Tuesday, November 22, 2016

From Marshall to Williams to Jazz Photography

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

“There's a significance, too, in the way [Jim] Marshall's photographs tend to soften the sharp cultural divisions of his time. Barriers — between races, between classes, between celebrity and civilian — are broken down under the scrutiny of Marshall's lens. … In these photographs exists real proof of the ability of Americans to heal the wounds of divisiveness through music, one of humanity's great unifiers.”
- Brian Zimmerman, Managing Editor, Downbeat

The current issue of Downbeat [December/2016] has reviews of new books about the Jazz photographers Jim Marshall and Ted Williams by Bobby Reed [editor] and Brian Zimmerman [managing editor], respectively.

Jazz has been very fortunate to have a large part of its legacy preserved in the many iconic images taken through the years by photographic artists such as William Claxton, Francis Wolff, Herman Leonard, Chuck Stewart, Esmond Edwards, William Gottlieb, Paul Hoeffler, Bob Willoughby, Lee Tanner, Ray Avery, Jan Persson, Kathy Sloane, Raymond Ross, and Burt Goldblatt.

The music and its makers are fortunate, too, in having well-trained and highly experienced professionals such as Cynthia Sesso who work in relationship to the legacy of many of these Jazz photographers as archivists, photo representation and licensors, special projects researchers and exhibitions curators. You can find out more about Cynthia, the photographers she represents and her work on their behalf by visiting her website at http://www.ctsimages.com.

Cynthia has been more than generous to the editorial staff at JazzProfiles in granting us the privilege of using the images of photographers that she represents as part of many of the features that post to the blog.

As a note in passing, Cynthia represents photographer Ted Williams’ work, as well as, many of the others listed above.

Both the Jim Marshall collection and the Ted Williams compilations would make excellent choices as holiday gifts and are represented as such in the Downbeat December 2016 issue.

Let’s begin with Bobby Reed’s review which he entitles Williams’ Amazing Artistry:

“Sports aficionados around the world revere  Ted Williams (1918-2002), one of the I greatest baseball players to ever pick up a bat. Similarly, photojournalism aficionados around the world revere a man with the same name: Ted Williams (1925-2009), one of the greatest photographers to ever pick up a camera.
During his long career, Williams shot major events in sports, politics, culture and music. He photographed Dr. Martin Luther King and many marches of the Civil Rights Movement. He covered the war in Vietnam. He photographed the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Williams' images were published in numerous magazines, including Ebony, Look, Time, Newsweek and Metronome.

Williams also enjoyed a fruitful relationship with DownBeat. He made a big splash with his extensive coverage of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. He would go on to provide the photos for some of the most famous DownBeat covers in history. Many of those images are compiled in the gorgeous, 352-page coffee-table book Jazz: The Iconic Images of Ted Williams (ACC Editions).

When Williams passed away in 2009, he left behind nearly 100,000 prints and negatives. Jazz is the first book dedicated to Williams' jazz photography, highlighting dozens of images that have never been previously published. The images are augmented with Williams' own comments as well as analysis from jazz historians and journalists.

Williams proves himself to be just as poetic with a pen as he was with a camera. Here's what he wrote about his portrait of Sarah Vaughan taken backstage in Chicago in 1948: "I was a student at The Institute of Design at the time, and called Sarah directly at her hotel (possible in those days) and received permission to photograph her in her dressing room for the next issue of a nonexistent college newspaper.

"Dave Garroway (the first Today show host) was a well-known Chicago disc jockey then and 'Sissy's' biggest and most vocal fan. When she came onstage, [Garroway] preceded her, scattering rose petals for her to walk on. This got a lot of press locally and did not resonate too well with a few bigots that took notice.

"About mid-week, a group sat in the front row and waited for Sarah to start singing, and proceeded to throw tomatoes at her.

"This photo was taken a few days before that notorious incident."

The book is chock-full of moments that will intrigue jazz buffs. For example, in 1953 at Chicago's Blue Note club, Williams photographed a rehearsal by members of pianist George Shearing's quintet. This resulted in a beautiful portrait of the group's handsome, mustachioed, bespectacled guitarist: Toots Thielemans, who would later become the most famous harmonica player in jazz history.

Williams' 1961 photo of Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton performing inside a CBS-TV studio captures the excitement and formality of the situation, with both men wearing dress shirts and neckties, Diz's cheeks inflated and Hamp's right-hand mallet a blur hovering above the vibraphone.

Williams' 1956 portrait of singer Carmen McRae has the elegance and sumptuous beauty of a Cecil Beaton portrait. Williams was equally skilled whether he was shooting a musician onstage or off. For an action shot of organ player Jimmy Smith, Williams bent down close to instrument's keys, giving the viewer a better-than-bird’s-eye-view of a master s fingers at work.

Among the DownBeat covers reproduced in the book are ones featuring Williams' photos of Oscar Peterson vividly gesturing as he explains a point (Oct. 29,1959), Art Farmer and Benny Golson laughing together (Sept. 1,1960) and Ray Charles using an engraved cigarette lighter (Sept. 12,1963).

Some of these DownBeat covers provide fantastic details about what was happening in jazz at the time. The June 30, 1966, cover has a moody shot of Dave Brubeck, hands on piano keys and head bowed. The headline for that cover story is a simple: "Dave Brubeck, Composer." But the same issue contains this screaming headline: "Don Ellis: The Avant-Garde Is Not Avant-Garde!" When Oscar Brown Jr. appeared on the cover of the Dec. 6, 1962, issue, with the headline "Rebel With A Cause," one of the other stories was "Lennie Tristano Speaks Out: What Happened To The Jazz In Jazz?"

The book's index of images is a who's who of the greatest names in jazz—Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Tony Bennett, Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Stan Getz among them.

Williams was an important part of jazz history, and this book belongs in the collection of anyone interested in the history of America's greatest art form.                        
—Bobby Reed”

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Brian Zimmerman’s review of the new book about Jim Marshall’s work is entitled Classic Images.

The best photographs linger in the mind even after you shut your eyes. It's the same with great jazz songs, whose melodies seem to stay awhile, even after the last note sounds. In both, there's a sense of eternity, which is why the marriage of the two— as in the jazz images of photographer Jim Marshall—can seem timeless.

Marshall, the only photographer to be honored with a Trustees Award by the Grammy foundation, has long been known for his iconic images of rock musicians, many of which have become signifiers of the music itself—think Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, or Johnny Cash extending his middle finger to the camera during his 1969 San Quentin Prison show. These photos do more than just document a moment: They capture spirit of the music itself. That kind of artistry requires more than merely good lighting and the right lens.

Jazz music—with its insistence on spontaneity—thrives on live performance, and during the 1960s, few cultural phenomena better embodied this notion than the Newport and Monterey jazz festivals. Even in those nascent years (the Newport Jazz Festival began in 1954, the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1958), there could be gleaned from these annual gatherings a sense that jazz was speaking to the masses. Few photographers tapped into the Zeitgeist of these moments better than Marshall, whose photos have been collected into a new coffee-table book, Jazz Festival: Jim Marshall (Reel ArtPress).

Compiled by photographer Amelia Davis, the bulk of the 600-plus black-and-white images within Jazz Festival are entirely new, revelatory even to the most dedicated fans of Marshall's work. Carefully catalogued across more than 300 pages, the photos capture in Marshall's typically illuminating style jazz's leading figures of the day—John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Nina Simone, Sonny Rollins—as well as the eager and intriguing crowds that flocked to California and Rhode Island to see them. Essays and introductions by President Bill Clinton and jazz journalist Nat Hentoff brace the reader for exploration, but the photos lend themselves to interminable searching.

Perhaps this is because Marshall's photographs seem to carve out greater slices of time than the mere split-second they document on film. Each image is packed with momentum, capturing a sense of motion, of possibility, of improvisation. In Marshall's shot of Duke Ellington and Paul Gonsalves at the 1961 Monterey Jazz Festival, notice how the image begins to play like a movie in your mind, how you can practically hear Gonsalves' iridescent solo unspooling like a soundtrack, how you can practically envision the action unfolding— Ellington clapping, urging his brilliant saxophonist on. There's life beneath these frozen moments, an energy preserved.

There's a significance, too, in the way Marshall's photographs tend to soften the sharp cultural divisions of his time. Barriers— between races, between classes, between celebrity and civilian—are broken down under the scrutiny of Marshall's lens. At Monterey in 1963, Marshall captures Miles Davis and Harry James—avatars of different styles, manners and modes—sharing a moment of levity over a cigarette. In a photo from 1961 Dizzy Gillespie, one of bebop's founding fathers, demonstrates a piano figure to Lalo Schifrin, a Jewish pianist from Buenos Aires, who adopted bop's language as his native tongue. The spirit of unity wasn't relegated to the bandstand, either. In photos of the audience — and there are dozens throughout this impressive volume — one can see a sliver of the population choosing to come together despite their differences. In Monterey, black and white audience members seek shelter from the same sun; in Newport, festival-goers of various backgrounds walk the same cobblestone streets. In these photographs exists real proof of the ability of Americans to heal the wounds of divisiveness through music, one of humanity's great unifiers.

People, though, are just one aspect of these festival photos. The landscapes of Monterey and Newport make for equally compelling subjects, and Marshall excels at distilling the essence of each place into a single image. In Monterey, festival-goers are seen stuffing pages of newspaper under the brims of their hats to keep the glare off their sunglasses, and in Newport, saxophonist Sonny Stitt leans against the hood of an elegant car, his far-off glance as majestic as the endless sky.

Marshall, who died in 2010 at age 74, started documenting musicians on film while still in high school, first in San Francisco for small-time publications, and later across the country for the likes of Rolling Stone magazine and Columbia Records. He was known for his forceful personality and voluble presence. His generosity of spirit is reflected in his work, and his photos are a gift to American history.

Marshall had no children of his own, but saw in his sweeping body of work the makings of a legacy. Of a series of photographs of Hendrix taken during the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967—exquisitely framed, expertly developed—he said, "These are my children."
—Brian Zimmerman

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