History Nebraska Blog

John Falter Jazz

One of the most interesting things I’ve discovered going through our John Falter collection in the last few years is how and how much of his personal interests, friends, and environs manifested themselves in his art.  Jazz is a great example.  Falter loved jazz from an early age and was a talented self-taught musician (clarinet and piano to be sure–perhaps even other instruments).   As a teen in Falls City he played in a band with George “Pee Wee” Erwin, who went on to a successful career as a jazz trumpeter.

The jazz theme appears in his teenage sketch/scrapbook . . .


. . . and continued to surface in his years as a Saturday Evening Post cover artist.

In this excerpt from a 1974 3M press release, Falter elaborated on the cover above (entitled Jam Session), and his band days in Falls City:

Falter gets into the fun in the Jamming with Dad cover below–he’s inserted himself into the picture.  He’s Dad at the piano:

The Apartment Clarinetist cover below is another reference back to his love of music:

What’s additionally interesting are the entries in Falter’s diaries that are related to this cover.  They illustrate the sometimes long and oftentimes changing route from idea to finished painting.

This entry outlines the general idea Falter will propose to The Saturday Evening Post art director Ken Stuart.  It also indicates that the idea for this particular painting was not his own:

"make sketch of Bob Fuss idea-Back of Apt. Bldg-Brooklyn (S.F. better) boy on floor below playing guitar-good looking teen ager-floor above cute gal swooning slightly-around corner show bay area late aft. sun"

The following entry refers to some suggested changes to the original idea/sketch submitted that were probably discussed between Falter and Stuart.  Doodles are an added treat:

"Clarinet player nice looking 18 or so in O gal instead of old gal. Brownstone house-guy reading newspaper4-one or 2 ugly people-some nice looking people-kids playing jacks-Elmer Rice Brownstone."

Finally, almost four years after the original idea was logged approval is given to go ahead with the painting:

"O.K. for apt. house clarinet practices"

Falter’s enthusiasm for jazz stayed with him his entire life and is evident in this photo of him playing the clarinet at a jam session (probably in the early 1950s) . . .

. . . and in this June 1956 diary entry documenting a jam session that, I assume, he participated in:

Falter’s fascination with jazz culminated in a series of sketches, drawn from life, of the Colorado and Odessa (Texas) Jazz Parties that were held in the early 1970s.  These sketches were produced as prints in Falter’s “Jazz from Life” portfolio.  This project was the subject of a previous NSHS exhibit, Drawing on the Beat, which will be reproduced as a web exhibit on our website soon, so check back.

More about Falter’s life and art will be on view starting Friday, April 6th when the new exhibit The Illustrator’s Pencil:  John Falter from Nebraska to The Saturday Evening Post opens at the Nebraska History Museum, 15th and P,  in downtown Lincoln.  Special First Friday hours from 5:30-7:30 pm on April 6th.  Information about the museum hours and location can be found at http://www.nebraskahistory.org/sites/mnh/index.htm.

–Deb Arenz, Associate Director for Collections

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