Grover Washington Jr. mural brings a little Mister Magic to Buffalo's East Side
Buffalo is the birthplace of many legendary musicians. You may not know who all of them are, but you can see at least one now on the corner of Kensington and Bailey Avenue. WBFO’s Nick Lippa reports how artist Edreys Wajed and M&T Bank brought Grover Washington Jr. to life through an art mural.
”Mr. Magic is just, that's the go to,” said Wajed reciting his favorite Grover tune. “He has other features as well, but Mr. Magic is for me, because I'm a hip hop kid. And that song has been sent one of the most sampled songs in hip hop.”
Wajed stood proud in front of a 17x35 wall on Kensington and Bailey avenues.
The canvas portrays Buffalo-born soul-jazz innovator Grover Washington Jr. in an extremely expressive way playing his saxophone.
“His face is the source, right? That's the source of the heart or where the energy is coming from,” Wajed said.
Wajed is a man of many talents. A poet. A jeweler. And his art resume includes work on one of Buffalo’s most famous public pieces, the Freedom Wall. But this project provided a bit of a different challenge for him.
“There's not a single inch of space where you can get a straight line on it because of the nature of the wall and the brick the way it lays. So it's kind of like a stucco brick wall,” Wajed said. “I chose to use spray paint because spray paint was certainly much more pliable than a brush.”
The final product comes out to be something reflective of the artist himself. The design, as Wajed puts it, is improvised-- a staple of a jazz.. The saxophone working as an extension of Washington’s body before giving way to several colored lines branching out.
“If you look at it, there is a climax, like there's two climaxes really,” Wajed said. “So from the left to the right, there's these individual six kind of lines. And then in the center, they all kind of collide and clash, right? When all the musicians kind of climax when they're jamming.”
So how did this all come together?
“M&T is really, really vested in number one supporting local artists, and especially in this area, supporting local artists of color,” said M&T Bank Kensington Branch Manager Craig Pridgen.
As an African-American, Pridgen said M&T has held focus groups in the past where they’ve found diversity was extremely important to see among their staff in locations like the on on Kensington.
“You know, even me being here. I've been with the bank 12 years now. And I've just actually been at Kensington branch for maybe a month now, because there was really a desire to have someone managing this particular branch. That number one, has a heart for the community. Has a knowledge for the community. But also looks like the community that we're servicing in this particular area,” Pridgen said.
Pridgen said it was a no brainer to hire Wajed when they made the final decision to move forward with a mural.
“He did the Freedom Wall. His work speaks for itself,” Pridgen said. “And we knew we really wanted something on this corner. That was funky, that was eclectic. And that would really, really speak to Buffalo.”
Wajed knows his art could be a catalyst to remind or bring to the attention of passerby’s that Grover Washington Jr. was from Buffalo. It’s not an easy thing to communicate with just a wall.
“This image here is from a live album that I came across. And in it the expression on his face is... it reeks of passion,” Wajed said. “When I've been out here working on and (people) walk by, it's their commentary that that means more than what I could ever convey to you. You know, it's the, ‘Who is that? I knew that was Grover!’ Or, ‘Who is that?’ And then it's the time that you know, that kind of educational component like, this is so and so.
Members of Washington’s family ended up reaching out to Wajed to let him know how grateful they were for his work.
“To know that the family is rejoiced, is great.” Wajed said. “Because it could be the opposite way. It could be appalling. Like, ‘Hey, nobody reached out to us about this.’ Instead, this is one of, like a neutral kind of responsibility in love. you know, what I mean? It is like, ‘Oh, I love that. That's great. Thank you for the gesture type of deal.’ And it's like, ‘Oh, it's my pleasure.’ It was my pleasure before I even knew anybody was around. So that's rich to me, man. That's an added boost.”
A founder of smooth jazz with an unforgettable tone, Grover Washington Jr., Mister Magic himself, will be etched into the physical fabric of Buffalo’s East Side from this day moving forward.