Jerrard brings his love of jazz and books to Bermuda
Jerrard Polk is the kind of guy who always likes to look sharp. A nice hat, and stripped grey suit would be typical attire, with a pop of colour somewhere.
He borrows some of his aesthetic from jazz culture, which he loves.
“I pay attention to details like those guys did,” the former Bermuda resident says. “Whether walking the streets or on stage they were always impeccable.”
Mr Polk is an American illustrator whose latest commission was Jabari Asim’s book, A Child’s Introduction to Jazz: The Musicians, Culture and Roots of the World’s Coolest Music.
He will sign books and give talks at Paget Primary School and the Berkeley Institute tomorrow. On Friday he will do the same at 11am and 2pm at the Ag Show.
“I will be sharing my story of following my creative interests to become an illustrator,” said Mr Polk, who left the island in 2019 having lived here for a year.
“The Paget Primary School Choir will sing some jazz tunes with me. There will also be a student playing the saxophone.”
Mr Polk has illustrated two other books: The Story of John Lewis by Tonya Leslie and Black Inventors by Kathy Trusty. He usually has anywhere from six months to a year to complete a project. A Child’s Introduction to Jazz was released in December; he had just 90 days to complete 96 illustrations.
His hope is that it triggers a curiosity about the music – included is a QR code that leads to jazz music.
“Mr Asim asked for me specially, after seeing my portfolio, because of my love for jazz,” he said. “At first I turned the project down because I was working on another book. But then I met with Mr Asim. It was a doable, but not necessarily reasonable, timeline. This project was definitely a labour of love. I had to work on it nights and weekends. I had a lot of long nights.”
The book covers the lives of everyone from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to Billie Holiday and Wynton Marsalis, and moves from the early 1900s right into the modern-day hip hop era.
Mr Polk has family on the island and had visited many times before he married his Bermudian wife Christal, 16 years ago.
“I took my first steps here,” he said.
The couple have a seven-year-old son, Roman. They moved to the island in 2018, when Mr Polk worked as a salesman for DHL.
He threw himself into literary advocacy in the year they spent here, creating the Bermuda Book Festival to increase a love of reading on the island and raise money for charities such as The Reading Clinic.
He now lives in the Hudson Valley in New York, and works in business development for Barnes & Noble.
A book about Duke Ellington in his school library in Charlotte, North Carolina, got him interested in jazz.
“In the illustration of him he had his hair slicked back, and he was wearing a sharp suit,” Mr Polk said. “There was a band behind him. I said, ‘Who is this guy?’ I picked up the book and started reading it.”
Mr Polk was intrigued by the legendary musician’s life, and the way that he overcame racial discrimination. He was also curious about what actual jazz music sounded like.
“When I heard jazz music for the first time it blew my lid off,” he said. “I would ask my father to play the jazz station in the car.”
Despite that, when he was given the chance to take music lessons in primary school, he chose art instead.
He says his art has been influenced by the natural beauty and pastel colours of Bermuda. He loves combining traditional and digital illustration to tell little-known stories of everyday people to encourage children from all cultures.
“Jazz has a way of helping you be even more creative and open your mind to exploring your own creativity,” he said. “Jazz is really cool music that has inspired a lot of young people.”
He recently went to a concert in New York by singer Samara Joy who this year won Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Jazz Vocal Album.
“She is amazing, and only 23,” Mr Polk said. “She heard the music and started singing jazz five years ago. Now she is taking it to new amazing heights.”
Mr Polk said his favourite illustration in A Child's Introduction to Jazz was one of the very last. The two-page spread brings in all the figures in the book, and shows how jazz has travelled all over the world.
He has also illustrated a book coming out in August, Moving and Grooving to Fillmore’s Beat by Rachel Werner. The book is about a creative community in San Francisco, California that has produced artists, writers and musicians such as Maya Angelou, Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix.
For more information see jerrardkpolk.com.
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