Temple University Ambler exhibits "The Big Four Mississippi Meander" at the 2008 Philadelphia Flower Show
Charles “Buddy” Bolden. If you don’t know the name, you likely know the sound he helped nurture or the decades of performers he helped to inspire.
Often called “King Bolden,” many early jazz musicians credited him and the members of his band with being the originators of what came to be known as “jazz” — from time to time, he’s even been called the father of jazz. Bolden created the “Big Four,” the accentuation of the fourth beat in music, which is essential to what makes jazz unique as a form of music.
At the 2008 Philadelphia Flower Show, Temple University Ambler’s students and faculty will create a visual tapestry accentuating four “beats” that are emblematic of jazz, New Orleans, and the Mississippi River.
Temple’s exhibit — “The Big Four Mississippi Meander” — meshes perfectly with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s 2008 Flower Show theme — “Jazz It Up!”
The exhibit, according to Rob Kuper, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, will directly reference four key themes — the “big four,” negotiation, syncopation, and improvisation — as they relate to jazz, New Orleans, the Mississippi, and the exhibit.
“The title references two things, the big fourth beat as a jazz term and the meandering of the Mississippi — from our perspective, the Mississippi contributed greatly to the creation of jazz. In the exhibit, selected fourth panels are emphasized — like the big four — using color, informational displays, and plant material,” said Kuper, who is coordinating Temple’s 2008 exhibit with Michael Wagoner, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture; Karen Watts, Horticulture Technician Supervisor; and students in the Landscape Architecture and Horticulture programs at the Ambler campus. “The pathway through the exhibit is inspired by the Mississippi River which both deposited the earth on which New Orleans rests and transported jazz throughout the United States.”
Throughout the exhibit’s development process, the students have approached the project in a similar fashion to how a landscape architecture firm or nursery might approach such a daunting task, dividing the work between several groups of people focusing on aspects such as design and construction, graphics, developing a mural wall, research, and plant design with a project manager for each group.
Anna Lavinia Schmitz and Peter Emerson, both landscape architecture majors, are the construction managers and team leaders for the project.
“We want to get at the roots of jazz, looking at its history and what dynamics led to its evolution. We’re centering that concept around the ‘big four,’ New Orleans, and the Mississippi,” Emerson said. “The design concept for the plants includes sweeps and bends of color, similar to the river, with its previous routes seen as waves across the landscape. One of the biggest benefits for us, I think, is learning how to manage a project within a narrow window of time — to analyze and account for every activity within the project.”
Schmitz stressed the importance of “finding a way to take a lot of individual ideas and creating the best final product in the end.”
“It’s a lot of ideas working together,” she said. “There is always compromise — you’re always negotiating and improvising.”
According to Kuper, key jazz concepts like negotiation and improvisation meander through every design element of the exhibit.
“Like a jazz standard, the construction of this exhibit required negotiation between 27 students, horticultural technicians, and two instructors. The location and ratio of native to introduced plant material and the shape, elevation, and material of the path are all the result of daily discussions,” he added. “For this exhibit, we also had to improvise, using introduced vegetation — often tropical plants — where native plants could not be used. An oxbow bog and an unplanted, gravel cutoff illustrate syncopation while tropical plants intrude the color bands of native plants.”
Students in the Horticulture Directed Studies program are working with plants that they have never had the opportunity to interact with before for the exhibit, said Karen Watts, who is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor teaching the Directed Studies in Horticulture program.
“Right now, the effort is to ensure the plants do what they are supposed to do; nothing is ever written in stone when forcing plants. The students are working with sweet bay magnolias, bald cypress, a lot of tropicals, which are doing very well in the greenhouse — it’s very exciting,” she said. “For the students, they are learning how to work in a greenhouse environment, how to define that environment and, essentially, how to fool nature. A number of the landscape architecture students are also participating in the directed studies program — they are seeing the plants grow, experiencing the colors, the textures and shapes, which I think helps a lot in the planting design.”
Mike Cristinzio, a junior Horticulture major, said hands-on experience like the Flower Show, “is the best learning tool that I can think of.”
“It’s real world knowledge,” he said. “It reinforces what we are learning in class but might otherwise not get to see or do.”
While exemplifying the negotiation, improvisation, and syncopation that has gone into creating jazz and the unique features of the Mississippi and the landscape that make the New Orleans region so distinct, The Big Four Mississippi Meander also ties those integral concepts into how we must work toward sustainability to ensure the city and other regions will continue to thrive and survive.
“All landscapes can and should be sustainable; doing so requires an awareness of local ecological systems. When we become attuned to the natural rhythms of a place, we inherently enter into negotiations with nature and ensure the responsible use of resources for current and future generations,” Kuper said. “Local man-made and natural materials must be put to use to reconstruct or reclaim ecological elements that provide a sound future for New Orleans.
Reconstructing barrier islands by dredging and relocating sediment and sand rushing downriver into the gulf, for example can help protect New Orleans from the storm surge of hurricanes while vegetating the islands with native and introduced plant material, in turn, will prevent island erosion, Kuper said.
“Through this exhibit, we hope that visitors will begin to understand what is necessary to maintain a sustainable landscape,” he said. “The improvisation that can and must occur to prolong and strengthen New Orleans — and sustainable landscapes in general — can be found in the art born right in New Orleans — Jazz!”