A dream deferred
Pandemic sends drummer back to love of artSunday, April 18, 2021
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
It has been just over a year since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the current coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. Across the globe, sectors and industries have been hit by the effects of this health crisis and the entertainment industry has not been immune.
Here in Jamaica, entertainers, including singers and musicians, actors, dancers and all the related areas which feed into this industry, have been reeling as they have been directly affected by the clamp down on mass gatherings which equals no events, shows and live performances. That has forced a number of these artistes to tap into other areas of their creativity.
That's behind the latest move by renowned drummer Junior “Bird” Baillie.
For the past 30-plus years Baillie has been eking out a living working as a drummer for the who's who of Jamaican music, from their recording sessions to their live performances across the globe.
But with the pandemic and the resulting fall out, Baillie has been leaning on another of his artistic talents, drawing, and is reaping great rewards.
“Ten years ago after completing work on the road with Sean Paul I took a decision to tone down the pace of my life. So I moved to Atlanta. But then my mother got sick so I decided to come back home but still didn't want to resume the pace that I was accustomed to. So I took small gigs. I just wanted to be able to pay my bills and keep going. So I would play at church and do a once a week thing at JoJo's. Then on March 8 last year I got the call from the owner's of JoJo's saying don't set up as they are going to close down until this thing blows over... one year later it still don't blow over yet,” Baillie told the Jamaica Observer.
In the weeks that followed, Baillie became bored. He had enough of Netflix movies and just needed something to do.
He shared that as a second former at Wolmer's Boys' School he had been offered a scholarship to the School of Art at what is now the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, by his teacher, renowned art educator Hope Wheeler, but his mother was adamant that he wasn't going to take that route. She was grooming him to take over the family business. So Baillie never pursued the scholarship. However, the desire to explore his fine arts talent never left him. As a 14-year-old, he painted a portrait of his mother and gifted her for her birthday. The piece still holds place of pride in his mother Stony Hill, St Andrew home to this day.
“My wife and son, who is 16, have never seen me draw. But one night last year, as my wife came out of the bathroom something just told me to tell her to pose, and I quickly did a sketch. It was shaky. My hand-eye coordination was off, as I have not done any drawing in years. However, six hours later I showed it to my son. He said, 'But yuh can draw', although he tried his best only to look at the picture from the neck up. When I showed it to my wife she said... 'That's what I want for my birthday',” said Baillie.
With the vote of confidence from his inner circle, Baillie attacked the work with a passion, and began churning out pieces in quick succession. He posted photos of his drawings on his Facebook page and they began to attract widespread attention.
“There is a family friend who I decided to show one of the pieces to and she immediately asked: 'How much is it?' I said I had no idea so she asked how much was my light bill. I told her and she took the account number and just paid the bill. The more I posted on Facebook the more the calls have been coming in and the offers for payment. Right now the art is bringing in close to the money I was earning from the music just before the lockdown,” he said.
At the time of the interview with the Observer, famous saxophonist and musical director Dean Fraser was scheduled to pick up his portrait by Baillie.
“I had done the picture of Dean and he called me and said, 'Don't sell that to nobody, it's mine. I'm coming for it.'”
Despite repeated suggestions for him to make prints of his originals, Baillie is content in doing one-of-a-kind pieces and the response from his mother to his second chance at art is nothing short of reassuring.
“Because of the response to the work I have converted my old bedroom at my mother's house into a studio. She came in one day and saw the work and requested a new portrait for her 87th birthday. She then burst into tears and said, “I did you an injustice. I should never have said no, I never knew the extent of your talent'”.
“I have no regrets as I have enjoyed the journey,” Baillie remarked.
When asked if he had to choose music or art, Baillie stuck to music, noting that based on the years he has invested in his craft as a drummer he calls himself a musician first, and an artist second.
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