Jazz Journalists Association Entrance Gallery Library
Swing Era New York:
The Jazz Photographs of Charles Peterson

by W. Royal Stokes
Photographic Preparation by Don Peterson
Foreward by Stanley Dance
(Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 220 pp, Hardcover: $39.95, Paperback: $24.95. May be ordered from publisher at 1-800-447-1656, fax 215-204-4719.)

from Jazz Notes 6/3 1994

By Nancy Ann Lee

Copyright © 1994, Nancy Ann Lee

As a jazz photographer myself, I'm ardently drawn to Royal Stokes' new book, Swing Era New York, that combines Stokes' commentary, perky anecdotes, and historical notations with the exceptional photographs of the late Charles Peterson, who concentrated on jazz photography mostly between 1935-42. To be honest, I'm envious. It's photographs and yarns like these that make me wish I had lived in New York City, owned a 4X5 Speed Graphic, and been hanging out and shooting the scene during the era when 52nd Street was bustling with jazz activity.

The 220-page, 10" X 8" book contains 229 beautifully reproduced, masterpiece photos, many appearing in print for the first time, which Peterson shot with a Speed Graphic press camera (every serious photographer yearns to try one) and which his son, Don, printed for the book. Crisp detail, artful composition, and great use of light and shadow are the evidence of Peterson's "eye" for his craft.

The fact that Charles Peterson, who died in 1976, was also a musician (banjo and guitar) and respected by his colleagues, allowed him access to their sessions, parties, rehearsals, shows, and sidewalk breaks that regular press photographers during that era rarely captured. Visits to the Harlem clubs, to backstage jam sessions at the Paramount, to the studio session where Billie Holiday recorded "Strange Fruit" - Peterson captured it all, with many of his photographs appearing during his lifetime on album covers, in Time, Life, and other magazines.

Stokes has organized the book into six chapters: Chapter 1, Harlem; Chapter 2, 52nd Street; Chapter 3, Nick's the Village Vanguard, Cafe Society, and other Venues; Chapter 4, Jam Sessions; Chapter 5, The Recording Scene; and Chapter 6, The Big Bands. Each covers the essence of activities in New York City with superb (often, rare) shots of such performers as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Pee Wee Russell, Mildred Bailey, and many more. Included are a table of contents and a useful Index of Pictured Subjects.

Much more than a "coffee-table" tome, Swing Era New York is an overview of this period, a capsulized jazz history that will have many fans wishing they had been there . . . or remembering when they were.

Click photo to see large

Photos copyright © the Estate of Charles Peterson.

Jazz Journalists Association Entrance Gallery Library