By Mia Berman

I was hooked on art and music as a child, watching my father do charcoal drawings, learning from his harmony and composition lessons, taking recorder and piano lessons, listening to my mother on mandolin and my Dad on jazz piano, mesmerized by his fingers dancing over the black and white keys. I’d hear Mom strumming Come Back to Sorrento in the afternoon and Dad improvising Moonlight in Vermont at night. He taught me how to sketch and watercolor, once spending an entire afternoon showing me how to mix assorted shades of green.

At the age of five, I began sketching with pencil. My sister and I experimented with pen and India ink drawings on flat stones, selling them on the streets of Provincetown, Cape Cod, along with modernistic beach glass art. Now I take my sketch pad and trek around NYC, from the Hudson River piers to the jazz clubs in Greenwich Village.

Mezzrow. Alan Broadbent, pianist. By Mia Berman

As a teenager, I often jammed with my Dad, playing recorder and piano duets, improvising on jazz standards and bossa nova beats. I grew up listening to 60’s LP albums – solo pianists Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Erroll Garner and George Shearing; Blues and Brazilian jazz singers, from Billie (Holiday) and Ella (Fitzgerald) to Sara (Vaughan) and Astrud (Gilberto).

Growing up in Queens, I treasured our family field trips to Manhattan, including a priceless winter birthday concert at Carnegie Hall with impresario pianist/comedian Victor Borge. And then came the annual Washington Square Art show. I was totally intrigued by the portrait artists and the pace at which they captured faces and gestures. The challenge of sketching jazz musicians live? Finishing before they change positions or rotate players! My favorite spot to sketch is sitting at the bar at Birdland, Dizzy’s, Kitano or Mezzrow, capturing the nuance of their expressions.

My exhibit “Mia’s Jazz Sketches” is at Tavern on Jane – a landmark restaurant owned by Michael Stewart that’s survived 25 years in the West Village. Stewart – a man devoted to his community and employees, who never shut down for one day during the pandemic – is struggling to remain afloat. He did not receive a dollar of the $28 billion given by the RRF (Restaurant Revitalization Fund) to restaurants nationwide.

Dizzy’s. Dick Hyman, pianist. By Mia Berman

The show is a tribute to my Dad and to jazz musicians, performers, and jazz clubs throughout NYC. Some of the sketches were done in landmark jazz clubs that, alas, have closed their doors in New York City: Zinno’s, 55 Bar, the 75 Club, and Hermana.

Drawn to the tranquility of nature, the ocean, and the dunes, I’m also captivated by the calm of a jazz performance. Sketching makes me feel both centered and freeing. My style – a blend of whimsical and intense – strives to reflect the rhythm of the musicians. The goal is to capture the dynamics of the moment in a still sketch. This “sketching live” creative process is a spiritual experience that’s difficult to describe.

I’ve always dreamed of exhibiting my NYC sketches set in jazz clubs scattered around Manhattan – small spaces like Mezzrow and large clubs like Dizzy’s Coca Cola. Heartfelt thanks to Michael Stewart, a huge supporter of artists, waiters and workers everywhere.

The exhibit “Mia’s Sketches” is in memory of my father, who taught me to draw, and my mother, who always encouraged my sketching and painting. Some of her last piercing words were, “Keep doing your art. I’ll be watching.”

Village Vanguard. Fred Hersch, pianist. By Mia Berman

Birdland. Cyrille Aimee, singer. By Mia Berman

Birdland. Arturo O’Farrill & Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. By Mia Berman

Mia Berman is a graduate of Cornell and Columbia University. She studied harmony and theory with Harold Berman and Joel Mandelbaum; painting and sculpture with Robert Mangold and Friedel Dzubas at Cornell Summer Institute. She’s taken jazz and baroque music workshops at Aston Magna in Great Barrington, Mass. and the Alfred Deller Academy in France! Recently she studied with artist Tony Couch on-site workshop in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. Currently she hosts MIA’S WORLD podcast on Skye’s Crescent Radio. Recent guests include jazz artists Cyrille Aimee, Mafalda Minnozzi, Sandy Stewart, Maucha Adnet, Dick Hyman, Fred Hersch, Alan Broadbent, Pete Malinverni, Gene Bertoncini and Arturo O’Farrill. 

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