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Kennedy Photographer Also Jazz Chroniclerby Bob Blumenthal
Copyright © 2001 Bob Blumenthal
The world at large knew Jacques Lowe as JFK's personal photographer, the man responsible for so many of the visual images we associate with the Kennedy Administration. In recent years Jacques Lowe also became known as a passionate jazz fan, whose late career began to focus on music.
I met Jacques in Toronto in 1995, at an Oscar Peterson recording session, where we were both in attendance for a magazine piece. After leaving the studio we found ourselves alone in Toronto on a dreary January evening. Jacques told me about a book he was working on with a quite specific conception. It was to be a portrait book, no performance shots, containing only living musicians.
I was frankly skeptical of what a White House photographer, however famous, could produce in the jazz realm. I also could not imagine how this inflexible fellow with the heavy accent would fare at getting the subjects of his photo shoots to treat the occasions as seriously as they treated their music, which was as seriously as Jacques approached each player. I doubted that some would even sit for him. Then he showed me some of the photos for what became Jazz: Photographs of the Masters (Artisan Press). They were unlike any I had seen before of many familiar faces, deep and dignified, embedded with every set and session the subject had played.
After I wrote the essays for Jazz: Photographs of the Masters (Cliff Preiss wrote the individual captions), I observed how Jacques worked when he shot Joe Zawinul in Cortona, Italy. Jacques was uncompromising when it came to what he wanted when making a photo. When the location was acceptable and the surrounding activity unobtrusive, he would engage his subjects quickly and from several directions, until he got a response that made the picture. Jacques was flexible enough to go with the subject's mood, and confident enough to accept no shortcuts. Jacques limped, yet he always brought what seemed to this non-photographer like a lot of equipment to his shoots, and gave off the attitude that if he could drag himself and all of his paraphernalia out to make an image, then the subject should bring the same dedication to bear.
Jacques loved jazz festivals, which is where I usually saw him. In fact, he seemed to attend every single one of those that I would make my way to. He haunted the press room, arranging appointments through any and all of the festival staff, the musician's entourage, or a random person who might know someone. Having worked on the book with him, and finding me in attendance at two of his favorite fests (Montreal and UmbriaJazz), he started talking up a new joint project, a book on jazz festivals around the world.
He was planning to include three dozen or more, as I recall. I convinced him that such comprehensiveness would be unwiedly from both an authorial and audience perspective; perhaps a festival for each month of the year would be more manageable, and offer him more time to explore each one. This prompted at least one call a year about the great festival he had just returned from that I had to attend so that we could include it in the book. He was right about Punta del Este in Uruguay, which took care of January. He insisted that we would indeed fill out the calendar every time we ran into each other; but it was still deep winter on that front when Jacques succumbed to cancer on May 12.
Jacques saw much more than festivals in his lifetime. As a German Jewish child, he hid with his family during World War II. Within 20 years he was documenting the Kennedy's Camelot. After publishing three dozen books, many of which concerned the Kennedys, and curating a touring exhibit on Jackie Kennedy, Jacques took a jazz turn , and even had a regular JazzTimes feature during the last year of his life. He had seen it all, and photographed much of what he saw. When I knew Jacques, what excited him as much or more was what he heard.
Bob Blumenthal is a distinguished jazz critic and Grammy Award winning annotater.