What is ‘Chiaroscuro’?

What Kind of Name is Chiaroscuro?

Pronounced: “Key + Arrow + Skew + Row,” the most frequent question people ask about CHIAROSCURO RECORDS is “what kind of name is that?” Fair enough, it’s not the most common name, or the easiest to pronounce, but it’s a very appropriate name for a jazz label, and it means something. The word “chiaroscuro” (pronounced: key + arrow + skew + row) is primarily used as a fine arts term, pertaining to pictorial representation in terms of light and dark without regard to color. One definition in Webster’s Tenth Collegiate Dictionary Edition is, “the interplay of light and shadow on a surface”.

The Mona Lisa, Leonardo DaVinci’s most famous work, is as well known for its mastery of technical innovations as for the mysteriousness of its legendary smiling subject. This work is a consummate example of two techniques—sfumato and chiaroscuro—of which Leoneonardo was one of the first great masters. Sfumato is characterized by subtle, almost infinitesimal transitions between color areas, creating a delicately atmospheric haze or smoky effect; it is especially evident in the delicate gauzy robes worn by the sitter and in her enigmatic smile. Chiaroscuro is the technique of modeling and defining forms through contrasts of light and shadow; the sensitive hands of the sitter are portrayed with a luminous modulation of light and shade, while color contrast is used only sparingly.

As one considers the meaning of the word, its relevance and the images it implies, the connection to jazz music is easily understood. Also, the name was chosen by Hank O’Neal, the label’s founder, because back in the 1930’s, Eddie Condon presented what were referred to as Chiaroscuro Concerts. Condon was a close friend and mentor of O’Neal’s, and he was one of the first artists recorded on CHIAROSCURO RECORDS. Everything just seemed to fit. Although it didn’t take long for the company to achieve enough success to undertake full color jackets, the name also helped justify printing strictly in black and white, which was an important consideration for a new company that was operating on a shoestring budget. Regardless, the printing and production quality of all CHIAROSCURO releases has consistently maintained very high standards for the past twenty five years, and will continue to do so. Ultimately, it’s not the name that matters, it’s the music!

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