Key Points

  • Based in 1970s-80s New York, Brown drew inspiration from the “free jazz” sessions that were pushing musical boundaries.
  • “Energy is Jazz” includes 36 paintings, sheet music, two films, and a collection of photos.
  • The “Energy is Jazz” exhibit is open now through May 5.

Collaborating with iconic jazz musicians like Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton, and the abstract expressionist Willem De Kooning, artist Frederick J. Brown lifted his NY loft studio into a cultural hub, drawing in artists, musicians, writers, and performers – as depicted in the 2002 documentary film “120 Wooster Street.”

Now, the American Jazz Museum is paying tribute to Brown’s jazz-and-blues-inspired visual art in a new exhibition, “Energy is Jazz.”

Co-curated between the museum and the artist’s son, Bentley Brown, the exhibition immerses visitors into Brown’s artistic journey and his vivid portrayal of jazz artists through the lens of portraiture, along with capturing the dynamism and essence of jazz through visual representation of real jazz objects, people, and/or scenes.

“You can expect to step into an artist’s studio and see really vibrant, powerful, and intimate paintings,” says co-curator Bentley Brown. “You can expect to think about jazz in a different way, not just as a music but to think of it as a visual and performance art form as well.” 

Scheduled to be on display in the museum’s Changing Gallery from now through May 5, “Energy is Jazz” explores Brown’s career and his passionate depiction of the jazz world. 

Visitors will encounter works showcasing Brown’s portrait series of jazz musicians, materials from his days hosting events in his Soho loft, including photos and videos of performance art, and a collection of his early abstract pieces that delve into the essence of jazz.

Painting of Ray Charles Dream Band
Brown often painted dream lineups for bands like this one of Ray Charles and Roosevelt Sykes

Capturing Jazz’s Essence

Dan Cranshaw, chairman of the American Jazz Museum, pointed to portraits of Count Basie and Charlie Parker from the museum’s permanent collection to laude Brown’s artistry. 

The new exhibit adds a treasure trove of Brown’s work with 36 paintings, sheet music, two films, and a collection of a dozen photos, showcasing the diversity and depth of Brown’s 40-year career.

“Fredrick J. Brown’s artwork embodies the very spirit of jazz,” says Cranshaw. “His art is a symphony of color, a rhythm of brushstrokes, an exploration of energy that mirrors the improvisation and innovation that defined the uniquely American genre.”

Frederick Brown
Frederick. J. Brown began as an abstract expressionist artist before he began experimenting with abstract portraits of Jazz and Blues artists.

About Fredrick J. Brown:

Hailing from Georgia and raised on Chicago’s South Side, Brown established roots in the heart of New York City’s art scene during its vibrant 1970s-80s art renaissance. 

Following his tenure in NYC, Brown settled in Arizona, continuing to paint in New York and Scottsdale before passing away in 2012, leaving an indelible mark on the art world. His works are scattered across public and private art collections globally, housed in prestigious institutions such as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and, notably, the American Jazz Museum.

Honoring Jazz Legends

Brown was an abstract expressionist artist, but as he got more involved in the free jazz movement, he met musicians who feared that they would be forgotten to history, despite their contributions to American culture. 

Brown then began experimenting with abstract portraits of jazz and blues artists as a way to honor them, and these portraits became his most famous works and immortalized the musicians.  

“I think it’s really important to recognize not just the music but its practitioners,” says Bentley Brown. “We have work to do reclaiming this history for the Black artists who led this movement.” 

In addition to showcasing the evolution of Brown’s work, the exhibition will unveil rare footage of performance art that transpired in his Soho loft during the 1970s. The videos help broaden the  understanding of jazz as not just a musical form but a visual and performance art expression.

“It’s just an incredible experience to share my father’s work and legacy with the community,” says Bentley Brown. “This work is about not just the music that is jazz, but the action that is jazz, and recognizing that jazz is a practice of freedom.” 

For more info and tickets, visit

  • Painting of Etta James
  • Painting of Charlie Parker
  • Louis Armstrong Painting
  • Painting of Thelonious Monk

Prior to joining The Community Voice, he worked as a reporter & calendar editor with The Pitch, writing instructor with The Kansas City Public Library, and as a contributing food writer for Kansas...