MCC student’s winning ‘Jazz at 100’ poster unveiled

Samantha Offutt (in blue, next to her poster) is surrounded by her MCC-Penn Valley posse at the unveiling ceremony.
Samantha Offutt (in blue, next to her poster) is surrounded by her MCC-Penn Valley posse at the unveiling ceremony.

Kansas City is world-renowned for its rich jazz legacy. The roots of Kansas City jazz are quite varied, but experts say it was 1916 when the word “jazz” was first printed in a local publication. A century after jazz was born, the art form continues today in clubs and at events throughout the region and around the world.

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Graphic design student Samantha Offutt

Samantha Offutt, MCC-Penn Valley graphic design student,  was chosen to commemorate jazz’s 100th anniversary. She is the winner of a “Jazz at 100” poster contest sponsored by Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors and the Duke Ellington Legacy.

Offutt is earning an associate in applied science in graphic design at MCC. She is expected to graduate in May. She already earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing and business and was looking for an industry-specific program.

“I am really happy to be able to be a part of it,” Offutt said of the poster contest. “I am so happy that this brings attention to our school and what we do here. I feel like we have a really wonderful class who put together strong work, and we all pushed each other.”

From brainstorming to completion, Offutt said her poster design took nearly 80 hours.

“I knew right away that I didn’t really want to use a person,” she said. “I did a little research and I landed on the trumpet design. I wanted it to feel like it was falling away and use all the components that make jazz music what it is.”

Here’s her winning poster, which was officially unveiled April 29 at a Jazz Ambassadors reception at Buttonwood Art Space:

jazz poster Samantha Offutt low res

The Jazz Ambassadors and the Duke Ellington Legacy have worked with leadership of the MCC-Penn Valley campus before. When they decided to hold a poster competition to honor jazz’s centennial, they asked MCC-Penn Valley art instructor Darlene Town if her graphic design students would submit artwork.

Students had only two weeks to create their images. The Jazz Ambassadors board of directors judged the 11 submissions.

Stephen Matlock, Jazz Ambassadors president, said: “I think a big part of the decision was that (Offutt’s poster) did not try to personify ‘jazz’ by depicting a specific artist.” He called her artwork dramatic and “very appealing,” with “clean lines.”

The original poster and an artist’s proof will go to the Ellington family’s personal collection and could be displayed as part of the Duke Ellington Collection on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

One-hundred signed posters were donated to the Jazz Ambassadors to sell ($100 apiece, framed). Proceeds of the poster sales will benefit the group, whose mission is to promote jazz history and to support jazz music, jazz musicians and the venues that present live jazz. For the last 30 years, the organization has funded jazz student scholarships and financially helped jazz elders.

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MCC art instructor Darlene Town (right) with student Samantha Offutt

Town, Offutt’s instructor, said this centennial “is a big moment in history, and I am passionate about jazz myself. To be able to participate is really cool, and we had strong pieces. It was tough for them to decide which one to go with.”

April is Jazz Appreciation Month and Duke Ellington’s birth month.

Duke Ellington, center at piano, performs flanked by members of his famous orchestra circa 1930s. From jazz aficionado Tom Alexios's collection
Duke Ellington (playing piano) is flanked by members of his famous orchestra circa 1930s. (Photo from Tom Alexios’ collection)

Tom Alexios, Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors board adviser, also works for the Duke Ellington Legacy Foundation.

“It is an honor to work yet again on another successful collaboration with (Penn Valley president) Dr. Joe Seabrooks and the high level of student talent on the MCC-Penn Valley campus,” Alexios said. “In my opinion, this project — combined with the music program directed by (MCC faculty member) Clarence Smith and the jazz ensemble — ranks MCC near the top of all the colleges and universities I have worked with over 25 years.”