“Jazz Monthly Feature Interview” Bettie Grace Miner
Smitty: I’m very excited about my next guest, one of the great artists in the business, and when I say artist, she has the stroke of a genius. Her name is very fitting; please welcome the lovely and so talented Ms Bettie Grace Miner. Bettie how are you?
Bettie Miner (BM): I’m doing great Smitty, how are you?
Smitty: I’m cool, thank you. Now, we met on the All Star Smooth Jazz Cruise…
BM: We sure did…
Smitty: But I feel like I’ve met you long ago.
BM: I think you did, I’m sure of it.
Smitty: Looking at your work, one of my firsts thoughts were, I’ve gotta’ meet this person, and I finally got the pleasure. It was such a wonderful feeling to see the work that you’ve done over the years, and, what it does for so many people, and I must say that, you have such a versatile approach to art, painting, and really bringing out the inner thoughts and feelings of the image.
BM: Oh thank you, that’s really kind of my goal; to really get inside my subject, to depict them as they are, it’s not really about me. It’s not about my style, it’s not about how I go about it, it’s really about what that person says, what that person says to me, or to the viewer. I’m trying to capture their soul, basically.
Smitty: I think you’ve certainly accomplished that. Where did this whole idea of painting and doing what you do, how did it evolve? Take me back to your discovery of this great gift that you have.
BM: I love that you’re calling it painting first of all, because most of them are not. Actually, we do photographs and the idea of them is to make them look like paintings. So, the fact that you believe that they are is a wonderful compliment actually. Most of my work, I will explain in a moment. I’ve actually started doing some painting recently, but most of my work is from a medium called, Polaroid SX70 Manipulation. These are actually Polaroid photographs that I take of various artists, either during live performances, in my studio, or maybe at their homes. And while the picture is developing, in just that few moments after I take the photo, and it comes out of the camera, there are just a few moments that this image is developing. The emulsion is soft in the film, and I’m actually able to play with the film with a tool, and just sort of mess with it while it’s developing. By the time I’m done with it, it looks like a painting, and you just have that few minutes, maybe three to five minutes while the photograph is developing to manipulate the emulsion. When it finishes and hardens, that’s it, the picture is done, and it looks like a painting. So, all of the work that you’ve seen over the past ten years, that I’ve done, has been through this process.
Smitty: Well you had me fooled. (Laughing)
BM: No, no, it’s funny I’m not really fooling people, because I’ve been telling people for years, “no, they’re not paintings, they are photographs, they just look like paintings.” However, what’s happened is, just very recently I’ve sort of come full circle. I started out painting, I was actually painting in more of an abstract style, when I got into this photography form that I’ve been doing, and recently I started painting again.
BM: And what I’ve been doing is taking photographs, digital photographs, actually even some of my older Polaroid photographs, and using them to actually make paintings. So… it’s really gonna’ get confusing now because some of the stuff really are paintings now. So that you know, you saw some of the ones I did recently of a wonderful jazz guy, that I just sent you today, I mean its, Baldwin “Smitty” Smith,
BM: And you’ll see that one, that one is actually a painting.
BM: I’d like to treat the host of this interview, with something interesting.
Smitty: (laughing) Well, you certainly did.
BM: Now you were asking how this all came about…
BM: Really, I’ve, all my life had a love of jazz, a love of blues also, and a lot of smooth jazz is really kind of a blending of blues and jazz, pop and rock, funk, and R&B. All of those things I love. So naturally I gravitated to the artists that perform that music. And truly that’s how I got started, I was a fan, I love the work, I love the music and wanted to interpret it, in my own way. And that’s how I accomplished it.
Smitty: It’s a very nice interpretation.
BM: Thank you! And you asked how this all came about, which is really a funny and poetic story. It really all started with Rick Braun. He was the first jazz artist I ever photographed. That photo would have never happened; in fact this entire collection wouldn’t have happened except for the fact that my creative partner and soul mate of 23 years, Randy Galligan, literally dragged me to a Rick Braun concert. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t like trumpet music, at least I didn’t until I heard Rick Braun. Randy convinced me to go, dragged me kicking and screaming, even bought the tickets, and I agreed only because it was an outdoor venue, a winery where I could take some fine art photographs, thereby preventing the boredom that I was sure to suffer. Naturally, the second Rick started to play I fell in love with his music. The photo I got of Rick that day was the very first in the collection and was responsible for me being offered my first jazz exhibit at the Hyatt in Newport Beach, California, which is where it all started. When I released my limited edition book, I presented the first book to Rick Braun on stage, which seemed like the perfect acknowledgment to me. And that’s where it all started. So, thank you Randy – from anyone who has ever enjoyed my jazz collection!
Smitty: You like to experiment.
BM: I do experiment, yes.
Smitty: I could feel that. Your creative abilities really are so evident when you’re experimenting, because, looking at your work, it’s very versatile, and you are not just limited to musicians, as far as your artwork. Because I know you’ve created a lot of great portraits and paintings of racecars, wild life, and animals too.
BM: Right, It’s funny that when you have a particular style, a particular eye, while it may or may not translate to certain subjects, it’s like, in my feeling. It’s that you can apply it to anything you love. It’s like; I think that everything I am is in my work. If you look at my work, you can see that I love wildlife, I love jazz, I love things that move fast, like racecars, and, if I can get a plane to sit long enough, actually a photo I did, I did Richard Elliot’s French fighter jet. It’s not on my website, but that was a blast. Things I love, I mean, those are the things that you work with. So, anything that you ever want to know about me is in my artwork. It’s all there.
Smitty: Yes, and it sounds like you really love your work. Talk about some of the more interesting projects that you’ve done over the past years. Perhaps those that were a challenge to you.
BM: Wow, the one that pops into my head has nothing to do with jazz; there were certainly a lot of those. I actually worked with an organization called Animazonia, a wildlife rescue organization here in southern California; it’s actually a very small group, but they rescue wild cats, lions, tigers, panthers, cougars, things like that, and I actually volunteered to go out and photograph their big cats for them to use that artwork to raise money to basically feed and to take care of these the big animals… With my art form, I love to get very close to my subjects, and with big wild cats, that’s kind of a hazardous thing to do. They had a big panther that doesn’t like people very much, so if you get close to the cage, she will pretty much try to chew through the bars to get to you. I did manage to get a lot of really fun shots of these really big cats. An interesting thing happened actually, when I was doing this. I asked the person who was taking care of the animals; I said you know, “is it possible that I could work with a trainer, and take these cats out of their cages, so that I can get some good shots of them.” And, she said, “well, no, not so much,’ she said, “but you know what, the cougar, we think you can probably get in the pen with the cougar.”
BM: (Laughing) I laughed too and said, “you think I can? You’re not real sure about it?” She said, “well, she hasn’t attacked any women yet…she doesn’t like men very much, but she’s never attacked a woman and women take care of her, get in her pen, and you know, her veterinarian is a woman, and the people that feed her and take care of her, are women.” So, with that in mind I said, well, I’ll try it. I said, “I’ve seen Wild Kingdom, I’ve watched Animal Planet, I could do this…” So I actually climbed the fence and got in the pen, with this cougar. The funny thing about it is, in my effort to be cool and look confident; I actually fell flat on my face getting into the pen. From the top of the fence, I got sort of tangled up and fell flat on my face right in the middle of the pen with this cougar. And I immediately thought that the cougar would probably attack me (Laughing).
Smitty: I’m getting a visual Bettie. (Laughing)
BM: And I sort of looked up and picked my face up out of the dirt and looked at this great cat, and she was just sitting there with this look like, well, that was really smooth. She didn’t come after me, I thought well, if she didn’t come after me for that, then she’s probably O.K. with me being here. So I just sat in the middle of her pen, and photographed her. Randy was taking pictures of me the whole time, probably as proof for the insurance (laughing). At one point, she actually walked up to me just to see what I was doing and I have a picture of that on my website. You’ll see, on the homepage, there’s a little thumbnail that shows this big cougar, just looking at the photographs in my lap. She just came right up to me and looked at these photographs in my lap, and rather instinctively – probably not real smart, I reached up and petted her…
BM: You’ll see a picture of me petting this cougar, her name was “Beauty”. And, what was very, very cool for me and was one of those wonderful days of my life, was, when I did that, she literally laid down in front of me and showed me her belly like a house cat.
BM: (laughing) So, I got to photograph her close up and, you can actually see a lot of that on my website. In fact, any sales from that benefit Animazonia, the people that are taking such good care of these animals. So that’s one of my pet projects if you’ll pardon the pun. A bigger project of course, going back to jazz for a moments, is for the past four or five years, I’ve been creating a huge collection of all the various smooth jazz artists, and have released this in a limited edition book. Also, I have exhibits of these pieces and you might see me from time to time at some of their shows, and I will have some of the artwork. That’s been a huge love, a huge project that is still ongoing. I’m about to wrap it up and hoping to perhaps do a coffee table book with the collection, which is probably as many as a hundred or more portraits, of various smooth jazz artists. If I can get a publisher, or a sponsor, or somebody who would like to help me pay for it, that would be what I’ll do next.
Smitty: Wow, I like that…
BM: A collection.
Smitty: Sounds like it’s a great project, I’ve seen the book, and it’s nice.
BM: Thank you. I have a small book of it now that is a limited edition, they are hand printed, signed and numbered, it comes with a certificate of authenticity, there’s fifty artists in the book, and it’s set up like a…little autograph book where you can take this book around with you from show to show and get all of your favorite artists to autograph it for you. And it’s actually a collection of fifty art prints, it’s not really a book, it’s actually, fifty art prints that are bound together.
Smitty: You know, that’s a great project.
BM: Thank You. It’s been a labor of love. I even wrote a biography, even though it’s of the various artists, I tell stories about them which I’m not too sure they wanted me to tell… but, fun stories umm you know little insights about the artists and their lives, and their families.
Smitty: Very cool...
BM: Stories about the artist that most people haven’t heard.
Smitty: You know that’s a great project for fans to have; to get your collection of prints, the book, and to go to different shows and collect autographs from the different artists as a part of the collection.
BM: That was the idea. Actually the idea for it came from the fans. I have an exhibit of the work; it’s called Jazz Impressions. And of course impressions means that it’s an impressionistic art form. So I thought that was fun. So Jazz impressions, and it’s actually a fifty-piece exhibit that I have, and the fans would see this and say “Wow! You know I wish I could have them all. Couldn’t you do these, you know, as a book?” And so many people asked me to put it together as a book. That was the reason I did it the way I did as art prints, so that people can actually have the same art prints that are in the exhibit in a small format; and have the chance to meet with the different artists, and have them sign it. It’s just a real collectible, collection to be able to carry around, instead of having fifty pieces of art on your wall.
Smitty: Very nice...
BM: You’ll have them in your pocket.
Smitty: Yes, I love it. There’s something that I really want to ask you about, your involvement with music therapy. Now you have a music background if I’m not mistaken.
BM: Yes, yes it’s true; actually it’s funny that you know that. I didn’t know that you knew that about me, music therapy. I studied music; I was music major when I was in college. And originally my major was music therapy. I was actually a voice major, and I studied guitar for many years. I was a performer, a writer, a composer, arranger, all that. But I really had a love for how music can help, especially children, children with autism. I worked with children that had Downs Syndrome, physical handicaps, and mental handicaps. Music therapy is something that can bridge the gap in the world, really, and I loved it so much, and this was an area that I thought I’d go into professionally. The truth of the matter was, I didn’t have the heart for it. In fact, I had the heart for it, but my heart would break every time I worked with these children, and I just couldn’t toughen up. You need to be able to work with these children, and help them. You have to remain objective, and you have to be patient, and thorough. There’s just so many, so many attributes that you have, to be able to do this, to be truly effective. And, what would happen with me is that I would go home with a broken heart everyday, you know, trying to work with these kids. So I discovered that I was just too sensitive to be able to work with them effectively, and they deserve to be able to have someone work with them in a way that will help them. So I moved on, and went into the performing arts, and I did it for a number of years. Actually I changed career paths when I was about twenty-seven, or twenty-eight because I was injured in a car accident, and was no longer able to play guitar, and I was in treatment for eight years for the injuries that I had. By the time that I had surgery to correct the injuries I had, I felt as though my time as a performer had kind of passed me by. At that point I was working with a photographer, Randy actually, I mentioned him earlier, as his studio manager, and kind of helping him with all aspects of the photography that he was doing. I became interested in art and kind of started to go in that direction, and started painting, and started a whole new career, at that point. That’s what I have been doing for the past ten years.
Smitty: It sounds like a smooth transition.
BM: It kind of evolves, as I may have said to you before… one door closes, another opens and when you have a creative streak in you, it has to get out (Laughing). It has to find an outlet, and when I stopped being a music performer, and stopped my participation in music, naturally I gravitated to the music field, and so that was one of my first bodies of work or subject matter was musicians and music, and I think I kind of come full circle at this point.
Smitty: Wow… Well your creative streak is certainly alive right now. (Laughing)
BM: (Laughing) I would say so. I can’t seem to stop. I mean, I get a notion like two in the morning, and I sit down and start working, and by the morning, there’s a new piece created. So it’s again, it’s something that’s knocking to get out, you know. It just has to get out. So you give into that, and you have to create.
Smitty: What I like so much about your work is that it’s, it’s so alive. The colors are vibrant, and your work talks to you. You know what I mean?
Smitty: It always has a voice.
BM: Oh that’s, you know that’s interesting because it speaks to me, and I think that, that’s probably how it comes out.
BM: And you mentioned the color. Actually, I really have not ever studied art. I studied art very briefly with a French painter. I was studying impressionist painting a few years ago, and I studied with her for about a year. And other than that, I’m working with the photographer that I did for a number of years. Other than on the job training, I’ve never really studied photography, or art, and yet I’m doing it.
Smitty: Yes. You’re setting some new standards and trends.
BM: And it’s so funny that I recently hosted a workshop for photographers that want to get more into painting. I’m sort of telling you the whole process. That’s the way to say it. It’s really painting for photographers. The teacher of this workshop, without knowing me, or ever having seen my work, he said the funniest thing to me. He said, “Bettie, you mustn’t be afraid of color. “
BM: (Laughing) And I looked him dead in the eye, and said “ Sir, color should be afraid of me.”
Smitty: I know that’s right! (Laughing)
BM: Because that’s one thing you’ll see in my work is lots, and lots of color. I have absolutely no fear of color. I think that it is our emotion that it’s our passion; it’s everything that we are that comes out in all these various colors. And that’s the way it expresses when I work. If you look at the portrait I did with Michael Paulo, there’s lots of reds, and warm colors. He’s a hot, hot saxophone player. And that passion that he has when he plays, and that fire that’s under him. I mean, he’s that kind of a guy. But he’s got so much power, and so much passion, and so much fire, and that came out. I just, I didn’t know what colors I was gonna’ start with, I had no idea, and I just started. I never really have a plan. I just start.
Smitty: Yes, it’s from the heart.
BM: And it speaks to me. And, that comes back to the voices. It speaks to me, and tells me, you know, what the colors should be, and, and what the dynamics of the piece should be. So it’s really that person. I sort of feel like I’m channeling. I feel like I’m channeling Peter White, or Mindi Abair, or Earl Klugh, or you know, some of the other great favorites. I feel that I’ve been fortunate enough to know them, and to tap into what their heart is, and just sort of channeling what they might say into these pieces, with the color, and with the shapes, and with the form. I sort of feel like I’m sort of a conduit. You know, between what they have to say, the way I interpret it, and put it on paper.
Smitty: Very cool Yeah. Now you’re a Native up Seattle. And now you’re.
BM: Yes I grew up there. I actually was born in Southern California. Born here, but moved away when my father was in the military, a navy man, and we lived in Memphis, Tennessee for a few years. We moved to Paris, France for a few years, where I actually went to grade school. We came back to California for a few years, and then settled in the Seattle, Washington area, and that’s where I grew up, and went to high school, and college, and, so yes… I always consider myself as being from Seattle, but in fact I was born here in California.
Smitty: After traveling the world, and the memory you have of all of these gorgeous places you’ve been. Is there something, or one thing that you would love to paint, that you haven’t been able to?
BM: Oh… Gosh, you would ask that. Yeah, Tuscany, Italy, Paris, I’d love to go to some of the older areas in Europe, and, and there’s a project I wanna’ do... I already have a name for it; it’s called “Portals”. It would be windows, and doors, and all things that are opening to other places. I’d love to do that. I’ve had the trip planned in my head for a number of years, and I keep hoping every spring that comes around I think, “ok maybe this is the spring I’ll be able to go and do that”. But yes, I wanna’ go to both Paris, and Italy. Not just Paris, I mean really the whole area, you know in France. The country side, and the vineyards, and all of that of course.
BM: It’s really one of a fine art thing. Of course if I find any Jazz musicians along the road, I’ll probably do that too. There’s just something about them that just makes me detour.
Smitty: Oh Yeah, I can appreciate that, and I can feel a lot of French connotations in your paintings as well. Is that because of your history in France?
BM: You know, if it is, it’s unintentional. I was very young when I lived there. I was in first and second grade. I lived back in California by the third grade. But we did some, some field trips. I mean we went to museums, we painted in the park. You know, as children, we were exposed to a lot of artwork. I remember at the time, of course I’m giving away my age at this point, but I put my six year old hand on the Mona Lisa, and so did every other first grader in my class, because at that time there were no protections for the art work. So I got up close and personal with all these paintings, and I imagine that perhaps it got into the back of my mind somewhere.
BM: And like I said, if there’s French connotations coming out of my work, it’s purely unintentional or it’s something to do with my love for that art form.
Smitty: Wow. That’s so cool… Now all of the things we’ve talked about, in terms of your work are certainly for the most part on your website right?
BM: A lot of it is. In fact there’s a lot of new work. The work that I’m doing now, that are paintings, are not on the website. Everything you see on the website is actually the Polaroid art form that I’ve been doing for the last ten years. We are updating the website in the very, very near future, which will include the new paintings I’m doing.
Smitty: Very cool.
BM: So look for that coming soon.
Smitty: Alright, and while were talking about your website, for your new fans, give me your website address.
BM: It’s www.MinerWorksOfArt.com, and the trick to that is to remember Miner is spelled M-i-n-e-r.
Smitty: Very cool. And you have some other locations where your artwork can be viewed.
BM: This is true. If you happen to be in Southern California, you can see some of the work at a couple of great venues here. Spaghettini Grill and Jazz Club showcases a number of pieces, which you can check out while enjoying world class Italian cuisine and great jazz. Another is the Huntington Beach Library and Cultural Center where BB Jazz hosts some incredible jazz concerts, which benefit children with autism. There are also a few radio stations, and other partners that have my work on their website. A lot of the jazz musicians have my work on their websites. Rick Braun has it on his, and Mindi Abair has it on hers, KKSF in San Francisco, KKSF.com has it on their website. There are a few, and I will be putting a list of those on my website where you can go and visit their website, and see all the cool stuff they have to offer, and if I’m not mistaken I think you may be putting it on your website.
Smitty: You better believe it. (Laughing)
Smitty: And I know that you have done a few album covers as well….
BM: You must have been checking out Steve Oliver’s incredible new Christmas CD. His rendition of “Carol of the Bells” is truly my favorite, ever! I’ve also done CD covers for Michael Paulo, Ron Brown – a dynamite gospel jazz artist – You probably know Tom Schuman, the keyboard player from Spyro Gyra, I did his debut CD cover “Into Your Heart.” Let’s see, I’ve also done CD artwork for a couple of Hiroshima CDs, Wayman Tisdale, Gregg Karukas’ latest release, and a few others. It’s a very fun art form but I must admit that I miss the large format of albums, and there I go giving my age away again.
Smitty: Well this has been very cool. So now what’s in the works for Bettie in the future? Anything coming that, that you can give us a sneak peek at that we may be looking forward to?
BM: What I’m working on, I hope to get this pulled together pretty soon; Is to have an exhibit of the work that’ll travel to major markets around the country, to major cities, so that people can see the work up close just like I got to do when I was six. To see the large pieces beautifully framed, have an exhibit of this work and have my book available at the same time, so people can take that away with them. But this is in the works I don’t have dates set or anything else yet, but I’m working on it. Couple of great sponsors I’m working with are helping pull that together, so when that’s ready to go I’ll announce that.
Smitty: Yes, and you’ve also done some posters for various Jazz festivals.
BM: I have, as you know from The Rick Braun All Star Cruise that we were just on, I did a poster for all the artists that were on the cruise, and had some fun little secrets in there that people had to find that I liked to torture them with. I like to put little things in there for people to find, and in this particular case, within the poster, I hid the sheet music for an old Cole Porter song called “Now You Have Jazz.” So I challenged everybody to find that music, which was a fun thing to do. I also had the great honor of doing the poster for the Catalina Island jazz festival. This was a 19th annual jazz festival they just had this past October. There’s also another lovely project that I’ve been doing for the past five years, and that’s “Jazz on the Green.” That’s a jazz festival that happens in Fort Myers, Florida every October. And this is a benefit concert. It benefits the children’s hospital. Actually it’s the Neonatal department of a hospital. So it is strictly for preemie babies that need some help. So I donate the artwork for the poster for them every year, and have been doing that for the last five years. And all the proceeds, 100% of that goes to this hospital. They do t-shirts and posters, and all that sort of thing. You can find them at www.jazzonthgreen.com. So you can find my work there as well.
Smitty: And you’ve done a self-portrait too.
BM: Yes, I’ve done a self-portrait and its on my website.
Smitty: I really enjoy your work and admire you for it. I know that all of the artists certainly appreciate all of the fine things you’ve done for them in so many different ways with this great artwork.
BM: It’s really been my privilege, and my honor to work with them, for them to share their time with me, and to allow me to get into their heads, and their hearts, and be able to create this artwork. It is really quite a privilege. I never get over it when I’m standing in Rick Braun’s living room, or Peter White’s house. You know, or, or any of these other artists that allow me into their homes, or they come here. I never get over the fact that you know, wow how did this happen? Here…You know. A few years ago I was just another fan, and, and now it’s suddenly that I’m in their homes photographing them. You know. So for them to allow me into their homes and their hearts is really quite a privilege for me. Um it’s really a two-way love affair.
Smitty: Yes. You’ve spent a lot of your time with Jazz Monthly, letting us into your world of creativity, and great impressions of this great work that you’re doing, so let me say what an honor it has been.
BM: Thank you. It’s been my honor to take part in it. Thank you.
Smitty: We’ve been talking with the exuberant and colorful Ms. Bettie Grace Miner. Please check out her wonderful work and her website and look for her in your city at one of the many great jazz festivals. Bettie, thanks again, and please come back and see us again.
BM: Ok. I’ll sure do that Smitty.
For more information Visit Bettie Miner’s website: http://www.MinerWorksOfArt.com
Also see the big cats: http://www.animazonia.lle.org
Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
© February 2006 Jazz Monthly LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED