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He has his own quartet

Michael Schwab’s four street banners celebrating the Fillmore Jazz Festival.


The poster for the 2018 Fillmore Jazz Festival is the fourth jazz image Michael Schwab has created for the Fillmore festival. All four now hang as banners on the street.

Are you a jazz fan?

Sure. I’m not an aficionado, but as a kid, back in southern Oklahoma, I remember hearing my dad playing cool jazz albums on the hi-fi in our living room — a lot of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond. In high school, I’ll never forget being introduced to Mose Allison: “You know a young man … ain’t nothin’ in this world these days.” Wow.

In 1975, after graduating from art school in L.A., I moved to San Francisco and set up my apartment-studio on Telegraph Hill. The radio was always on KJAZ — “Dinner Jazz with Bob Parlocha,” among others. It was quite an education for me at the time — Chet Baker, Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson, Bill Evans, Stan Getz and Miles. I still prefer working to deep, warm instrumental tunes, like Charlie Haden. Jazz sets the right tone. Cannonball Adderley is on Pandora as we speak.

Why a drummer this year?

This is the fourth poster I’ve created for the festival. We started out with a bass player, then came a trumpeter and then a female singer at the microphone. I just felt that we needed a drummer. Now we have a band.

A quartet of Schwab jazz banners — how did Fillmore get so lucky?

How did I get so lucky! The festival gave me total freedom to create these bold dramatic portraits and at the same time give something back to this amazing city and this neighborhood with its deep history of jazz.

How did the different images evolve?

My graphic style is “less is more.” Bold and simple. The first portrait was the bass player — a dark, silhouette profile. The following three portraits just followed that graphic model. It’s like creating music — you start out with a few sketches, then tighten things up, add a few details, move things around, add the colors to create the perfect dramatic harmonies and finally stand back and say, “OK, it’s done. Print it.”

What else are you up to?

I’ve been lucky to work for some amazing clients — Amtrak, Golden Gate National Parks, Levi’s, Peet’s Coffee and many more. Currently on my drawing table is the logo design and related graphics for WaterFX, a new water desalination company, as well as graphics for Shasta Ventures, a venture capital firm with offices on South Park and in Menlo Park. Coming up, I’ll be working again with Lucy Blake on the next poster art commission for the Northern Sierra Partnership, a collaborative initiative to conserve and restore the magnificent natural landscape of the Northern Sierra Nevada. I’m jazzed.