Minnesota Original

S5 E17 | FULL EPISODE

Greg Gossel and Cornbread Harris

Using a combination of screen-printing, collage and painting, Greg Gossel builds his mixed-media pieces layer by layer. An artist in her own right, Laura Zabel has become a champion for the Twin Cities artistic community in her work as Executive Director of Springboard for the Arts. Self-taught bluesman Samuel James "Cornbread" Harris Sr. reflects on a lifetime of piano gigs in the Twin Cities.

AIRED: January 04, 2015 | 0:26:46
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

(woman) "Minnesota Original" is made possible by

The State Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund,

and the citizens of Minnesota.

[piano, bass, drums & horns play jazz-rock]

(man) Ah-ha!

♪ ♪

My my my, my my my.

♪ ♪

One more time, baby.

♪ ♪

[drums & bass play a hip hop beat]

(Greg Gossel) Spontaneity I feel like oftentimes creates

kind of the most interesting results.

♪ ♪

Sometimes it's just a lot of experimentation,

and I like to try

and keep things spontaneous in a controlled way

and then when I see bits that are working,

kind of harness those elements

and continue to work through other parts,

um, until I'm satisfied with the piece.

♪ ♪

I think with my work, there's kind of just an overall theme

of kind of taking all these elements from popular culture

and bringing them together in unexpected ways

and then giving the viewer an opportunity

to kind of build the story out of what's there.

I'm not necessarily trying to dictate a specific idea

with most of what I do; it's just kind of continuing through

this general theme of constant bombardment of advertising,

things we're all subject to on a daily basis

and kind of mixing that all up, presenting it in a new way,

and then kind of letting the viewer interpret.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

I like to show kind of that history throughout a piece.

Oftentimes the first marks I put down,

you never exactly see it at the end, but it's still there

because those first elements are

what are informing the next thing.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

It's kind of a mix of a variety of stuff.

Spray paint in different ways, whether it's spraying

directly out of the nozzle or pressing down the plunger

to get a more erratic spray, to house paint, acrylic paint,

some light washes with water

just to kind of create some depth throughout the process

and weather certain areas.

Paint markers-- I just like mixing all these mediums

and then actually trying to kind of go

as fast as I can and layer 'em while they're wet

and start to get some interesting textures.

When a piece is finished, you get that depth that you see

on an old advertisement; 15 advertisements

have been layered on, and bits and pieces

have come away over time.

It's kind of another variation of that sort of natural process.

This is an outdoor installation mural that we'll be installing

on a wall in Northeast Minneapolis.

It's gonna be little heavier than I thought.

My brother Jake is my assistant for the day

and we're just going to stack up these wood panels

and bring them over to the location

and then install the piece one panel at a time,

screwing it to the existing wall.

The process is created in a studio, hand-painted layers

kind of mimicking the screen-print process.

It was just a wall that I've had my eye on for a while

that seemed like it could use

a little, a little color down there.

So I just mocked up the idea and then brought the idea

to the owner of the building and asked if it would be

all right to install, and you know,

lucky enough, he was cool with it.

♪ ♪

Mural work was a natural progression

with what I was doing in my studio or in gallery settings.

I like to work on a large scale, so over the years I've had

some opportunities to be able to work on even a larger scale

and install my work outdoors.

[whirring]

I had the opportunity to do a mural at Art Basel.

It's a unique event that happens every year in Miami.

Galleries from all over the world

come there to show their work.

So after that initial mural,

they invited me back a few years later

to install a new piece, so this past year I had the opportunity

to go and add another large- scale piece to the buildings.

One of the most rewarding things--

to be able to put in the prep work and install it

and make it happen and then see the final piece,

I mean, it was great.

[whirring]

I like how it-- kinda looking at

the boarded up, vacant thing, she is.

It fits perfect in that spot, and it's so bright.

(Jake) Dude, it's pretty sweet that we can just cruise by now

and see that thing all the time.

(Greg) The images in my work, I try not to overthink.

I collect a lot of materials

in old comic books and magazines and tabloids.

I just try to kind of spontaneously pull bits,

whether it's bits of romance,

comics, or celebrity tabloids or old advertising,

I kind of try to bring them together as something new.

I've always been interested in

urban decaying signs and advertisements, whether

it's actually using those elements or photographing 'em,

literally pulling textures from those photographs,

or just simply using 'em-- color palette ideas

and in a more abstract sense.

I'm creating my film to burn my silk screens,

giving a little more texture, and I can kind of

pick and choose certain elements to make pop more.

One thing I've been experimenting more with is

trying to spend more time hand-drawing my film

and separations for all my screen printing.

I guess it feels like there's more of me in the piece.

With my background in design, I was always interested

in that typography and symbol images,

and screen printing was kind of

a vehicle to be able to take that

and push it on a larger scale.

So I like to work fast

and make those quick, spontaneous decisions

and screen printing is a great vehicle for that,

to be able to quickly reproduce things, take away elements.

I don't know, there's just something about that process.

For the most part, always been a staple in my work,

something that's just been a good way

to layer and build up each piece.

I like my aesthetic to be raw, but controlled.

At times I like parts to be chaotic,

but there's always like a structure.

The main goal is to be able to come to my studio each day

and get my work out there in galleries.

And the fine artwork is, you know,

being able to show in that setting

is what interests me most, and yeah, I've been lucky enough

to be able to do that, and it's just, you know, that's,

that's what constantly drives me

to continue and keep pushing forward.

[synthesizer & drums play in bright rhythm]

Good morning.

I'm Laura Zabel, I'm the Executive Director

of Springboard for the Arts, which is an economic

and community development organization

run entirely by artists.

So I guess that means I'm an artist also. [laughs]

And there he was, in a powder blue tuxedo

with a white ruffled shirt

and a powder blue bow tie.

My background is as a theater maker, actor.

It's one of those things that makes sense in retrospect.

I look back as early as like high school and college

and I always was interested in sort of organizing

within the arts community and how art can be sort of

deployed or engaged in the other issues of the community,

so you know, makes sense now,

but I never could have articulated then

that this is [laughs] where I would end up!

Springboard's an organization that is about helping artists

make a living and a life and helping communities tap into

the power and the resource that artists can provide.

We really started defining the work

as economic and community development.

A lot of people would refer to Springboard

as an artists' service organization.

That's not really a term that I'm down with-- [laughs]

I feel like artists aren't victims in need of service.

They are a powerful, creative force, and it's just a matter

of sort of knitting our creative community

back into the fabric of the whole community.

[guitar & bass play in rhythmic Gypsy jazz]

♪ ♪

So we've been doing this big project

called Irrigate, in the central corridor

during the construction of the light rail

that has been about supporting artists to do creative projects

with business owners, with neighborhood organizations,

projects that attract people and attention and dollars

to those places during this huge disruption

and that also help change the narrative about what's possible.

And then in 2010

we started this program called Community Supported Art

in partnership with mnartists.

It's based on the community supported agriculture model,

so instead of getting vegetables from a farm,

you get art from local artists.

The point of the program really is to make direct connections

between the public and the artists

who live and work in their community.

(Jehra Patrick) Today we are at Silverwood Park

in St. Anthony, Minnesota,

and this is an opportunity for shareholders

to come up and pick up the work that they've purchased,

but it's also an opportunity for them to mingle with the artists

and really have a live and interactive community

around this cool project.

(Alyssa Baguss) Being a part of the CSA project this year is really great

because sometimes you produce a lot of work

and you don't know who's going to see it

or if anyone's going to see it

or if anyone's going to like it or own it,

and working on every single little drawing

like I knew it was going to someone.

And so to actually be able to meet shareholders

and have that connection is,

is something that we don't always experience.

This is just so much fun, I can't tell you.

We're glad to hear that.

(Laura Zabel) Over the last ten years the organization has grown,

the budget has grown; I lost track at ten times over.

It's more than that now, which, you know,

I don't really measure the success

or failure of the organization based on budget size,

but it's a handy shorthand for how much we've grown. [laughs]

I think one of the early inflection points was when

we developed the Artists' Access to Healthcare program.

We did this big statewide study that showed that artists

are twice as likely to lack health insurance

as the general population in Minnesota.

That's true all across the country too.

And we went around to a lot of people and said

we are going to do something about this.

And people kind of universally said,

oh, that is really important,

you're never going to be able to do anything about that.

I mean, it's just a huge, crazy, complicated system.

And we did; we started this program

called Artists' Access to Healthcare.

It really focused on health care versus health insurance.

And we've helped over 5000 artists

go to the doctor through that program.

It's work I'm really proud of

and feels really important to the community.

I always say, you know, "I speak health care now," [laughs]

which is for someone with a theater degree,

an unusual turn of events!

Stacey we're just going to go in the costume room a little bit.

(woman) It's open, I'll turn the lights on. (Laura) All right.

Theatre In the Round is

one of the oldest theaters in the Twin Cities.

And it's just one of my favorite places in the whole community.

It's a place that's meant a lot to me as an artist

and to hundreds and thousands of other actors and performers

and stage managers and directors in the Twin Cities.

It just sort of provides this wonderful piece

of infrastructure for the community here.

There's like a whole silver shoe section, [laughs] just in case!

And gosh, like this place, I've just played, you know,

those roles that are like the roles you'd wanna play,

these sort of iconic, amazing roles as Emily in "Our Town"

and The Lady in the Scottish Play

and just really amazing roles

that, that you don't get the opportunity to do very often,

and it makes me feel like this place is just so important

to who I am as an actor and to my sort of growing up

and evolving and learning a lot about myself.

My mother went to Montreal. New York City.

And she brought me back.

(Laura) "Love Lost and What I Wore" is the first show that I've done

in a really long time, the first fully staged play.

(Shanan Custer) The minute you see Laura, you love her.

She's so good with so many different kinds of people

and brings her own style

to being this really powerful leader.

I know she's dealing with all these different artists

and their needs, and she's giving speeches

and she's out there fighting for our,

our right to do this show, I mean at the heart of it,

she's a huge leader in this community and so respected

and seems to be just growing every year.

So I feel pretty excited to have her in my show,

not only because she's a great performer, but

because of what she represents in terms of an artist.

(Laura) I went to school for theater;

I went to the University of Kansas

and have a degree in theater.

And then I moved to the Twin Cities right after that

because of the art community here,

because of the theater community, because I wanted

to be a place where that was a priority for the community

and a place where I could see myself being involved

in that part of the community for a really long time.

And that worked out pretty well. [laughs]

Even though I might not perform

in sort of traditional theatrical ways

as much as I used to, I feel like those skills

are still a huge part of my life, and they're a huge asset

in the work that I do every day at Springboard for the Arts.

In terms of public speaking

and in terms of creating collaborative projects--

the things I learned from theater

about how to come together with a group of people

and make something happen quickly and in a creative way--

that's what we do every day at Springboard.

[drums play in bright rhythm; voices make percussive sounds]

[piano plays the blues]

(Cornbread Harris) I think I like music

better than anything-- ice cream-- don't match.

Cornbread, I like cornbread, but the cornbread I like is me!

♪ Cornbread in the morning! ♪

♪ ♪

I am James Samuel Cornbread Harris, Sr.

♪ Cornbread every night! ♪

I have been making music for 65 years!

And I'm still going.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

I'm primarily a bluesman.

What I love about the blues is the feeling of the music.

♪ I feel like I ♪

♪ Could cry ♪

♪ ♪

♪ I feel like I could cry ♪

I was born in Chicago, Illinois.

By three years old my parents died.

I was sent to foster homes from 3 until oh, 11 or 12 maybe.

So my grandparents decided to take me in,

that was in St. Paul.

So when I went to St. Bernard's, my grandparents decided

that I should have piano lessons.

Before that I had been learning from my friends.

My friends taught me a lot of stuff-- dig this, dig this.

[playing "Chopsticks"]

♪ ♪

Oh yeah, you know, I was a fantastic piano player.

[playing a melodic song]

♪ ♪

So when I went to the service, I would play in the dayroom.

They'd get their chairs and sit around the piano

and listen to me play my little three, four songs.

♪ ♪

One more time, one more time.

♪ ♪

When I got out of the service, I said well, you know what?

People like the music, so I went to Schmitt's Music Company

and bought a guitar book.

So I learned to play many, many songs.

As long as I got the words,

the melody, and the chord progression,

I can play pert' near any song,

not the way it's written, you know,

but really close to the song.

[Cornbread plays the blues]

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

(Scott Soule) Mr. Harris is a wise and gentle soul.

Many of the musicians in town

would refer to Cornbread's outfit

as the Cornbread school of finishing musicians.

(Cornbread) I taught many people little pieces of the genre of music.

I played with so many different groups,

Tommy Francis was one of the bands,

Jaja Latif, and there were several other little,

I don't know if you could call 'em bands,

we got together three times [laughs] and then disbanded.

He was in the very first

rock-and-roll band in the Twin Cities, Augie Garcia.

(Cornbread) Augie Garcia, you know, he wears Bermuda shorts

and he dances on top of the piano

and he walks the railing playing the guitar.

Three years we packed River Road Club, Mendota, Minnesota.

Augie kept his showmanship up playing our same 20 songs,

right on the spot we were

just ad libbing this thing, "Hi Yo Silver."

That got to be the first hit record in the Twin Cities,

and it just became a big hit.

♪ Fried chicken and cornbread ♪

♪ Pig feet and cornbread ♪

♪ Dandelions and cornbread ♪

♪ Pork chops and cornbread ♪

♪ Lucky lips and cornbread baby ♪

♪ Cornbread ♪

♪ Cornbread ♪

♪ Cornbread ♪

♪ Lovin' that cornbread ♪

(Scott Soule) Mr. Harris' commitment to jazz and blues music is a lifestyle,

and he likes to spread his knowledge,

and in that way it kind of keeps growing as a genre.

♪ Bread ♪

[cheers, applause, & whistles]

[Cornbread plays the blues on the piano]

♪ ♪

Hello pretty lady. Hello.

(Cornbread) How are you this morning? (woman) Doin' good.

(Cornbread) We are going to Camden.

We go there two times a week

and I'm gonna play and they're going to applaud for me

and say oh, that was sure good Cornbread, or whatever.

♪ ♪

Camden Neighborhood Center, all right.

Camden Neighborhood Center focuses on adults and adults

with different degrees of disabilities and their families.

So every Tuesday and Thursday,

Mr. Cornbread is here with our senior group.

It's very lively, like when they get in, he always sits up front,

and they always reserve the front seat for him

and he's one of our only males, so he gets the royal treatment

while he's here, and the ladies really love him.

I like playing here for these ladies

'cause I got 'em fooled-- they think I'm good!

You know, that is a wonderful thing that people like you.

(woman) Oh we've got him fooled!

You got me fooled? Oh, oh.

Oh now the truth is coming out. Ah-ha!

[Cornbread plays jazz on the electronic keyboard]

♪ ♪

I-22.

(Lisa Dunlap) Mr. Cornbread here, he's been with us about 10-plus years.

And I actually did not realize who Mr. Cornbread was

for several years, and I knew who his son was.

(Cornbread) My son Jimmy, I want to throw his name out here.

Jimmy Jam, Jimmy Jam, yeah.

They were using a lot of what I taught him to make their tunes,

and so they kept on doing that until they got The Time together

and Prince heard 'em

and decided oh man, these guys can really play!

♪ ♪

I-24!

(Cornbread) Oh, I-24. (woman) I-24.

(Cornbread) ♪ I-24. ♪

(Lisa Dunlap) I think Mr. Cornbread continues to come and play music

because he enjoys the people, he enjoys the singing group,

and he likes the interaction.

(woman) N-35. Okay, N-35. (woman) N-35.

(Cornbread, in rhythm with the piano) ♪ N-35, N-35, N-35. ♪

[laughter]

[bass, drums, and saxophone play big-band jazz]

♪ ♪

(woman) Welcome to the 22nd annual celebration

of the Sally Ordway Irvine Awards.

The Sally Awards are a statewide salute and celebration

of the arts in our state.

The 2013 Sally Award for Commitment is presented

to a remarkable musician who has brought us his interpretations

of the blues and jazz for more than half a century,

James Samuel Cornbread Harris, Sr.

[loud applause]

(Patricia Mitchell) He was nominated by a number of people,

and I think the reason that Commitment seemed logical

is because at age 80-sumpin', sumpin',

he has had a very long career committed to music.

No matter what I do, I end up getting more than I gave.

If you want to be blessed, be a giver!

[loud applause] Thank you very much.

(Patricia Mitchell) His career is so long and he's such a wonderful musician

and he has taught so many people.

And I know nobody was anything but delighted

when he was selected.

(Cornbread) The blessing came when I was enlightened

that people liked music,

and I had this small talent.

And I wish that on everybody,

to be as blessed as me.

I've got it made!

♪ ♪

[applause & cheers]

CC--Armour Captioning & TPT

(woman) "Minnesota Original" is made possible by

The State Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund

and the citizens of Minnesota.

[orchestral fanfare]

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