December 6th 2009 08:59 pm
Copyright © 2009 W. Royal Stokes
Here is a grab bag of photography and art books on jazz, blues, and pop. The selections are in alphabetical order by title.
The Art of Jazz: Monterey Jazz Festival/50 Years by Keith and Kent Zimmerman (Monterey Jazz Festival) provides a pictorial and verbal history of this great annual gathering of jazz artists of all eras and styles from its creation in 1957 to 2007. Each year is represented by its program cover or a poster, all of them stunning works of art, and a list of the performers. An essay, sprinkled with photographs of some of the musicians, introduces each decade and recounts some of the highlights of that ten-year span. For example, “The Young Lions and the departing Lyons: Decade Four 1988-1997” recognizes the contributions of both eighty-seven-year-old Stephane Grappelli and Joshua Redman’s generation and pays homage to the festival’s founding father Jimmy Lyons, who died in 1994, and Dizzy Gillespie, who died a year earlier and had kicked off the very first Monterey event “with a respectful ‘Star Spangled Banner’.” It also recounts the stunning performance of Diana Krall, who took the 1997 event by storm, launching a career that continues to blossom. Clint Eastwood, who attended the first Monterey Jazz Festival and joined its Board of Directors in the early 1990s, contributes the volume’s brief foreword.
Art of Modern Rock: The Poster Explosion, by Paul Grushkin and Dennis King (Chronicle Books) “chronicles the unprecedented wave of poster creation around the globe,” promises its jacket blurb. The massive coffee-table size volume lives up to that promise with its “more than 1,800 eye-popping reproductions” of poster art post-dating the LP period. For rock fans, “the poster has rushed to fill the void” created by the demise of the LP and the resulting circumstance that the CD “put no value on package art,” says Grushkin in his portion of the Author Prefaces. King adds, “From the first straightforward boxing-style posters of the early ’50s through the rich and vibrant posters of the psychedelic era, to the stark immediacy of the punk flier, posters have continued to evolve and reflect the times in which they were created.” Chock-full of essays such as “The Silkscreen Movement,” “Taking it to the Streets,” and “The Devil Made Me Do It,” the volume is a documentary of an era and of an art form and a visual banquet.
Blue Note Photography: Francis Wolff/Jimmy Katz by Rainer Placke and Ingo Wulff, editors (JazzPrezzo) is a celebration of the Blue Note record label’s 2009 seventieth anniversary with 188 duotone photographs plus essays by jazz author Ashley Kahn, recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder, Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall, archivist and producer Michael Cuscuna, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, and photographer Jimmy Katz. The 142 photos by the late Francis Wolff, the co-founder (with Alfred Lion) of the label, span the period 1946 to 1967 and the 46 by Jimmy Katz 1994 to 2009. To say that both photographers are artists of the first water would be an understatement. The shoots were mostly either in Rudy Van Gelder’s New Jersey recording studio or in New York rehearsal locations. Among those captured in action are Sidney Bechet, Art Hodes, Albert Nicholas, and Pop Foster rehearsing in 1946; saxophonists Johnny Griffin, John Coltrane, and Hank Mobley recording in 1957; Billy Higgins, eyes closed, drumming for Donald Byrd’s LP Royal Flush; Diane Reeves and Cassandra Wilson, both with wide smiles, sing into a microphone; keyboardist John Medeski’s foregrounded and photographically exaggerated left hand reaches to the upper deck of the keys; a seated and grinning saxophonist James Moody holds a sheet of music for a harmonica-blowing Toots Thielemans. Eric Dolphy, sitting with right hand resting upon his lap-held saxophone and the left a fist against his cheek, gazes dreamily; McCoy Tyner and saxophonist Wayne Shorter study a score on the piano; trumpeters Marcus Printup, Freddie Hubbard, and Tim Hagans stare intently at the arrangement on the music stand; pianist Jason Moran strolls purposely from the Village Vanguard’s doors. Two accompanying CDs take one into the music of the label’s artists, from Albert Ammons’ Boogie Woogie Stomp and Sidney Bechet’s “Summertime” to Dexter Gordon’s “Cheese Cake,” John Scofield’s “I’ll Take Les,” Cassandra Wilson’s “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” Joe Lovano’s “Duke Ellington Sound of Love,” and a dozen and a half more selections.
Blue Note Jazz Photography of Francis Wolff by Michael Cuscuna, Charlie Lourie, and Oscar Schnider (Universe Publishing) is another collection of Wolff’s work, mostly black and white images culled from an archive of 30,000 frames. These scenes taken in Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack, New Jersey, studio have the music all but leaping off the page. “Here is an artist at work, capturing . . . the majesty of the music and the personality of the musicians,” say Michael Cuscuna and the late Charlie Lourie in their Introduction. Caught in studio performance are artists of several eras, including Bunk Johnson, Art Hodes, James P. Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis, Sidney Bechet, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown, Zoot Sims, McCoy Tyner, Tony Williams, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean, Wayne Shorter, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, brothers Elvin, Thad, and Hank Jones, and scores more.
January 23, 2010 will be the 100th Centenary of Django Reinhardt’s birth and it has been a half-century plus since his death, yet many of his albums are available as CDs and his legacy burgeons by the year as combos recreate his sounds in concert, on the club scene, and in the recording studio. For example, the Django Reinhardt Festival celebrated its tenth anniversary for a week at Birdland this fall and this year Britain’s JSP Records released a boxed set of five CDs of his remastered Postwar Recordings 1944-1953. Now we have the splendid Django Reinhardt and the Illustrated History of Gypsy Jazz by Michael Dregni with Alain Antonietto and Anne Legrand, a lavish production by Speck Press, which lists in its bibliography one short of a dozen other volumes on the great guitarist published since the 1940s. I cannot think of more than a handful of jazz artists who have had that many studies and memoirs devoted to them. Django’s name, of course, is the first –- and for many the only –- to surface when the subject of Europe’s contribution to jazz comes up. As unfair as that is, considering the attention long paid the art form throughout the Continent and the UK, it is in a way understandable in terms of the impact he has had on guitarists of every jazz style. The volume in question will tell you not only everything you have wanted to know about Django but provides a detailed account of the influence he wielded throughout the Gypsy and jazz communities here and abroad. As for the photographs and illustrations, they represent, as the subtitle promises, an overview of Gypsy jazz and are truly impressive, ranging from early 20th Century Gypsy traveling circuses to 14-year-old banjoist Django to him being closely observed by Duke Ellington and Rex Stewart as he plays in Paris in 1939 to a 2002 scene of Django’s great-grandson and disciple (via recordings) Dallas Baumgartner jamming in a Gypsy campsite, plus several hundred more of musicians of the Gypsy jazz genre, mostly abroad but here as well. The book is a treasure house of Django lore and a visual treat.
Doo-Wop Pop by Roni Schotter, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Amistad/Harper Collins), a children’s book of catchy verse and heartfelt art work, tells the story of Mr. Searle, a school janitor who, drawing from his former singing career, coaches in harmony and dance a half-dozen African American students, encouraging them to “listen to the world” and “Catch the thing that makes you feel like you just have to sing!” At book’s close the a cappella sextet finds itself inadvertently performing for the entire student body and their teachers.
The Elvis Encyclopedia, by Adam Victor (Overlook Duckworth) brings together between covers, in 598 pages with 300 or so photographs, everything anyone could possibly want to know about The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and deserves its jacket description as the “definitive one-stop resource” and “the most comprehensive book on Elvis ever published.” It seems unlikely that any fact or detail of Elvis’ life and career, no matter how obscure, has escaped the notice of Adam Victor, who also authored The Marilyn Encyclopedia and spent six years researching and preparing his Elvis tome.
The Ghosts of Harlem by Hank O’Neal (Vanderbilt University Press) This collection of interviews and photos is a major contribution both to jazz historiography and the annals of American cultural history. I know of no other that deals exclusively with the career histories of jazz musicians who were Harlem-based in the 1920s until the 1950s. In addition to the images of the musicians (the “Ghosts”) shot during the time of the interviews (1985-2007), the volume contains a collection of photographs of former Harlem jazz venues. Hank O’Neal’s half-century acquaintance with jazz combined with the several hats he has worn over the course of those decades — in the recording studio, at his typewriter (and computer), and behind the camera — have fashioned him as virtually without peer among those who would have the temerity to undertake this sort of project. Along with other questions, O’Neal asked his interviewees, Why has Harlem deteriorated so and Why have so few musicians seldom, if ever, returned there to perform? The responses cover a spectrum of musical and social history. Among the forty-two interviewed and photographed are Benny Carter, Doc Cheatham, Cab Calloway, Milt Hinton, Buck Clayton, Maxine Sullivan, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Thelma Carpenter, and Billy Taylor. As to the shameful neglect of Harlem’s jazz land marks, that circumstance is movingly depicted in the photographs of Minton’s, Connie’s Inn, Pod’s and Jerry’s, and dozens of other clubs, bars, and dancehalls that once featured hundreds of great musicians, many of them cited in the captions of the photographs. The stark tragedy of this neglect is given heartbreaking illustration in photo after photo in the astonishing set of frames shot by O’Neal. Looking through them, I was saddened to see boarded up and abandoned edifices and in some cases garish replacements such as the C-Town Supermarket. These also are truly ghosts of a bygone era.
It is to O’Neal’s credit that he has combined these photographs with those that he shot of the musicians, for the most part in their homes. That he shot them with an ancient wooden view camera, setting up lights, inserting a plate, and throwing a cloth over his head and the instrument (shades of Matthew Brady!) says much about his determination to capture that “moment of truth” in the best possible light. Which he did in image after image. The inclusion of a CD featuring seventeen of the “Ghosts recording “toward the end of their careers” (1972-1996) enhances the enjoyment of this marvelous contribution to jazz history and photography. Congressman Charles B. Rangel provides a foreword.
Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist by Nancy Goldstein (University of Michigan Press) might seem a stretch of a fit within this survey, yet it does indeed have jazz connections. Ormes resided in Chicago’s integrated Sutherland Hotel, which her husband Earl managed and on the first floor of which was the Sutherland Lounge, a jazz club that in the 1950s and ’60s presented Thelonious Monk, Dinah Washington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Von Freeman, the Gerry Mulligan Big Band, and many others. Jackie and Earl “fit comfortably into friendships with . . . the entertainers who performed and stayed there,” including Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. Jazz themes made their way into one of Ormes’ comic strips, the title character of Torchy Brown in “Dixie to Harlem” becoming a dancer in New York’s Cotton Club and a friend of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. A social activist whose views were expressed through her comic strip characters, Ormes “expounded . . . on taxes, labor strikes, McCarthyism,” issues of race, and environmental pollution. With a seventy-page account of Ormes’ life and career and eighty pages of delightful samples of her art with accompanying commentary, this volume is full of insights into African American culture and society and is a vastly entertaining visual experience.
Charles L. Robinson, a former staff photographer of the Monterey Jazz Festival, and Al Young, poet laureate of California, collaborate on Jazz Idiom: Blueprints, Stills and Frames (Heyday Books), the former providing the images and commentary, the latter “poetic takes and riffs” and an introduction. The black and white photos were shot during 1969-72 at Monterey and several venues in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Marin County. Here, mostly caught while performing, are Earl Hines, Don Ellis, Carmen McRae, Jimmy Rushing, Mary Lou Williams, Joe Morello, Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges, Nina Simone, Paul Desmond, Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Elvin Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Anita O’Day, Thelonious Monk, and a dozen or so more. This is a gem of a collection and a window into an era. Robinson catches the proverbial moments of truth and the prints are sharp. Young’s prose illuminates and his “takes and riffs” serve as hip accompaniment.
Jazzmatazz, written by Stephanie Calmenson and illustrated by Bruce Degen (Harper Collins Childrens Books) relates in verse the individual and collective musical contributions of a house-invading field mouse, the resident dog, cat and bird, and the home-owning couple and their toddler son. Splashed with color and enlivened with such quatrains as “But my feet are tapping/And they just won’t stop/Will you look at me now?/I’ll tap till I drop!”, this will make an ideal gift and splendid introduction to jazz for that beginning reader –- such as, down the road a piece, my now infant grandson Coen Royal Stokes.
William Claxton, who surfaces several other times in this survey, was one of the great photographers of the second half of the Twentieth Century, shooting not only jazz musicians but scenes of American life. The former is the focus of Jazz Seen (Taschen), which has the photographer relating, picture-by-picture, the circumstances of the individual shoots. One section is devoted to summer 1960 New Orleans jazz funerals; a two-page spread of five photos depicts a 1962 Ray Charles recording session; Lena Horner is caught singing to Las Vegas dancers in 1958 and Terry Gibbs in a jam at home in sharp background focus at the piano while a motion-blurred couple dances in the foreground; in a famous shot, a seated and bare torso Chet Baker looks down upon friend Halima, who, kneeling, dreamily rests her head against his forearm and touches the keys of the trumpet in Baker’s hand; Thelonious Monk stands smiling with delight on the rear platform of a San Francisco cable car; Bing Crosby at a Hollywood mike is recording with traditional trumpeter Bob Scobey in 1957 and Frank Sinatra is peering with winning smile from a partially opened six-foot-high steamer trunk. Don Heckman, in the book’s introduction, quotes critic Leonard Feather: “Claxton has an eye for more than the obvious picture presented by his subjects. Often, along with the settings in which he showed them, they became metaphors for the Zeitgeist, for a whole era of musical evolution.”
Letters, postcards, telegrams, fliers, newspaper clippings, album covers, the legendary singer and 12-string guitarist’s FBI Record and “Proclamation By The Governor of the State of Texas” pardoning him from prison for “Assault to murder,” and assorted other memorabilia, all of the above in facsimile, plus countless photographs make of Lead Belly: A Life in Pictures by Tiny Robinson and John Reynolds, editors, (Steidl) a browser’s paradise. The photographs include Lead Belly at club gigs and in concert, in portraiture, sculpture, collage, caricature, pen sketch, and publicity shots, with friends and fans, singers Josh White and Burl Ives, trumpeters Bunk Johnson and Bill Dillard, clarinetist George Lewis, and trombonist Big Chief Russell Moore. “If you try to trace what Lead Belly’s influence really was, you’ll find it’s impossible to circumscribe it. It’s so wide, so all-inclusive, all over the world,” observes Oscar Brand in the caption beneath a photo of him with the book’s co-editor and niece of the singer Tiny Robinson taken at the 2004 Lead Belly Tribute Concert attended by Odetta, Harry Belefonte, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Robert Plant, Alison Krause, and others who credit Lead Belly as a mentor. Tom Waits contributes an introduction, Glenn O’Brien a foreword, and Tyehimba Jess poems.
The photographs in the eponymously titled Jim Marshall/Jazz (Chronicle Books) were shot in New York clubs and recording studios in 1962-63 and in San Francisco and Monterey in the mid-60s, early ’70s, and late ’80s. That Marshall gained intimate access to his subjects is evident from his capturing of, for example, a bare-chested Miles Davis relaxing at home, Thelonious Monk in his apartment kitchen with wife, daughter, and son and looking askance at the photographer with mischievous grin, and a pensive Sammy Davis Jr. in a studio dressing room. “I’ve tried to capture the intensity and elegance of these people,” says Marshall in his Acknowledgments. He has succeeded and then some. Especially delightful, and moving, is the comradeship displayed in many backstage shots in which Marshall has caught musicians cutting up or solemnly serious, for example, Count Basie and Billy Eckstine convulsed in laughter, or poet Allen Ginsberg “looking at Thelonious Monk like he’s looking at God.” For many of the frames Marshall posed his subject or subjects but there are some riveting shots of musicians blowing, including those of Duke Ellington, Anita O’Day, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Helen Humes, Elmo Hope, Jimmy Witherspoon, Dinah Washington, and Sonny Rollins. The late dean of West Coast jazz critics Philip Elwood provides an introduction that is both an appreciation of the sublime art of and a fascinating view of the on-site M.O. of Marshall, whom Elwood often observed at work.
John & Yoko: A New York Love Story by Allan Tannenbaum (Insight Editions/Palace Press International) is a lovingly designed and brilliantly executed commemoration of the personal, professional, and aesthetic relationship of two renown artists in the sensitively composed and technically polished photography of noted photojournalist Tannenbaum, who provides via several essays a prose timeline of his exposure to and acquaintance with the couple. Lennon was murdered in December 1980 only weeks after the bulk of the volume’s photographs were taken. As a couple and as individuals, John and Yoko are caught in varied contexts including at a gig, in Yoko’s art studio, on the street, and at home. One section comprises five frames of the couple undressing followed by ten shots of them nude in bed. “John & Yoko: A New York Love Story is a celebration of one of the great romances of our time,” says Chris Murray, founder and director of Washington, D.C.’s Govinda Gallery, in his introduction to the volume.
Live at the Fillmore East: A Photographic Memoir by Amalie R. Rothschild with Ruth Ellen Gruber (Thunder’s Mouth Press) presents some of the “defining moments of rock history,” says its jacket blurb, and a cruise through the volume verifies this claim. Both a photographer and a documentary filmmaker, Rothschild, between 1968 and 1971, captured in black and white and color such of those moments as John Lennon and Yoko Ono in a surprise encore to a set by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in June 1971; Jimi Hendrix at Café Au Go Go in March 1968, “one of my first rock music pictures”; a triple exposure in color of Joni Mitchell in April 1969; Taj Mahal backed by four tubas in a stunning scene citied by Rothschild as her “favorite black & white light show photograph.” There are also lively in-performance shots of Janis Joplin, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Chuck Berry, Dizzy Gillespie, and many others. “I loved the music at the Fillmore East. But I can say that I was IN love with the technical side of everything that went into putting on the shows, and I made it a point to take detailed photographs of all phases of these activities,” says Rothschild in the book’s first chapter, “The Cradle of Rock.” The second chapter, “Theater of Light: The Joshua Light Show,” gives us a detailed verbal description, supplemented with photographs both of the operation and the resulting display of the “music mirrored in color.” The chapter is a fascinating account and the accompanying images in color in which Rothschild captured examples of the light shows are nothing short of stunning, works of visual art, really.
Lee Tanner has published a number of sterling collections of his own photos but his Masters of Jazz Photography (Harry N. Abrams) features only a dozen or so of his images since the focus of this compilation is upon full-page images shot by Ray Avery, Ole Brask, William Claxton, Esmond Edwards, William Gottlieb, Tad Hershorn, Milt Hinton, Herman Leonard, Charles Peterson, Gjon Miller, Carole Reiff, Don Schlitten, Chuck Stewart, Val Wilmer, Frank Wolff, and a dozen others. Dismissing the term “jazz photographer” in his Afterword, Tanner adds, “They are great photographers in the tradition of important twentieth-century masters such as Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Dorothea Lange. They are storytellers. And the history of jazz is the story of the geniuses all brilliantly shown here.” Among the priceless scenes are: tenor legends Ben Webster, Lester Young, and Coleman Hawkins blowing at a recording session, New York, 1957 (Don Hunstein); Louis Armstrong in a backstage jam with Tommy Dorsey, Bud Freeman, Pops Foster, Eddie Condon, George Wettling, and Red Allen (Willie The Lion Smith is off camera) in 1937 (Charles Peterson); Dinah Washington caught onstage belting a swinger while in a gripping 90º bent-forward dance move, L.A., 1959 (William Claxton); Ornette Coleman looking on appreciatively as drummer Charles Moffett solos, Copenhagen, 1965 (Jan Persson); a half-dozen drummers (Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, Zutty Singleton, Sonny Greer, Art Blakey, George Wettling) and others waiting on a Brownstone’s steps for the Great Day in Harlem Art Kane shoot of fifty-seven jazz legends, 1958 (Milt Hinton); a laughing Horace Silver in rehearsal with Louis Hayes, Gene Taylor, Bill Hardman, and Junior Cook, New York, 1958 (Carole Reiff). Nat Hentoff pens the Introduction.
In 2001 Walter Hanlon retrieved from a chest of drawers the negatives from which he then made new prints for his 1950s Jazz In London and Paris: Walter Hanlon Photography (Tempus Publishing Ltd/Trafalgar Square Publishing/Independent Publishers Group). It is indeed a riveting array and an important documentation of a scene not familiar to American jazz critics and aficionados in that it fixes in time the initial visits to England and France after WWII of many U.S. jazz artists, along with the British and French musicians with whom they mingled. Two shots of Sidney Bechet, one of my main men, are dear to me, one of him relaxed while seated on a couch and smoke-wreathed from his cigarette, the other “in full-flowing vibrato” with Parisian Claude Luter’s band. Another personal hero, Gene Krupa, is shown in action behind his drums and then at rest with seven admiring British musicians transfixed behind him. Using a Rolleiflex, Hanlon caught many of his subjects in the throes of blowing. He preferred natural light but of necessity, when in dark cellar venues, he resorted to flash. In both cases he was a master of chiaroscuro. In addition to a number of British and French players –- Ronnie Scott, Humphrey Lyttelton, John Dankworth, Cleo Laine, Chris Barber, Stephan Grappelli, Luter –- we see Lester Young, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong, Eartha Kitt, Josh White, Nat King Cole, Oscar Peterson, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Big Bill Broonzy, stogie-puffing comedian Jimmy Durante (in the late 1910s and early 1920s he was pianist with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings), and others. As John Dankworth says in his Foreword, “The inspired jazz phrase has its parallel in the inspired click of the shutter to capture a moment when the whole story is told without a word being written or spoken –- or even played or sung!” Walter Hanlon was there during a momentous time to click that shutter, capturing precious moments.
Master photographer William Claxton’s New Orleans 1960 (Taschen) predates by a year the purchase of Preservation Hall by Allan and Sandra Jaffe and its consequent international fame so you will find only one photograph representing it, a shot of instruments awaiting their players, the bass drum emblazoned with the name of that institution’s world-traveling band. The collection’s more than 150 mostly black and white photos capture aspects of the city’s African American life, most of them connected with its music scene, for example, bands accompanying funerals, young street musicians, blues players in Angola Prison, and individual photos of historical figures such as clarinetists Alphonse Picou and George Lewis, singer Lizzie Miles, and trombonist Jim Robinson. The New Orleans visit was one stop in a national tour made by Claxton and German jazz historian and critic Joachim Berendt “to record America’s original art form.” The photographer provides a preface and his companion the introduction.
Dignity, sensitivity, insight, and an uncanny eye for framing his subject, subjects, or scene mark the work of Charles Harris (1908-98). He was dubbed “One Shot” because that’s all he usually took with his Speed Graphic, the newspaper photographer’s camera of choice during an earlier era. A prominent, respected, and trusted member of the Pittsburgh ‘s Hill District, the city’s black community, Harris, across five decades commencing in the 1930s, took some 80,000 images as a freelancer and as a staff photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier, a black-owned national weekly. Collected in One Shot Harris: The Photographs of Charles “Teenie” Harris by Stanley Crouch (Harry N. Abrams) are images of Martin Luther King Jr., Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Joe Louis, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong, Danny Kaye, Ray Charles, Cassius Clay, Jackie Robinson, Sam Cooke, Charlie Parker, George Benson, Jay and Bobby McNeely, Dizzy Gillespie, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, a coal miner, cobbler, fireman, railroad engineer, mechanic, blind broom maker, police officer, constable, waitress, barber, elderly women on the porch of an old-folks home, youngsters at play, grown-ups flirting, bakers baking, and wide-angle shots of a parade, a roller rink fire, Billy Eckstine’s band, JFK delivering a speech to an immense street crowd, and car-filled or empty intersections. Like a worthy jazz solo, One Shot Harris’ images tell a story. Stanley Crouch provides a splendid introduction to Pittsburgh’s history and defines the historic and aesthetic importance of photographer Harris and his work. Deborah Willis offers a biographic account of this important and long neglected American artist.
The Oxford Companion to the American Musical: Theater, Film, and Televsion, edited by Thomas Hischak (Oxford University Press) is not properly of the visual category but rather a splendid reference work of more than two thousand entries, hundreds of which are accompanied by scenes from the films or plays, photos of the composers, or in some cases posters advertising the productions. Dirty Dancing, for example, has the late Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey on their knees on the dance floor in an eye-to-eye stare boldly indicative of intent. Barbra Streisand is shown donning roller skates in a still from the cinematic version of Funny Girl and Snow White sits up tucked under the bed covers facing the dwarfs as they peer over the foot board. An arresting shot, from Porgy and Bess, is of the “residents of Catfish Row reacting to the bully Crown as he turns a crap game into a fight.” Sidebars add stats, for example, “Longest-Running Broadway Musicals” and “Longest-Running Off Broadway Musicals.” Many entries have by their sides a list of the production’s songs. In his introduction, editor Hischak clarifies that he has not “limited entries to Americans and American musicals” but has included “foreign works and international artists . . . if they were very popular [or] very influential in the States.” Thus we find Les Misérables, works by Noel Coward, and artists the likes of Maurice Chevalier. This volume will long remain the definitive account of its subject. Put it beside your reading chair or on the bedside table for endless hours of exploration.
Playing the Changes: Milt Hinton’s Life in Stories and Photographs (Vanderbilt University Press) by Milt Hinton, David G. Berger, and Holly Maxson. Bassist Milt Hinton (1910-2000) is credited with being the most-recorded jazz musician of all time, having appeared on nearly 1200 recordings. He began carrying a 35mm camera in the 1930s and over the following six decades shot more than 60,000 photos of his friends and musical associates. This magnificent volume contains his autobiography and more than 250 of his images. His life story documents in words a big slice of Twentieth Century African American history and the photos a visual narrative of the jazz life across six decades. Berger and Maxson are veterans of Hinton studies, he having co-authored two earlier collections of the bassist’s photos, she having spent three decades organizing his images for exhibit and publication.
PoPsie: American Popular Music Through The Camera Lens of William “PoPsie” Randolph by Michael Randolph, foreword by Quincy Jones (Hal Leonard). Randolph was ubiquitously on the New York scene from the 1940s to the ’70s shooting black and white photos of a broad sweep of musicians that included Broadway performers, early rock ’n’ rollers, r&b pioneers, and jazz artists. A 1951 scene of Metronome magazine’s poll winners in jam session has Miles Davis, trombonist Kai Winding, and a reed section of John LaPorta, Lee Konitz, Stan Getz, and Serge Chaloff. At the 1953 Metro All Stars event Randolph captures pioneer modern jazz drummer Max Roach and saxophone legend Lester Young backstage for a smoke. Also in the volume are: singers Frankie Laine and Patti Page, she perched on the piano, he seated at its keyboard and both flashing smiles for the camera in 1950; saxophone giant Coleman Hawkins, eyes closed, in a 1949 shot of him deep into a solo; pianist Mary Lou Williams, in 1948, playing while a crowd presses forward to her right, youngsters in the foreground, one of whom clutches the piano’s wood; a 1966 club shot of Wilson Pickett supported by Jimi Hendrix; Sonny and Cher displaying their first gold record in 1965; the Beatles at a Capitol Records party in 1964; Barbra Streisand backstage during the cast recording of 1965’s Funny Girl; the Rolling Stones in 1964 on a Broadway sidewalk on the day of their arrival for their first U.S. tour; Elvis and his band the Jordinaires working on an arrangement, 1956. This is the stuff of musical history, and Randolph has recorded it in high style.
Prestige Records: The Album Cover Collection, compiled and edited by Geoff Gans (Concord Editions), commences with the early era of the LP, for example, monochrome covers of Miles Davis: The New Sounds and Stan Getz: Volume One. Then we cruise through the 1950s into the late ’60s to such eye-popping covers as Don Schlitten’s optical illusion of concentric circles for Jaki Byard‘s On the Spot! and Esmond Edwards’ haunting image in blue for Kenny Dorham’s Quiet Kenny. Richard “Prophet” Jennings’ surreal moonscape-like painting of a bass fiddle hovering above a metronome adorns the cover of Eric Dolphy’s Out There and Mad magazine cartoonist Don Martin’s illustrations for Miles Davis and Horns and Trombone by Three (J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, and Benny Green) are hilarious. Critic Ira Gitler, a one-time aid to Prestige Records owner Bob Weinstock, provides an introductory account of the procession of artists, designers, and photographers who contributed to the label’s visual art. This volume is truly a feast for the eyes. And for the ears, a CD compilation of Prestige artists is tucked inside its back cover. As Geoff Gans observes in his Editor’s Note, these Prestige album covers are indicative of “what infinite possibilities there [are] in the matching of music and art.”
Roger Steffens and Peter Simon have indeed put together a Reggae Scrapbook (Insight Editions/Palace Press International) in that their 150-page compilation comes with ersatz 45RPMs, postcards, booklets, flyers, and other memorabilia tucked into envelopes taped to pages and a DVD of interviews with stars of the genre. Bob Marley, the Skatalites, Jimmy Cliff, Toots & the Maytals, Peter Tosh (“It’s against my religion not to smoke herb.”), Burning Spear, Marcia Griffiths, and many others are here in color and black and white photos plus informative essays on their histories. This is a splendid celebration of an important and globally popular music.
Lynn Goldsmith, producer, songwriter, and filmmaker, was also without question one of the premier photographers of the rock era from its beginnings in the 1960s through the punk and later styles into the 1980s. She has gathered together some of her finest work in both color and black and white in Rock and Roll (Harry N. Abrams). All the superstars and many others are here, in cities from coast to coast and at a handful of locations overseas, most of them captured in action onstage, a few in transit (she sometimes accompanied tours) or in dressing rooms. Many of the action shots are nothing less than startling, some musicians captured in mid-air leaps, others with expressions of pure agony cum ecstasy as singers reached for that high note or guitarists strived for the perfect chord or hottest lick. Goldsmith has a super quick eye and her camera skills are phenomenal. Iggy Pop pens the Foreword. This superb collection is very handsomely produced. And it rocks!
We have long been aware of Louis Armstrong’s writing talents, for he penned two autobiographies and carried along on tours a portable typewriter on which he regularly dashed off myriad letters to relatives, friends, musical and business associates, and fans. He also owned two reel-to-reel tape recorders via which, both on the road and at home, he (apparently intentionally) left for posterity reminiscences, private thoughts that convey his anger at the racism he frequently encountered, conversations (some of them intimate), anecdotes, risqué jokes, radio and television news bulletins, and music dubbed off of recordings, accompanying a few of these last-named on trumpet. In Satchmo: The Wonderful World and Art of Louis Armstrong by Steven Brower (Harry N. Abrams) we learn that the covers of the 650 boxes of audiotape, which date from the early 1950s until the year of Armstrong’s death, 1971, are graced with collages that, wielding scissors, he put together from photographs, newspaper and magazine ads and clippings, and items of memorabilia such as membership I.D.s, greeting cards, and telegrams, adding to many of them a hand-written notation. It is a hundred or so of these strikingly original creations, plus some album covers, early photographs, and handwritten and typed letters, that make up the extraordinary contents of this volume. Its variety reveals Pops’ talent and zeal for collage and provides many insights into his personality and character. The volume is vastly entertaining. The boxed tapes, along with twelve shelf feet of Armstrong papers and documents, are housed in the archives of the Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library at Queens College. For a sampling of the audio, the second CD of Louis Armstrong: Fleishmann’s Yeast Show (Jazz Heritage Society) culls from the tapes passages of the great trumpeter and singer conversing with friends, telling stories, and so on.
In A Shot in the Dark: Making Records in Nashville, 1945-1955 (Vanderbilt University Press), British researcher of early rock ’n’ roll Martin Hawkins exhaustively mines the sources for a definitive account of the decade in question. Dance bands, gospel, and rhythm & blues figure in this authoritative volume of history and commentary. The story is enlivened with photographs on almost every page (most of them provided by courtesy of one or another organization and few with identification of the photographer), many of them heretofore unpublished. A section at book’s end lists by label –- twenty-one of them — the 78RPMs issued during the decade and a lively CD of twenty selections accompanies the book.
It is the variety and immediacy — and sheer shock value in some cases — that draw one into Pat Graham’s collection of Silent Pictures (Akashic Books). In addition to straightforward shots of the rock groups performing, there are scenes of musicians cavorting onstage, some of them prone with mouths agape. There are several effective double exposures, notably of drummers Polly Johnson and Jeremiah Green, the latter with four arms in action. Photographer, graphic designer, and artist Cynthia Connolly, who documented the hardcore punk scene in Washington, D.C., contributes an afterword that clarifies Graham’s somewhat later involvement in the same scene, including his touring with Modest Mouse in the 1980s, which provided him the opportunity to shoot the group both on the road and onstage. We see a semi with its tractor on fire in the Mojave Desert and an impressionistic Montana landscape. Most of the photos are black and white but there is a sprinkling of color ones. A page-by-list at volume’s end identifies the individual frames.
I have always had a soft spot for drummers, having for several years in my 1940s teens had a kit on which I taught myself the rudiments and played along to my traditional jazz and Swing Era 78RPMs. During my performance-reviewing years for the Washington Post two decades ago, drummers would occasionally call me the day my review was published and thank me for remarking on, for example, their one-handed rolls or shuffle rhythms. So it was with eager anticipation that I opened Sticks ’n’ Skins: A Photography Book about the World of Drumming (Fotos by Folletts, Inc.) by Jules Follet. I was not disappointed. Its main body is devoted to six-hundred or so photos of drummers, all but a few shot by Follet. “I have been blessed to have met and photographed over 500 drummers in 53 cities in 28 months,” she says. “I am honored to pay tribute and feature the work of Lissa Wales who was my guardian angel throughout this journey.” Born in San Francisco and raised in Arizona, Lissa Wales shot hundreds of rock, blues, and jazz drummers over the course of two decades before she died in 2005 of acute myelogenous leukemia at the age of forty-eight. A 20-page section of her photos of drummers precedes the 500 pages of Follett’s work. There are also eighty or so group shots of drummers and a 20-page section on percussionists concludes the collection. The volume is a lavish display in color, really quite spectacular. The photos are accompanied by texts summarizing the subject’s career and listing his or her musical associations. Portions of some of these entries are in the words of the drummer. A good number of women find their way into the volume, including two of my favorite currently active drummers, Cindy Blackman and Sherrie Maricle, although another, Allison Miller, is missing. Truth be told, all but a few jazz drumming icons are also missing. While about twenty are included –- e.g., Louie Bellson, Buddy Rich (shot by Wales), Jack DeJohnette, Billy Hart, Roy Haynes, Joe Morello, Ed Shaughnessy, Bernard Purdie –- a great many of the photos are of rock musicians. This is not to say that many of these do not also have their jazz connections. All in all, Sticks ’n’ Skins is a tremendous achievement as well as a fitting tribute to the late Lissa Wales, who had a well developed photographic eye for drummers. Of course, the same can be said of Ms. Follet. Let this one find a permanent home on your coffee table. (To see some more of Lissa Wales’ photos go to www.shutterfly.com/progal/gallery.jsp?gid=768a5498ce7d3039d863.)
For those obsessed with the itineraries of rock musicians, Strange Brew: Eric Clapton & the British Blues Boom by Christopher Hjort (Jawbone Press) will fill many hours of browsing. It also will long serve as a basic source for study of the British Invasion that introduced Clapton and others to the U.S. in the 1960s. The focus in this week-by-week diary of gigs and recording sessions are the travels of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, and Fleetwood Mac. Notes accompany many entries and photos of the groups are dispersed throughout.
Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond by Doug Ramsey (Parkside Publications, Inc.) is one of the most thorough of all jazz biographies and begs to be included in this survey by virtue of its many photographs, which depict Desmond from the cradle to his final year, 1976. Veteran jazz chronicler and critic Ramsey mined every likely source of information about the great alto saxophonist and relates his life story and career history in loving detail and with a sensitivity that makes of this book, in addition to its being an excellent documentary study and a pictorial treat, a moving account of an artist of world-class dimensions, one who possessed one of the most individual instrumental voices in jazz. The volume’s foreword is by longtime Desmond associate and close friend Dave Brubeck and his wife Iola Brubeck.
Tonya Bolden’s Take-Off: American All-Girl Bands During WWII (Alfred A. Knopf) is an account of three women-staffed big bands of the 1940s: Ada Leonard’s All-American Girl Orchestra, the Prairie View State College Co-Eds, and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. The volume commences with a page of definitions of “Swing,” my favorite of which is Benny Goodman’s: “Free speech in music.” It is a slim book (61 pages) but one chock-full of aides to further investigation of the genre and the period: a Glossary (“Cut A Rug: To dance”); six pages of Notes containing both clarifications and supporting quotations from musicians and others; three pages of Selected Sources, i.e., Books, Articles, Periodicals, Videos, Recommended Reading, and Recommended Listening; and an index. As for the photos, they appear on nearly every page and they are classic in their depiction of the role women musicians played in the jazz of that time. As for the stories contained herein, both individual and collective, of the joys and travails of the road and of the discrimination (both of gender and race) that they experienced, they are deeply moving. The book’s narrative serves as an incontrovertible corrective to the long-held notion that women instrumentalists played a minor role in the development of jazz. They were always there from the beginnings of the art form and it is long overdue that someone got the word out to a young readership, which Tonya Bolden is to be commended for having done. Not that this young adults volume lacks in charm, authoritative information, or readability for any adult interested in the subject. I found if fascinating. It comes with a CD of selections by the Sweethearts, Ina Ray Hutton and Her Melodears, and trumpeter Valida Snow.
Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, née Rothschild, settled in New York after her separation from her husband Jules de Koenigswarter in the early 1950s when she was in her late thirties. From this time until her death at seventy-four in 1988 she was patron to several hundred jazz musicians, befriending them, attending their performances, bailing them out of jail, taking them into her home when they were ill, becoming known as the Jazz Baroness, and having twenty or so tunes named for her, for example, Thelonious Monk’s “Pannonica” and Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream.” She was especially close to Monk, in 1957 helping him get his cabaret card reinstated and later accompanying him and his wife Nellie on domestic and overseas tours. He spent the last decade of his life in her Weehawken, New Jersey, house. Charlie Parker died at thirty-five in her Stanhope Hotel apartment in New York. Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats, Nadine de Koenigswarter, editor (Harry N. Abrams) is a collection of photographs of about two-hundred musicians, most taken by Nica’s Polaroid camera, many shot in one or another of her serial residences, others taken in New York clubs. The volume’s editor, Nica’s grandniece Nadine, has also compiled a hundred or so of the responses to Nica’s query, what were the three wishes of her musician friends. It is the intimacy of the scenes captured that makes of this volume a rewarding experience, notwithstanding the poor quality of some of the photos. Most of the answers to the query provide insights into the characters, personalities, tastes, and intellects of the respondents. Among the jazz titans who appear in photo are Art Blakey, Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, and Benny Carter. Gary Giddins supplies a foreword and the editor an account of her great-aunt’s life.
Moses Asch, founder of Folkways Records, is in the pantheon of supporting players in the history of recorded jazz, blues, folk music, and spoken word. Worlds of Sound: The Story of Smithsonian Folkways by Richard Carlin (Harper Collins) is, just as the subtitle indicates, an account of how Asch shaped the label — now under the auspices of the Smithsonian — that has kept in print a wealth of music, spoken word, and sound effects, first as 78RPMs in the 1940s and then on LP until his death in 1986. Available today are, for example, CDs of Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, and Pete Seeger; Mary Lou Williams and James P. Johnson; the Carter Family; Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, the folk revival of the late 1950s and ’60s; Lucinda Williams; and spoken word through the poetry of Langston Hughes, the speeches of FDR, and the soundtrack of Emile de Antonio’s satiric documentary film Millhouse: A White Comedy, which lampooned Senator Joe McCarthy. That list is merely a tiny sampling of the offerings on the 2168 Folkways LPs that the Smithsonian acquired in 1987 and has been transferring to CD. In addition to the book’s text recounting the history of the Folkways label, this magnificent volume abounds with photographs, clippings, album covers, liner notes, posters, and other illustrations of the remarkable history of the label and the career of its guiding light Moses Asch.
W. Royal Stokes was editor of Jazz Notes, the quarterly journal of the Jazz Journalists Association, from 1992 to 2001 and has been editor of JazzTimes and the Washington Post‘s jazz critic. He is the author of The Jazz Scene: An Informal History from New Orleans to 1990 (Oxford University Press, 1991), Swing Era New York: The Jazz Photographs of Charles Peterson (Temple University Press, 1994), Living the Jazz Life: Conversations with Forty Musicians about Their Careers in Jazz (Oxford University Press, 2000), and Growing Up With Jazz: Twenty-Four Musicians Talk About Their Lives and Careers (Oxford University Press, 2005). His novel Backwards Over will see publication in 2010. He is currently at work on a memoir and a fourth collection of jazz and blues profiles.