Writing about the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s, Larry Neil wrote that he was “radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates them from his community.”
These words stuck with composer and performer Paul Cornish, who grew up surrounded by music in his family.
“I had an older brother who also plays jazz. Every now and then, he would pass me some CDs of his, and then once I started playing jazz around middle school, then I was kind of obsessed.”
Cornish is this year’s Make Jazz Fellow at the 18th Street Art Center. He’s working on a new composition and is honored to have the support of the nonprofit, which has been helping to develop artists since 1988.
“I’m just really grateful, having been a part of it before and seeing the impact it’s made with the artist that they brought in. It’s just an honor to kind of add to that lineage and contribute.”
Cornish is pushing the boundaries of what jazz can be by experimenting with electronic elements and improvisational techniques. He said he believes music is part of life, not separate from it, something he says he learned from music legend Herbie Hancock at his jazz institute.
“Music is what we do, but human beings are who we are. And for him, it’s more so about that. And music is kind of the subset of who we are as people.”
Jan Williamson said the 18th Street Art Center’s mission to support developing artists is more crucial than ever, as is raising awareness about the importance of keeping the arts alive.
“They don’t always make that connection to supporting artists. They don’t necessarily think, what does it take to make that piece of work or create that experience,” Williamson said.
The artists-in-residence here come from diverse backgrounds, and Williamson said the sense of interdisciplinary community helps each artist grow.
“Having a musician here is really wonderful, and jazz is a uniquely American art form. So, that’s one of the things that excites all of us,” he said.
Cornish said his experiences at the 18th Street Art Center have helped him grow, and the other artists have inspired him on his path as well.
“It’s like you meet different people at different parts of their journey. They’re focusing on a really specific thing, and they’re really sure about, you know, what they’re doing. It’s been inspiring me to see and also to just go and figure out what that is for me,” Cornish said.
Paul Cornish’s new compositions will be performed by a small ensemble in a livestream from historical Leimert Park on April 25.