Yesterday, I received an e-mail from a reader named Madeleine Johnson, whose mother -- Milwaukee painter Mary Johnson -- is looking to sell a painting.
The painting, is a beautiful "in-action" portrait of a 95-year-old Brew City jazz legend: pianist Claude Dorsey.
"She is currently in some dire straits and needs to part with this work," wrote Madeleine, "but would love it to go to someone who appreciates the subject matter."
Mary Johnson painted the work around 1974, her daughter says, and it shows Dorsey at the piano with an unknown saxophonist in the foreground. It is definitely a piece of local jazz history.
"My grandmother's brother Phil was a dixieland clarinet player (and) when he visited Milwaukee he sometimes sat in with Claude Dorsey," explains Madeleine.
"My father (Steve Johnson, owner of The Uptowner tavern in Riverwest) would go to see them play through his early 20s. After my parents met in 1973 in the art department at UWM, my dad took my mom to The Clock a few times to see Claude. My mom says she was an extremely shy and quiet person back then, but Claude's playing made her come out of her shell. She says he was personable. 'He would look you in the eye and you'd relate to him.' He made her feel welcome and comfortable, and she felt personally touched by the way he played."
The painting was made, Mary says, from a photograph that appeared in the newspaper and when it was completed, Mary was quite proud of it.
"She says she then took the finished painting to an art critique at UWM to impress my dad," says Madeleine. "They were married in 1974. She left school to raise me and my sister, returning years later and earning her Bachelors of Fine Arts in painting and drawing in 2005. This painting has always hung in our home, and she got a little emotional today when she tried to describe how special Claude's playing made her feel and how it helped her to open up at that critical time in her life."
According to Barbara Wagner, who has worked with Dorsey as his representative in the past says that the pianist, who ceased performing publicly in 2005 is currently living in a nursing home, where he plays the piano regularly for his fellow residents.
If you're interested in the painting, please contact Madeleine Johnson.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.