Beats and BirdsFriday, December 14th, 2012
In the seven months that we’ve been open, we’ve received no shortage of queries about the art on our walls: the Oaxacan street scene photo by Deborah O’Grady (many think it’s a painting), the branded wood panels by John Bisbee (more about Mr Bisbee in the coming weeks), the three quiet paintings in the rear of the restaurant which were painted by my father Duane and the “Birds” triptych by musician/painter/friend Billy Martin of the group Medeski, Martin & Wood, aka Illy B.
I’ve known Billy for many years, dating back to the early years with Phish. I still remember getting a call from Trey about “this amazing trio we just saw last night”. I quickly became friends with Billy, Chris and John and have kept in touch with them over the years despite geographical distance.
What many people don’t know is that, in addition to being an extraordinarily talented drummer, Billy is also a gifted visual artist. He designed MMW’s logo, has done cover art for many of their albums and has had a number of gallery shows over the years. As we developed the acoustic plan for Comal with Meyer Sound, we envisioned a series of panels over the front bar shelving that would provide both acoustic damping and visual interest.
I immediately thought of Billy and specifically of one of his favorite motifs: birds. He has done many paintings of birds over the years, and they have a primitive depth that belies their simplicity. I was also very inspired by a painting he did in 2004 while visiting the French Antilles called Phantoms. I called Billy and explained what I was picturing – essentially a big triptych that echoed “Phantoms” and possibly incorporated elements of his birds as well. He had a very tight time frame to complete the work, and that wasn’t the only challenge. He also hadn’t seen the space in person or worked with the poplin fabric that Meyer uses for their Libra panels. A few experiments later, he was confident it could work. The day before he headed off for a European tour with MMW he cranked out the art for all three panels. Sometimes inspiration strikes, and it certainly did in this case!
Billy also finds his way onto our playlist on a regular basis – not only do we feature MMW regularly, but we also have been spinning tracks from Shimmy, a recent release that Billy recorded with Wil Blades, who resides in Berkeley and plays a mean Hammond B3. Here’s a recent review from KQED’s California Report. Billy also currently appears on the cover of the latest issue of Jazz Times.
So the next time you’re saddled up to the front bar, tapping your toe to some soulful beats and staring up at the ethereal birds hovering above you, you may have Billy to thank for both…