The first thing you notice about Omari Jazz, aside from his perfectly shaped afro that would make any natural girl jealous, is his tendency to smile throughout an entire conversation.
Omari Jazz, whose father is poet Sharrif Simmons, is, in technical terms, a producer and visual artist. He’s more than that, though. After one conversation with Omari, it is not hard to see his creativity exude throughout him.
Omari, who is originally from New York, went to Alabama School of Fine Arts for visual art. Much of his visual art is abstract, which can also describe his music. He can be found on multiple stages in the Birmingham area, including Secret Stages on August 1.
As well as individually working, he is also one half of two duos: LazyDawg and DataRiver.
What got you started with art?: That’s a long story. It’s been there since day one. My dad being who he is, I was always in that scene and around a lot of poets and visual artists. So it kind of would have been a shame if I didn’t somehow end up in that realm; and with my middle name being “Jazz” and not liking jazz… that would kind of suck. I didn’t start taking it seriously until midway through my eighth grade year at ASFA. I started using it as a self-exploratory tool and realized that power behind [art].
Your song titles are very interesting, to say the least, and they don’t have words to them. Why are they titled the way they are?: Your average producer will tell you when it comes to actually naming your tracks, just because we work in an instrumental realm, it’s going to be like, “Oh, let me look around and see…”, I have synesthesia, so for me it can be delineated in a way where when I’m listening to stuff I can see it in a certain way. So sometimes it’s what I see and whatever comes first. I also watch a lot anime so some of it might go over some people’s heads.
What are some ways you’ve seen your art touch people?: Man, I’ve had some pretty powerful responses to stuff. Visually: My senior year I had these podiums set up where you could listen to these sound pieces I made, and they would be analogous to art pieces that were displayed. One girl was listening to it and said “I got transported to my childhood and all of these memories came flooding back.” She came up to me and was crying. That was so new for me. Musically: with the internet the world has become smaller. You immediately have a platform; everyone has an audience. I get good feedback. I feel blessed to have that sort of feedback. I wouldn’t say I’ve had an experience like I have with the visual art, but it’s getting there. Slowly, but surely.
Many musicians say they listen to music differently; would you say you look at art differently?: No, I don’t think so. I might feel closer to a certain aesthetic because I might use those elements in my own work, but I don’t think that just because I make art it gives me an elevated perspective of what it should be or how it is. The subjective nature of our perception when it comes to these things are sort of alleviating. I don’t want to be some sort of authority for those things. I just want them to experience it for themselves. It’s more fruitful in that way instead of tearing someone’s perception down.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be doing?: I’d probably be working on computers. I’d probably be on the phone with you doing some sort of IT or tech support, which I wouldn’t mind doing. I’d be like, “Did you try turning it on and off?” That would be my life.
With your dad being the artist that he is, would you say your childhood differed from what many people might consider a “normal” childhood?: I’ve had this conversation a lot actually. When I came to the South the way I’d grown up was not commonplace. We moved so many times. Literally my dad was a rolling stone. What seals the deal is the fact that home is more of a concept, not a place. I started to understand that, or see the world that way. Family doesn’t just mean blood. When I was in New York I was raised by a village of people and they weren’t blood. I still call them my aunts and uncles, though. That’s what a village mentality is. It happens here, but it’s not as out in the open.
What would you say Birmingham’s art and music scene has that New York doesn’t have?: Space. Not in a negative way, though. In New York there are so many fish in the water, and the person next to you is doing the exact same thing, if not better. So here you’re given the opportunity to grow and breathe. That influences your art in a much better way because it becomes richer. We may be a little behind in our progressive tendencies, but just because we’re behind it doesn’t mean we’re not on the right track.
When do you know your work is done?: Well visually, it just happens sometimes. It’s this weird balance between deadline and being done. The discipline in becoming an artist is setting deadlines for yourself. It’s really easy to want to work on something forever with music because it doesn’t dry. You can take things out and add them.
You’re in a couple of what I’m going to call duos. How did you guys come about?: Lazy Dog is with my friend Jack and we were in Driver’s Ed together. We started listening to music together and showed him this program where you can make your own beats and we started doing that and just grew from there. The other is Data River with my friend Tyler. It’s funny because this guy hit me up on SoundCloud and he was in Birmingham. It took us going to the internet to realize that we were in the same city. It feels kind of silly.
What is your dream job?: To have the resource to power others around me to do what they want to do. I know so many people who do so many things that are amazing. I would like to have the resource to connect people on a grander scale.
Omari can be seen at Matthews Bar and Grill on Aug. 1 at 10 p.m. For more of his work, check out his SoundCloud: soundcloud.com/omarijazz.
Photo Credit: Christina Daley