All That Jazz

11 Jan

Watching musicians make music may be the closest we (you and me) come to paradise, If you don’t agree you’re not listening to the right music.

And as a oorollary, the people who photograph musicians offer up something—not quite transcendent— but stirring and moving nonetheless. For jazz there were a handful of shooters who collected a vast array of those faces and moments, William Claxton, William Gottlieb and the recently deceased Herman Leonard

Reportedly Hurricane Katrina destroyed a large part of Leonard’s archive( 6000 prints and exposure journals/diaries) but thankfully a colleague saved his negatives and stored them in a local museum vault. The upshot of this story is that post disaster, Leonard began planning to publish some heretofore unknown photographs as well as his trademark masterpieces (one of which, a 1958 shot of Duke Ellington, I proudly own). The result is Jazz (Bloomsbuiry) an incomparable anthology of music makers, so vividly portrayed that you can almost hear the music they made.

For someone whose window of acquaintance with American music extends to the long ago years before they were born this fantastic book is a never ending kaleidescope of wonderful images and memories.

2 Responses to “All That Jazz”

  1. Howard H Dinin January 12, 2011 at 7:29 am #

    RB—You’ve no doubt inadvertently omitted the musician photos of one of the great photographers of the 20th century Roy Decarava. While anyone is looking, it’s more than gratifying to peruse his other work. He worked contemporaneously with Helen Levitt in NYC, along with dozens of others, of course. But he and she had similar objectives, working on either side of the still transparent racial divide of the city (and the U.S.) mid-century. But his portrait photography and working portraits of the greats of jazz is reason enough to look him up.

  2. robertbirnbaum January 12, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

    HD_— Ooops. You are quite correct. I interviewed Decarava back in the mid 90’s but I think of him more as a Langston Hughes collaborator. It doesn’t minimize my oversight but the point I was making was that the three lensmen I mentioned were almost exclusively into jazz musicians.

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