Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Golden Age of Jazz - William P. Gottlieb

© -  Steven A. Cerra - copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“It was, to say the least, a dazzling period. Every time you turned around, particularly in New York, there was something new on 52nd Street or in Greenwich Village: the hectic three-piano boogie-woogie playing of Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons, and Pete Johnson mixed with Joe Turner's blue shouting at Cafe Society; Billie Holiday glowing under the huge white gardenia in her hair; the subtle sound of John Kirby's sextet; the powerhouse bands of Woody Herman and Stan Kenton; the
"weird" concatenations of the emergent beboppers at the Royal Roost, at Bop City, and, eventually, at Birdland.


Bill Gottlieb landed in the midst of all this — intentionally, and with a fan's enthusiasm, as a writer; unintentionally (as he explains) as a photographer. The combination of the two talents put him in an unusual position. There were others around then who were writing on jazz (I was one of them). And there were others who were taking pictures. But no one else was taking pictures and getting the stories at the same time — a combination that gave Gottlieb's approach to his photography a distinctive, storytelling touch.”
- John S. Wilson, Jazz Critic for the New York Times


From Washington Post days I learned that I couldn't expect to get staff photographers to cover my music stories; it would have meant their working on their own time, late at night. To get me off their backs, Post photographers taught me to take my own pictures. That's what I've been doing ever since.
- William P. Gottlieb, Jazz author, critic and photographer


This piece gets its title from a book published by DaCapo Press in 1979.  It is a collection of 200 of William P. Gottlieb’s excellent photographs with brief annotations by Mr. Gottlieb of most of the important figures in Jazz during the 1930’s and 1940’s.


All of the photographs in Mr. Gottlieb’s book and the remainder of his vast collection has been donated to the Library of Congress and you can explore this treasure trove by going here.


William P. Gottlieb wrote about Jazz for the Washington Post, Down Beat and Saturday Review and his photographs appeared in countless Jazz anthologies. This book presents the best of his work from the 1930s and 1940s [aka “The Hot Music Era”].


How both Mr. Gottlieb’s career in Jazz and his book about the “Golden Age” came to be written are beautifully recounted in the following Introduction by the distinguished Jazz author and critic, John S. Wilson, and in Mr. Gottlieb’s own Foreword.


This is not a “looking back” book. What makes it so special was that Mr. Gottlieb was there to document aspects of the early years of Jazz while these were happening.


INTRODUCTION
by JOHN S.WILSON
Jazz Critic, The New York Times


“For most of us, the Golden Age of Jazz turns out to be the time when we first discovered the music — when we were hit or, more likely, overwhelmed by a shock of joyous recognition. In retrospect, nothing can ever equal the genius of the musicians who were playing then, when we first found the music, although we may admit to the unusual abilities of certain giants of an earlier age or, more grudgingly, of an occasional innovator who came afterward.


For Bill Gottlieb — and for me — the Golden Age of Jazz occurred in the late 30s and the '40s. It had to be a Golden Age when one could experience the constant sense of discovery that was possible then. It was a time when such then veterans as Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and Willie "The Lion" Smith — masters of the music in the '20s — were re-emerging. It was a time when that unique institution, the big band, was at its peak: Jimmie Lunceford's magnificent mixture of show biz and hip jazz; Earl Hines' gloriously swinging Grand Terrace band; Count Basie honing a marvelous musical instrument out of the elements of a Kansas City jam session; Duke Ellington moving the greatest of all the big bands, his 1940-41 group, into the swampy, uncharted waters of extended composition.


It was a time when the past was being constantly restated—the so-called "Chicago jazz" of the late '20s by Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, Wild Bill Davison, and other veterans of those Chicago days who became part of the Eddie Condon repertory company in New York; the earlier Chicago jazz direct from New Orleans, played by King Oliver and Louis Armstrong, which inspired Lu Watters and Bob Scobey and Turk Murphy in San Francisco; and the more direct line to old New Orleans provided by Bunk Johnson and George Lewis. And it was a time when so many new ideas came tumbling out on the jazz scene that they finally coalesced in a musical revolution—in bebop: Lester Young, followed by Charlie Christian and Jimmy Blanton, who were followed by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and Bud Powell and by Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis.


It was, to say the least, a dazzling period. Every time you turned around, particularly in New York, there was something new on 52nd Street or in Greenwich Village: the hectic three-piano boogie-woogie playing of Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons, and Pete Johnson mixed with Joe Turner's blue shouting at Cafe Society; Billie Holiday glowing under the huge white gardenia in her hair; the subtle sound of John Kirby's sextet; the powerhouse bands of Woody Herman and Stan Kenton; the "weird" concatenations of the emergent beboppers at the Royal Roost, at Bop City, and, eventually, at Birdland.


Bill Gottlieb landed in the midst of all this — intentionally, and with a fan's enthusiasm, as a writer; unintentionally (as he explains) as a photographer. The combination of the two talents put him in an unusual position. There were others around then who were writing on jazz (I was one of them). And there were others who were taking pictures. But no one else was taking pictures and getting the stories at the same time — a combination that gave Gottlieb's approach to his photography a distinctive, storytelling touch.


In this collection, there are innumerable examples of Gottlieb's inimitable personal touch — his view of the stunned admirer of June Christy; Dizzy Gillespie clowning through Ella Fitzgerald's performance under the questioning eye of her then husband, Ray Brown; the Ellington dressing room; the unusual views of Buddy De Franco intently picking something out on a piano and Sarah Vaughan relaxed in a card game; the remarkable pictorial projection of the vast and voluminous sound of Sidney Bechet on soprano saxophone.


Gottlieb was not there just shooting at random. He was always there with a purpose: there were articles to be written for The Washington Post, for Down Beat, for Collier's, and he saw his subjects in the contexts of those stories. The pictures that resulted are considered by many connoisseurs to be the best overall photographic reportage of this volatile period of jazz. And in this book, they are supplemented by Gottlieb's recollections of the people he was photographing.

It is a combination that brings these wonderfully vital, creative personalities back into living perspective, a combination of setting and sight that needs only the sound to make it complete. So, as you look at these pictures, get out those old records (many of them are available in reissues) and relive this Golden Age of Jazz. Or, if you missed it—by the accident of birth or because you were not paying proper attention while it was happening—discover it, just the way Bill Gottlieb and I and thousands of others kept discovering it time and time again while it was going on.”




FOREWORD
William Paul Gottlieb


“‘The Golden Age of Jazz?’ It must surely be those jumping years from the late 1930s through the '40s. Despite the Great Depression and World War II, this was a period of enormous musical achievement. During the first half of the era, big-band jazz — mostly under the name swing — reached its peak. During the second half, bop and other modern jazz forms developed. And during both halves, audiences had ready access to older styles, much of it played by legendary musicians who had started blowing way back when jazz first began.

The Golden Age had other distinctions: It was the first time that white audiences, in large numbers, began to recognize and appreciate hot music. And it has proved to be the only time when popularity and quality have coincided; when, for once, the most widely acclaimed music was the best music.



I stumbled onto jazz in 1936 while writing a monthly record page for the Lehigh University Review. I then went to work for The Washington Post, producing, among other things, a weekly music column — one of the first regular newspaper features devoted primarily to jazz. Simultaneously I performed as a disc-jockey on Washington's NBC outlet, WRC, and on an independent station, WINX.


Came the war and the army. While I was in service, my contact with jazz diminished but didn't end; many military bases had swingin' combos. And would you believe that at Yale University, where I received my cadet training, the Glenn Miller orchestra, led by Ray McKinley, played in the mess hall!


After the war I became a writer for the music magazine Down Beat. During the next few years I wrote about jazz not only for the Beat but for the Record Changer, the Saturday Review, and Collier's. Then in the late '40s I left music for other fields.


From Washington Post days I learned that I couldn't expect to get staff photographers to cover my music stories; it would have meant their working on their own time, late at night. To get me off their backs, Post photographers taught me to take my own pictures. That's what I've been doing ever since.


In this book it is the pictures that really count; the text is secondary and brief, though each chapter includes one or two extended vignettes of individuals whose personalities especially captivated me.


I interviewed and photographed almost all the outstanding instrumentalists and singers of the time. Pictures of more than 200 of them appear in these pages. An equal number must, for now, remain in my negative files.

Only a handful of the top musicians are missing. In some instances, their paths and mine never crossed. In a few cases, I let a big one get away: Jelly Roll Morton, for example. In 1939 I spent a considerable amount of time with this important pioneer of jazz. He was far past his prime and was holed up in a pathetic little upstairs club on U Street in Washington. Jelly would play for me and for occasional customers, continually interrupting himself with brave talk of how he'd one day get to New York City and reestablish himself as King. I never thought he'd get as far as Baltimore.


But damned if he didn't go to New York and make an historic batch of records for Bluebird/Victor. Though the sessions didn't restore his fortunes, they reminded jazz fans throughout the world that Jelly Roll Morton was indeed one of the great ones. Why didn't I take his picture any of the times I was with him? There was a problem: I hadn't yet learned to use a camera.


Then there's Fats Waller. He was flying from Detroit to play a Washington theater. By phone I made plans to have him appear with me on a radio show. He promised he'd join me soon after his plane landed. The time slot was fixed. The broadcast was publicized. Everything was set. Except Fats. Fats dreaded flying. To drown his fears, he guzzled Old Grand-Dad from takeoff to touchdown, arriving in no condition to face a microphone.


His factotum, saxophonist Gene Sedric, took Fats' place. The show turned out satisfactorily, but I foolishly was piqued and canceled my planned newspaper piece on Fats. That's another photo never taken! Two years later, before I had a second chance, Fats died. (Ironically, on a train!)


So, here is the Golden Age of Jazz without Fats and without Jelly Roll. But almost all of the other hot-music stars are here. They're presented in a way that should help you recall (or first learn about) a remarkable group of artists from a unique period in American music.”


The following video features many of Mr. Gottlieb’s photographs as set to a performance by baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan of Horace Silver’s The Hippiest Cat in New York [changed from the original title of “Hollywood” for this feature] accompanied by The Metropole orchestra, Jim McNeely, directing.



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