Art & Jazz: Sonny Rollins, "Airegin"

[From the Art & Jazz Series]

"Airegin" was composed by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins in 1954. The title derives from the spelling of Nigeria backwards (Airegin). The Miles Davis Quintet was the first group to record the tune, with Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone, Miles Davis on trumpet, Horace Silver on piano, Percy Heath on bass, and Kenny Clarke on drums.


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photography of Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins performing

Pictured above: Miles Davis on trumpet, with Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone.

According to Sonny Rollins, "Airegin" was inspired by a magazine photograph of Nigerian dancers that had impressed him, and he said, "So the next song that I wrote I dedicated to the dancers, and I titled it 'Airegin,' which is Nigeria spelled backwards."

Scroll down for the music video and our description of the art project to accompany this music ...

The Art Project: using your art materials of choice, create an art work where you are depicting something backwards.

In Sonny Rollins' case, he titled his song "Airegan" as a backwards-spelling of "Nigeria," but we want you to take something that is typically seen one way and attempt to draw or paint it backwards.

We know this is a little vague and perhaps difficult to think of what or how to draw backwards, so we'll give you some ideas below, using existing art works that have followed a similar concept. Don't copy the art works, but use the ideas to create your own "backwards art."

As you're listening to Airegan, is there anything about the composition that sounds backwards to you? Is there anything about the tempo that suggests the dancers who inspired Rollins?



Here's a couple art works to get you started with some ideas of how one might portray something backwards ...

Salvador Dali double portrait of Gala from 1935

Salvador Dali, "Portrait of Gala," 1935. In this painting, the Surrealist artist Salvador Dali has painted a double portrait of his wife Gala, having her face forward and another version of her positioned backwards.

Georg Baselitz painting featuring an upside-down head

A painting by Georg Baselitz (title and date unknown). Baselitz is well-known for his paintings of people upside-down. While it may seem like a gimmick, it has been suggested that the German artist was reflecting post-war life in Germany, with everything turned upside-down.