Watercolors by JIM TANAKA: a retrospective

Homage to an exhibit held at the Alpine Community House, Ridge Street off of Closter Dock Road, in Alpine, New Jersey on Sunday, September 23, 1990. Recently uncovered archives including news releases, glossy photos, correspondences and assorted memorabilia, as well as a vhs recording documenting the Alpine Community House Show, were used as the material for this review. In the words of the late Karl Steiger, it was absolutely "Lustic und Freulich"!

Highlights of this exhibit included Tanaka’s series of Jazz Watercolors and his unique Jazz “Mini Posters". The watercolor and poster series captured the “Hell und Dunkel” of the world of jazz, especially the Savoy Ballroom.

'Stompin' at the Savoy'

the Art of

Jim Tanaka



His piercing pince-nez. Some dim frieze
Hands point to a dim frieze, in the dark night.
In the book of his music the corners have straightened:
Which owe their presence to our sleeping hands.
The ox-blood from the hands which play
For fire for warmth for hands for growth
Is there room in the room that you room in?
Upon his structured tomb:
Still they mean something. For the dance
And the architecture.
Weave among incidents
May be portentous to him
We are the sleeping fragments of his sky,
Wind giving presence to fragments.1

Ted Berrigan.2


The Savoy was Pink on the inside and had a good size foyer as you entered the building, was very well ventilated (Air-conditioning not yet invented), and had modern furniture of the times and mirrored walls. The Ballroom itself was huge, had two bandstands, colored spotlights, and a dance floor that was rectangular in shape (nicknamed the track) and was over 10,000 square ft. of spring loaded, wooden dance floor. 3


In Tanaka’s ballroom lights become gentle showers of colored water, bathing the musicians and cooling them down from their hot riffs or whaling blues vocals. Throughout the paintings an aura of pink, subtle in some sets and more pronounced in others, amplifies the key elements that embody the sound, the art and the place. As Billy Taylor said, during his final lecture at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts ,


The music (jazz) is a very special aspect of the American culture ... just looking at the history, how it came into being, how it evolved, the styles it went through, the sociological and other elements that help create the music and make it such an accurate reflection of who we are and what we are about as Americans is something that everyone should know something about whether you care about those kinds of things in general or not. It helps you understand, I think,why we do what we do, how we do what we do in terms of the music.4


Tanaka, influenced by the conveyer belted cell producers of Disney, shows his Fordist side with a unique series of “Mini Posters”, based on his full size poster series. Tanaka’s posters are unique in that they measure a mere 9”x12” but are as powerful as his larger work. They echo the work of Swiss poster designer Niklaus Troxler, an organizer of jazz concerts in Willisau, Switzerland, since 1966.


{Troxler} ... has designed posters for the festival and for the individual performances, resulting in a remarkable body of work that is varied in concept and style. A recent book on his work, Jazz Blvd., shows the evolution of an extraordinary graphic language. At its best, Troxler's work performs in the present and delights the viewer, achieving something close to the condition of music.5


Click to view "Watercolors by JIM TANAKA: a retrospective" in the catalogue.


1 The Sonnets. Ted Berrigan. Grove Press. 1964

2 RAYCLIFF: Unlike the editors at Artforum later on, the editor of Art News— Tom Hess—did try to cover everything. He couldn’t literally cover everything but he really tried. And so there would be up to two hundred reviews per issue and that took a lot of doing. It took a lot to get people to do it. The poet Ted Berrigan went around to galleries for a few months and wrote his reviews, and then, so the story goes, got tired of the whole process and began just making them up. Challenging Art: Artforum. Amy Newman. Soho Press , August 2, 2000.

3 https://www.streetswing.com/histmain/z3savoy1.htm

4 https://town.hall.org/Archives/radio/Kennedy/Taylor/bt_054.au

5 Jazz compositions, Rich,-Tim. Print. New York, NY. v 54 no2 Mar/Apr 2000. p. 150-7

About Jim Tanaka

The Alpine Community House Show


An Interview With Jim Tanaka (Complete Unedited Text) (Edited QuickTime Audio File)

Critics Corner

Suggested Readings


Flash Version Requires Shockwave

Email your comments: mkatzhope@aol.com

Jim Tanaka's Jazz “Mini Posters"

'Stompin' at the Savoy' : the Art of Jim Tanaka




Jim Tanaka


Webpage Designed By
Marshall D. Katzman
Ridgewood, NJ 07450
Updated On
September 1, 2019
© 2019 • fantasypuppettheater.com

Site Map


Back To Top