnna continued, “I think that in life, in painting, in anything, the journey is as important as getting there, whether it’s a smooth road or a rocky road. How do you know what the bottom of the barrel is if you’re always on the top? You have to go through the journey, whatever it may be. I’ve been through some hard things, but I always made it.”

In addition to everything else Lombardi manages to do (including running a vintage boutique, Grape in the Shade), this busy artist also finds time to entertain with husband Lou.  JoAnna is a gourmet cook, and anyone lucky enough to taste her culinary offerings will realize that she’s just as creative and talented in the kitchen as she is in her art studio. Her artistic eye is also used in her cooking, and her dishes are as beautifully plated as they are delectable. Her table settings are works of art in and of themselves.

Although it’s said that no one can have it all, JoAnna isn’t missing much! This gifted artist has a lot of great things going on in her life. For more information about JoAnna Lombardi’s artwork, visit

This article originally appeared on JazzInk.





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