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Jazz Fest: The Mystery of the Boy on the Balcony
Could it be that no one has looked close enough at the 2019 Jazz Fest poster to notice the small face gazing out from behind the leaves?
Has anyone else seen the Boy on the Balcony?
A cursory internet search reveals that so far, he has either gone unnoticed or no one has bothered to question him. Could it be that no one has looked close enough at the 2019 Jazz Fest poster to notice the small face gazing out from behind the leaves?
I didn’t notice him at first either, but once seen, he was impossible to ignore. After all, I’m a sucker for a good mystery, and this figure is so inconspicuously placed, his expression so mischievous — almost challenging, as though he expects to be overlooked — that I had to find out more.
Who is this boy, and why is he there among some of Jazz Fest’s most iconic figures?
Any of the published identification keys list only 50 names, starting with Philip Frazier and ending with the statuary depiction of Jelly Roll Morton. Not one key provides a 51st name or even so much as a placeholder for “Young-David-Spade-looking fellow.”
This mystery has become a minor obsession for me. One thing is for sure: he is not there by accident.
The 2019 Jazz Fest poster is complex and almost scientific in its structure, and when someone puts that much effort into a work of art, there is not a single cloud or magnolia petal painted in without some intent or significance. This holds true to every other detail in the poster: there is the numbering of the street car (1970, for the Fest’s inaugural year); the reproduction of a Preservation Hall Jazz Band drum (now housing the poster’s lettering, a complete break from the traditional layout); and the intersection of Rampart and Dumaine (the location where Cosimo Matassa once housed his famous J&M Recording Studio).
Then there are the human subjects of the posters, each one bearing significance of his or her own. There are not just the musicians we know — the historical research that went into this work is so comprehensive that it even includes the early photo documentarians, Mike Smith and Jules Cahn. It includes Allison Miner, who helped shape the Festival with Quint Davis in its earliest days and Joyce Wein, who influenced it in partnership with her husband, the innovative producer, George Wein.
And there’s another thing: Not everyone on the poster was there at its conception, but everyone on the balcony was. And no one on the balcony is a household name.
I had an advantage in tracking down the truth. I’m a child of the Internet, and as the editor of the official Jazz Fest program, certainly someone would give me the answer, if only I asked the right person. I started at the source: poster publishers Art4Now. They were glad to take my question but offered a quick, “No comment.” All they would say is that the boy’s inclusion wasn’t initially planned, and the artist had stuck him in last minute.
That took me to Scott Guion, the artist behind the Sgt. Pepper-esque poster. His email address is public online, and I decided to try my luck. I explained that we were publishing a schematic of the poster in our program that identified each subject, but we’d hit a roadblock completing it, and would he be so kind as to tell me who this eavesdropping figure was?
Within just a few minutes of emailing him, I had a response. I also had a name.
“The Boy on the Balcony is —”
Well, that’s where the tricky part comes in. I’ve been asked not to say — or at least, not to give it up that easily. Consider it a small surprise that the kind of people who hide mysterious figures in meticulous works of art are also the kind of people who don’t like to have their fun spoiled. Instead, the powers that be would like for you to figure it out first. “Make a game of it,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.
Could I come out and simply reveal who the Boy is? Of course I could. I could write the words right now, and no one could stop me. The journalist in me would love to exercise his right to say whatever, whenever, without waiting for permission.
But the mystery lover in me is obliged to entertain this game.
So, tell me: who do you think the Boy on the Balcony is? Don’t bother asking Art4Now or Scott Guion; both of those avenues have already been closed to you. It’s your turn to roll up your sleeves and take a hard look at the evidence. I promise that the answer is right in front of you.
Leave a comment on this post or on any of our social media channels with your guess. We’ll follow up before Jazz Fest with some of our favorite responses — and the boy’s true identity.