Wow! Roy Lichtenstein

By | Mar 25, 2021 | No Comments

Roy Lichtenstein has always been one of my favorite artists. His paintings were hard to miss—unmistakable comic book-inspired drawings and sculptures that were as vivid as they were striking. No other artist drew quite like him. Along with Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, and Claes Oldenburg, Lichtenstein became closely identified with a movement known as Pop Art, which he helped father. These Pop artists blurred the boundaries between “high” art and “low” culture, borrowing heavily from commonplace objects (such as comic strips, soup cans, road signs, and hamburgers), which often became their subject.

Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein

On one occasion, Max Roach and his girlfriend Shannon Gibbons had invited me to an event called Veritas—an annual fundraiser founded by Doris Parker, the widow of Bebop jazz pioneer Charlie Parker. Their mission helped families and children break the cycle of drug addiction and heal their lives. Charlie Parker himself had died at the age of 34 from the effects of drug abuse. So, he largely inspired this event, with many former colleagues like Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie helping raise money by performing without pay.

When I arrived at the venue, I saw many of my jazz idols flowing in one after another, like Milt Jackson, George Coleman, Frank Foster, Ray Barretto, Jimmy Heath, Randy Weston, Clark Terry, and Al Grey, among sundry others. It was incredible to witness, and I was beside myself in awe. As guests continued to arrive, I roamed around eating and drinking from the bountiful hors d’oeuvres and wine that were being served freely by a small army of servers.

Before the official event began, I had taken a seat along a long stretch of banquets. I was sitting next to a gaggle of singers, including Blossom Dearie, Morgana King, Jackie Paris, and Chris Connor. They were having such a good time together, reminiscing about the good “old days“ that I felt like a special interloper. After listening to this rousing gang, I had finished my wine and decided to refresh it. I asked Blossom, who I had been sitting next to, if she wanted something from the bar, and she said, “sure, I’ll have what you’re having.”

As I got up to go to the bar, I saw this short, unusual-looking—almost elfish-like—older man who had been staring at us and now roaming around much like I was earlier, and I asked if he wanted a drink as I was heading to the bar. He said, “I’m not drinking, but I’ll join you.” Then he asked, “By the way, who were those people you were sitting with?” I told him they were among some of the finest jazz vocalists around. “I’ll be happy to introduce you to them,” I said. So, after I grabbed my drinks, I headed back with my new tag-along friend. As we approached the singers, I asked him, “What’s your name, by the way?” He said, “Roy.” And I returned, “Roy, what?” And he said, ”Roy Lichtenstein.” “You mean the artist?” I asked quizzically. ”Yeah, that Roy,” he said. And I returned with an incredulous, “You’re shittin’ me!” Roy just laughed.

Well, when I discovered who my new little friend was who had been tagging along with me, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I introduced him not only to all the singers I had been sitting with but also to Max Roach and Shannon Gibbons, my hosts, who had graciously provided me entry into this special gala. Roy was as thrilled at all the attention as I was. As we continued our perambulations a little more, I asked Roy what brought him to the event, and he said he was an avid jazz fan. The music inspired his work a lot. We continued chatting for a while until the event officially started. Then we were forced to part company because we had assigned seats. I wound up sitting next to Duke Ellington’s family, and he was seated on the opposite side of the room at a table I could not see. When the event ended, I looked for Roy, but he was gone. I never saw him again after that special encounter.

Roy died several years later at the age of 73.


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