Sunday, March 1, 2015

Artists In My Book / Jan Bell *Interview*

The music and art scene in DUMBO, Brooklyn, with it’s artists and indie bands and their offshoots has a vast history. Musician-Producer, Jan Bell, has been in the center of this history since the beginning. You can find her amongst the colorful artist cameos in my picture book, MERMAIDS ON PARADE. In fact, Jan’s character is wearing a skirt based on the first tail I ever made and wore in the Mermaid Parade.

Jan Bell in the book, MERMAIDS ON PARADE.

 Mermaid tail I wore in the parade.

Jan was kind enough to answer some questions. Her interview serves as a parallel back story to my painting process during production of MERMAIDS ON PARADE. Listening to many wonderful music CDs by my favorite local bands was great for channeling moods and colors which reflect the Coney Island spirit. Jan's comments about Woody Guthrie really hit home to a theme of the book, Coney Island’s sense of democracy. Thank you, Jan Bell! XO

MHG: Why do you march in the Mermaid Parade? 

Jan Bell: Biggest fancy dress party of the year for me and my friends. I usually march with other old time and folk musicians and like to bring my guitar or banjo with me. I've met a lot of brilliant people playing music in the parade.


MHG: What does Coney Island represent for you?

Jan Bell: Well, I always think about the folk hero Woody Guthrie, who spent his last years living in Coney Island. That's where Ramblin' Jack Elliot and Bob Dylan both went to visit him in the 60's...both of whom have names they made up. Woody was born in rural Oklahoma and used to hop freight trains across country singing true story songs about the people he met during the Great Depression of the 1930's. Billy Bragg did a tribute album to Woody Guthrie called “Mermaid Avenue” in the 1990's. Guthrie’s spirit and his belief in equality for all are there for all to hear in his songs. “This land is Your Land”, “Pastures of Plenty” and hundreds more.

This CD has a song called "Coney Island Seaside Band"

 MHG: How do your music ventures connect the NYC arts communities?

Jan Bell: I am fortunate to work with quite a few small business establishments that ask me to book live music on a regular, often weekly basis. At one time, I traveled a lot all over America and Canada with a folk musician who was a young bright lad. He played venues and festivals everywhere, and I got to meet thousands of amazing musicians and presenters and people in the folk music community. Since returning to live in Brooklyn again, I've kept in touch with people so am able to 'bring the road to me' so to speak. Lots of bands from New Orleans, Austin Texas, Portland Oregon, Nashville Tennessee and Europe and Australia know how to find me and I can book them a couple of shows. They meet new fans and friends in a very supportive environment, rather than being exploited by 'pay to play' conveyer belt stages. This city can be a tough place for a band on tour here for the first time. I'm very happy to play a positive role in their experience instead. As an artist, I go home and play in the UK every Summer, and I tour a little here in the USA, but not as much as I used to. I help run the music at the places where I present the bands, and that helps supplement my income for sure. But I'm happy to play for a good cause, and fund raiser events are always a great time bringing folks together that otherwise may not cross paths.

Pasqalina Azzarello's CD cover art

MHG: What are you currently working on?

Jan Bell:  I'm launching Brooklyn Americana Music Festival 2015. My goal is to connect the two waterfront neighborhoods I've lived in and loved since the late 90's. DUMBO and Red Hook. I'm also writing and re-writing all my songs about living here for the next album 'Moonbirds in Brooklyn'. I’m also gearing up to teach a Spring songwriting class series again at the Fabulous Jalopy Theatre. My class is for grown ups but they have an extensive and very fun music program for kids.

Photo Credit Debbie Kline (who was watching the Maybelles broadcasting live on Concert Window)
Check out more of Jan Bell’s music
Concert Window
Facebook Band Page
Official Website

Art: Copyright Melanie Hope Greenberg