Marvelous illustrator Paul Rogers talks about the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac, Jazz and Blues culture

"Jazz and Blues were an important part of the Beat movement and I think it has to do with the idea of a search, for the creative impulse to make something new and express your own ideas to the listener/reader."

Paul Rogers: On The Jazz Roads

Paul Rogers is an illustrator from Pasadena, CA, whose work has spanned posters, magazines, albums covers, books, advertising, logo design and US Postage Stamps. Paul has been working as an illustrator since 1980. He joined the faculty at Art Center College of Design in 2005. It's the only real job he's ever had. Paul Rogers has created a beautiful, hand-drawn version from the 1957 novel of Jack Kerouac's classic, On the Road. The illustrations, which Rogers began in 2012 and finished recently, distill one moment or line from every 309 page of the hyperactive novel, giving readers and entirely new way to experience the book. Unfortunately, Kerouac's estate wasn't enthusiastic about the idea of Roger's version, and wouldn't grant permission for it to be published as its own book.                               Paul Rogers 2015, photo by Wesley Sun

His clients include the Los Angeles County MTA, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, The New York Times, The New Yorker, NIKE, Pixar Pictures, Pentagram, the Playboy Jazz Festival, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Warner Bros. Studios. He has designed five postage stamps for the United States Postal Service and two official posters for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Super Bowl XXXVII and for The US Open Tennis Championship in 2009. His work has won awards from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Association of Illustrators/London, The Society of Illustrators, The Type Directors Club, AMERICAN ILLUSTRATION, COMMUNICATION ARTS, and GRAPHIS POSTER. His drawings and paintings have been exhibited at the Stella Jones Gallery in New Orleans, the Mendenhall Sobieski Gallery in Pasadena, California, and at The Cummer Museum of Art in Jacksonville, Florida. Paul has collaborated on two books with Wynton Marsalis, Jazz ABZ, which was given the Norman Sugarman Award for Distinguished Biography for Children, and was selected for AIGA 50 Books 2006, and Squeak, Rumble, Whomp, Whomp, Whomp! published by Candlewick Press in 2012. He illustrated a children’s book, Forever Young. He is currently an Associate Professor at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena where he lives and works with his wife, the brilliant book designer, Jill von Hartmann.

Interview by Michael Limnios 

Artworks / Illustrations  © by Paul Rogers / All Rights Reserved

What experiences have triggered your ideas? What characterize Paul Rogers’ artwork and philosophy?

I’ve been a free-lance illustrator since I graduated from ArtCenter College of Design in 1980, so most of my work is in response to assignments from magazines, newspapers, advertising and publishing clients. Over time I’ve built a reputation for using 20th Century graphic styles in an updated way. There are so many great artists from the past whose work I admire, and when I started out, I just wanted to fit into that world. I’ve always been interested in typography and the combination of word and image.

What were the reasons that you started the Jazz and Beat movement researches and experiments?

Illustrators spend a lot of time alone in their studios and we’re all great listeners, I started listening to jazz music when I was student working late hours, looking for something to listen to besides Top 40 radio. We had a great jazz station in Los Angeles then, KKGO, and I began to get interested in the history of jazz music and the artists who created it. Jazz can teach us so much about the human experience if we pay attention; how to express your own ideas, how to work with others, how to create art in the face of adversity.

"Jazz music will always go on, but I worry about young people finding out about it and listening closely. It takes time and a little effort get to know the music but the rewards are tremendous."

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues & Jazz culture? What does “Beat Generation” mean to you?

Jazz and Blues have given me a richer outlook on life than I think I would have had otherwise, I can hear Billie Holiday and get an idea of what she was feeling in her life, a record by Louis Armstrong can brighten a day that isn’t going so well.

The Beat Generation were a sincere group of artists that are as largely misunderstood today as they were when they were writing. Their lives were a search for beauty and truth and understanding.

Why did you think that Jack Kerouac’s life and experiences continues to generate such a devoted following?

It’s about the search we’re all on. Finding our places in this world, looking for love and a feeling of home.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice has given you?

I met Wynton Marsalis about 25 years ago and we’ve built a friendship over the years, we did two books for children, Jazz ABZ and Squeak, Rumble, Whomp, Whomp, Whomp. We get together whenever we’re in the same town and I spent a week on the road with him and the great musicians in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The best advice he ever gave me was not words but just watching how he treats other people. How he works with the cats in the band, strangers he meets in restaurants, and how he will hang around talking to fans or young musicians who come backstage to see him after a gig. On many nights, the last guys to leave the auditorium would be Wynton, me and the guy locking up.

"Jazz and Blues have given me a richer outlook on life than I think I would have had otherwise, I can hear Billie Holiday and get an idea of what she was feeling in her life, a record by Louis Armstrong can brighten a day that isn’t going so well." (Photo: Dizzy Gillespie & Paul, NYC 1992)

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

We’re lucky to have so many great recordings from the past, but there’s a picture of 52nd Street from the 1940s and you can read the signs in front of the clubs, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, Jack Teagarden, all on the same block on the same night, and it went on like that, every night!

Jazz music will always go on, but I worry about young people finding out about it and listening closely. It takes time and a little effort get to know the music but the rewards are tremendous.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues & Jazz culture with the Beat movement and literature?

Jazz and Blues were an important part of the Beat movement and I think it has to do with the idea of a search, for the creative impulse to make something new and express your own ideas to the listener/reader.

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from “On The Road” of Jack Kerouac?

I love Kerouac’s writing, but the thing that really gets me are the records he made with Steve Allen, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. Those records are so full of the joy and sadness of life.

What is the impact of Jazz and Beat movement to the racial and socio-cultural implications?

Understanding the life of another person is never an easy thing to do. The Beats were accepting of each other and of outsiders from society. There’s an important lesson for today about putting yourself in another person’s experience and trying to be empathic to their world.

"The Beat Generation were a sincere group of artists that are as largely misunderstood today as they were when they were writing. Their lives were a search for beauty and truth and understanding."                      (Neal Cassady & Jack Kerouac © by Paul Rogers)

Where would you really wanna go with a time machine and what memorabilia (books, records) would you put in?

New York City between the wars. Besides 52nd Street, I’d visit Stuart Davis’ studio and buy up some paintings and drawings.

How you would spend a day with Neal Cassady?

Cassady seems like that friend we all had growing up, the guy that you knew if you went out with, trouble was going to follow, but you went out with him anyway for the adventure.

What would you say to Mingus?

I’d ask Mingus about growing up in Watts and Simon Rodia building the Watts Towers in his neighborhood. Also about the time Duke Ellington fired him.

What would you like to ask Kerouac?

I’d ask Kerouac to write a note giving me permission to publish the drawings I did for On the Road as a book. Viking was all set to publish them this year when the Kerouac Estate denied permission. That was a big disappointment. I think Jack would have liked the project and I believe it would have brought some new readers to Kerouac.

Paul Rogers Studio - Home

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